Robinson Lake via Onion Valley: Inyo National Forest

Robinson Lake is one of the closer lakes by hiking in the Eastern Sierras, but little did we know that it was one of the steeper trails we’ve ever done.  The elevation gain is 1,350 feet in 1.4 miles.  To say the least that is a very steep grade for a lot of trails; I would say this is a great training hike if you want to get a lot of elevation gain within a short amount of time.

Location Mileage Elevation Gain Type
Inyo National Forest 3.27 mi 1,325 feet Out-and-back

What’s in this Guide?

Feel free to scroll down to any of the sections below.

  1. Map of Hike
  2. Background of the area
  3. Trail Information including trailhead location, elevation of trailhead and lake, permit information, weather and more information on the trail.
  4. Directions
  5. Gear Recommendations
  6. Description of Hike

Map of Hike


Onion Valley sits at 8,900 feet nestled 13 miles outside of a town called Independence off the US 395.  There are several campgrounds on the way up to Onion Valley, where Onion Valley Campground is located as well as a couple trailheads including Kearsarge Pass, Golden Trout Lake and Robinson Lake trails.  These trails are great for both day hikers and backpackers as a destination to lakes is often the enjoyment of these overnight and day trips.

On the way up to Kearsarge Pass, a trail once used as an Indian trading route for centuries, offers 4 lakes that one may choose to stay the night at or day hike to.  It is also your gateway to Kings Canyon National Park, joining up with the JMT (John Muir Trail) and PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) – two famous long distance trails.  The Golden Trout Lakes begins on the same route to Kearsarge Pass, but veers right towards Kearsarge Peak.  The trail is steep and rises 2,200 feet over 2.2 miles to Golden Trout Lakes.  Both of these trails can lead to epic summits surrounding the area.

Trail Info

Trailhead – located inside the Onion Valley Campground.  It is not the same trail as getting to Kearsarge Pass.

Elevation – Trailhead (9,200 feet), Robinson Lake (10,500 feet)

Permits – Required for overnight trips, obtain on website or at any Inyo National Forest ranger station/visitor center.

Weather Onion Valley Campground ~9,000 feet; Robinson Lake ~11,000 feet

Forest Service Information on Robinson Lake Trail – more information about the trail


From Independence, take Market St west.  Market St turns into Onion Valley Rd and continue on road for 12.8 miles till you reach the Onion Valley Campground.  Parking for hikers is located right before the campground near the Kearsarge Pass trailhead.  Walk through the campground and look for trailhead signs for Robinson Lake.

Gear Recommendations

The Hike

*originally hiked: 11/9/19

Reaching Onion Valley Campground around 12:30 pm, we hit the hike just after deciding to make the trek up since it was a short one.  The road up to Onion Valley is pretty cool considering we were able to see the abundance of fall colors.  When we reached the parking area, there were only a couple other cars.  We packed up our day packs and headed through the campground to the trailhead.

The trailhead is very easy to find, but not easy to hike.  I remember being super sore already and it made it rough to climb up to Robinson Lake.  The beginning of the trail is just past the campsites and right away climbs switchback after switchback.  The second part of the hike has very short switchbacks and feels like it just goes straight up.

quick trip

The sun would be hiding behind the mountains soon, so we scurried up as fast as we could to get a look at the lake with the sun gleaming on it.  Spent about 45 min around the lake fishing and relaxing.  There were only two fish, being that it was very late in the season and considering the lake was covered in ice.

I was worried on the way down because I didn’t bring hiking poles (mainly because I forget them at home, didn’t think we were going to do any hiking).  Luckily the hike was short enough that it didn’t make much of a difference for having them or not, but I would have really liked to have them on the uphill.

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2 thoughts on “Robinson Lake via Onion Valley: Inyo National Forest

  1. Reading that, I’m thinking ‘switchbacks’ are what we call zig-zags? Switchbacks in England are where the track goes up and down a lot rather than left to right…

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