The center of this loop trail is Lillian Lake itself. But as you go around the loop, it passes junctions with several trails that lead to spectacular lake basins only a short distance away: Rutherford and Ann Lakes Trail, Rainbow and Ruth Lakes Trail
, Chittenden Lake Trail, and the Lady Lake
If your gear is brought in by a mule trail, you can camp at Lillian Lake and make numerous hikes from there. Otherwise, it would be better to expand the hike and camp at 2 or 3 of the nearby lake basins.
The parking lot at the end of Fernandez Road has two trailheads with different quotas. These are the two ends of the Lillian Lake Loop. The junction to the right is the Walton trailhead and the one on the left is the Fernandez trailhead. Walton #24E20
leads around the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. Lillian Lake would be the first likely campsite, after 6.3 miles and a total climb of over 1400 feet. If you are making a base camp at Lillian Lake, then this would be the preferred direction.
Otherwise, you could just as easily take Fernandez trailhead and go around the loop in a clockwise manner. The first likely campsites would be Vanderburgh Lake: 4.6 miles and 1200 total feet of climbing, or the nearby Lady Lake
: 5.6 miles and 1400 total feet of climbing to the lower lake.
All rules for the Ansel Adams Wilderness apply. There is no camping within 0.25 miles of Rainbow Lake and no camping within 0.25 miles of the outlet to Lillian Lake. No campfires are allowed within 0.25 miles of: Fernandez Lakes, Lower Stanford Lake, Vanderburgh Lake, Lady Lake
, Chittenden, and Rutherford Lake. This implies campfires are allowed at Lillian, Anne, and Flat Lakes and other places below 10,000 feet.
To reach the Fernandez/Walton trailheads: from Bass Lake, drive 28.5 miles up Beasore Road. The last 10 miles are mixed broken tar and gravel and dirt. At the Fernandez Trail sign, turn left for 2 miles. This is a rough dirt road, but passenger cars should be able to make it unless they have very low clearance. It is about a 90-minute drive from Bass Lake. You could also start from the Norris trailhead. The road to it branches off Beasore Road about 0.75 miles before the road to the Fernandez trailhead.
This loop is described in the counter-clockwise direction. From the Walton #24E20
trailhead all the way to Lillian Lake, it is mostly a steady, but not too steep, uphill climb, although there are a few small downhills where you have to regain the lost elevation.The trail is generally within a coniferous forest, but the trees are not tightly packed, so there is plenty of sunshine. During an afternoon in July or August, this could be a hot climb. There is not a lot of water. In mid-July 2019, the Madera Creek crossing at 3 miles was over my knees; however, some years in the late season, it can completely dried up.
Shortly after the crossing Madera Creek, arrive at the junction with the trail that comes over the ridge from the Norris trailhead. For the next 1.8 miles, the trail seems to be called the Fernandez Trail. Less than 0.2 miles from the Norris junction, there is another junction with a trail that quickly splits into the Timber Creek Trail and an unmaintained trail that leads towards Post Peak Pass
. As the Fernandez Trail climbs, there are views behind of the entire Ritter Range and to the north towards the ridge that separates the Ansel Adams Wilderness from Yosemite National Park.
At 4.8 miles, the Fernandez Trail forks off to the right towards Fernandez Pass. A branch trail leading towards Flat Lake and the beautiful Rainbow Lake is about 1 mile up that trail. About 3 miles up the Fernandez Pass trail, there is a short branch trail that leads to the spectacular Rutherford Lake (poor camping) and Anne Lake (great camping and fishing).
The Lillian Lake Trail continues uphill for another 1.5 miles to Lillian Lake. This is a beautiful lake that makes an excellent base camp. Campfires are allowed, but no camping is allowed within 0.25 miles of the outlet. With good route-finding and map reading skills, it is possible to take off-trail shortcuts to some of the nearby lakes.
When going to the lakes up the Fernandez Trail, you can save some climbing and about 0.75 miles by traversing north-east across the slopes, dropping only slightly, until you meet the Fernandez Trail. You can get to Shirley Lake via a curving route up the northwest side of Lillian Lake and then swinging to the south. From Shirley Lake, you can follow the creek down 200 feet in elevation and then climb the unmaintained trail to Chittenden Lake. Shirley Lake is shallow and not that spectacular, but many consider Chittenden to be more beautiful than Lillian Lake.
Continuing from Lillian Lake on the loop trail, the trail goes south, dropping about 150 feet over 0.8 miles to Stanford Lakes. The trail crosses Shirley Creek between two lakes. The largest of the Stanford Lakes is a short distance to the east over a low ridge. This has rocky shores and good swimming in August and would be considered a beautiful lake, except that there are so many more spectacular lakes in the area. Shortly after Stanford Lakes, just before the trail starts climbing, come to the signed junction with an unmaintained trail leading to Chittenden Lake.
The loop trail climbs up and down almost 200 feet over the next 0.7 miles to reach the junction with the trail going to the two Lady Lake
. Vanderburgh Lake, another 0.4 miles down the trail, is a beautiful lake right on the trail, but I prefer the two Lady Lake
. Both, but especially the upper one, are more alpine, and sit directly below Madera Peak.
In mid-July 2019, Madera Creek was over knee-deep as it came out of Vanderburgh Lake. In most years, crossing would be easier at this time of the year. From Vanderburgh, the trail climbs about 100 feet up a ridge. Surprisingly, negotiating the snow patches here was more of a bother than at any of the higher lakes. The next 2 miles have gentle ups and downs through a marshy area with lots of mosquitoes.
2.6 miles from Vanderburgh Lake, meet the Norris Trail and follow it for 0.2 miles. Then the loop trail drops fairly steeply down to the Fernandez Trailhead.