This route crosses over Duck Pass on the rugged Duck Pass Trail
, hops onto the well-maintained John Muir Trail to Purple Lake, and then veers onto a lesser traveled trail up to Ram Lake. The route provides you with a little bit of everything for a substantial mileage day in the mountains: challenging climbs, flat sections, and screaming downhills. And at the center of it all is the breathtaking beauty of Duck Lake that you'll pass by twice to view its beauty at different times of the day.
To get there, turn left onto Around Lake Mary Road from Lake Mary Road. At the end of lake, turn left into the Coldwater Campground and take the road to the end where there are numerous day-use parking spots.
From the trailhead, the Duck Pass Trail
climbs up through the forest, passing by Arrowhead Lake, Skelton Lake, and Barney Lake. The climb alternates between somewhat steeper sections and flatter sections where you can open up your stride. The last section of the climb to Duck Pass takes you above the trees and offers impressive views of the valley you just came up.
After arriving at Duck Pass, the trail descends down along the west side of Duck Lake to the water’s edge on the southwest corner of the lake. The trail crosses here, making for a good refreshment spot.
The Duck Pass Trail
then descends down into the trees where it dead-ends at the John Muir Trail (JMT)
. At this juncture, you can either follow the JMT to the right or the left. To go to Purple Lake, go left.
The JMT then climbs and rounds a mountain. After the initial climb, take advantage of the flat sections on this well-maintained trail to open up your stride. Continue to pick up speed as the trail descends down to Purple Lake.
When you reach the edge of Purple Lake, there is a trail juncture. The JMT goes to the right and the smaller Ram Lake Trail
veers to the left. For hikers looking for a shorter out-and-back option, this makes a good turn-around spot. You’re at approximately 7.75 miles and the return will put you at 15.5 miles for the round-trip. Simply follow the trail back the way you came—and be sure to enjoy the beauty of Duck Lake along the way.
For those continuing on, continue onto the Ram Lake Trail
. If the JMT is akin to a trail running superhighway, then the Ram Lake Trail
is more like a backroads drive.
The Ram Lake Trail
moves along the west side of Purple Lake, crossing through forested areas and meadows. The trail could be snowy or soggy early in the season, but the trip to Ram Lake is worth it.
Once you leave the environs of Purple Lake, the trail begins to climb up toward treeline. The narrow singletrack trail can be difficult to follow in spots compared to the JMT, but there are a few small cairns to keep you on track.
The trail ends at the water’s edge of Ram Lake, an idyllic alpine lake that will invite you to take a short break for food and water before returning back the way you came. When you reach the trail’s end at Ram Lake, you are at almost exactly 10 miles, providing you with a substantial 20-mile round-trip run once you’ve made your way back home.