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Uncrowded and unspoiled are the perfect words to describe the nine Virginia Lakes. Strung along Virginia Creek in California's High Sierras, most of the lakes require a bit of a hike to get to. Virginia Creek isn't navigable so no boats ever intrude on six of these alpine lakes. The three accessible lakes are limited to canoes, kayaks, row boats and trolling motors. And, since the largest lake only covers about 100 acres, no major horsepower is actually needed. Wildlife, beautiful mountain scenery, a riot of wildflowers in season, and lake trout greet arriving visitors. Indeed, it's a rare hiker who doesn't take the time to cast a line or wet a fly in at least one of these lakes as they pass by.
The entire Virginia Lakes Basin lies within the Toiyabe National Forest. Dunderberg Peak and Black Mountain tower over the high valley, and those serious about backcountry hiking can access Yosemite National Park from the far reaches of the local trails. Backcountry camping is available along the trails with the appropriate National Forest permit, which is available at the Ranger's Station in Bridgeport. The six upper lakes are within the Hoover Wilderness Area and require a permit to hike. Backpacking permits are issued on a quota basis from the last Friday in June until September 15th to assure the trails are not overused. There are no sanitary facilities or drinking water available along the trail and bears are quite common, so rangers regularly warn hikers to make preparations for both unexpected inclement weather and unwanted visitors prowling for food near the campsites. The trailhead is at an elevation of 9,600 feet and the elevation rises 1,270 feet along the 6.6-mile trail. Groves of aspens and lodgepole pines dot the slopes and offer contrasts of color in autumn.
The three lower lakes get far more visitors than do those up the trail. A US Forest Service campground operated by a private firm shelters campers beneath the lodgepole pines at Trumbull Lake, the farthest east of the nine lakes. The 45 campsites here are so popular that reservations are suggested on peak weekends. Only half can be reserved, with the rest rented on a first-come, first-served basis. The Trumbull Lake Campground has grills, picnic tables, vault toilets, drinking water and campfire rings. Firewood may be purchased nearby. Food storage lockers are available, and campground hosts are on duty. Trumbull Lake's 100 acres welcome canoeing and fishing, although proper fishing licenses must be carried and all regulations observed. The campground is not open in winter.
A hundred yards south of the campground, a long-lived resort holds to the shore of Little Virginia Lake. In business since the 1920s, the resort is a popular haven for hikers, hunters, fly fishermen and vacationers. Backpacker parking is available near the lodge, providing access to both Little Virginia Lake and Big Virginia Lake. From the trail and the access road, adventurous hikers can reach Trumbull Lake, Red Lake, Blue Lake, Big Virginia Lake, Little Virginia Lake, Cooney Lake, Moat Lake and the two little Frog Lakes. The hike along the creekside trail is strenuous but beautiful. The lakes are filled with brown trout, rainbow trout, and eastern brook trout. Moat Lake still holds a few golden trout, the last remaining in the watershed. The trout are stocked regularly by the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Program. Funded by local businesses and citizens to enhance tourism in the area, the group stocks brown trout weekly during the summer season and trophy-size trout once a month. The effort pays dividends during the two annual fishing tournaments promoted by the group, as contestants are allowed to fish these lakes along with several more in the area.
There is no town of Virginia Lakes, although a small community has grown up east of Trumbull Lake that is often referred to by that name. Several 'subdivisions' of private RV sites have been developed in the community although not on the lake itself. A few small businesses offer supplies and food, and an outfitter provides backpacking supplies and guided hikes. The Virginia Lakes area is properly considered attached to the town of Bridgeport, the Mono County seat 20 miles to the north. Although small, Bridgeport is the focal point of tourism and outdoor activities for this portion of the county. Formerly known as Blue Meadow, Bridgeport has over 500 miles of cross country skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, snowmobiling and multiple-use trails around the town, including Bodie Hills, Virginia Lakes Road, Buckeye, the Sweetwater Range and Summers Meadows.
The area around Virginia Lakes and Mono County is popular in both winter and summer. The Bridgeport Reservoir is a great fishing destination. An old-fashioned Fourth of July Festival, rodeos, marathons, Bodie State Historic Park (original gold rush ghost town), Mono Lake, Mammoty Lakes, and nearby Yosemite National Park keep the entire family entertained. A full complement of lodgings such as private cabins, bed and breakfast inns, resorts and motels join many local restaurants and tourism services. Bridgeport is a good alternative to camping if one doesn't choose the resort at Little Virginia Lake or one of the local campgrounds. The ranger post at Bridgeport is the best place to get maps, permits, and advice on exploring the millions of acres of surrounding national forest lands.
Real estate at Virginia Lakes is not available, but some housing may be for sale in the community east of Trumbull Lake. A few sections of land along US 395 are not owned by the State or Federal governments, and real estate shoppers often find property or existing vacation cabins in these areas. Virginia Lakes is the perfect place for a weekend hike. The beautiful small lakes and majestic peaks will fill your vacation album with photographs to be envied. So, come prepared to catch a few trout and commune with nature on the Virginia Lakes Trail.
*No statistics are available for lake size, depth or other information.
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