There are not too many places in California where you can visit a lake and be the only person there. Owens Lake near Lone Pine is an exception. This once 12-mile long 8-mile wide body of water was all but drained when the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913.
Before Owens Lake turned into a dry lake bed, it was a vital rest stop for millions of migrating waterfowl. So it was not an unusual sight to see thousands of birds feeding along the lakeshore. Today the freshwater wetlands at the Cartago Wildlife Area still provide a resting area for birds, but their numbers are much smaller.
Due to the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Program, several lake sections have been opened to the public. In addition, 1.5 square miles of the lakebed has been shallow-flooded, and another 3 square miles of vegetation area created. Turnouts, habitat viewing areas and 2 miles of trails and walkways are also part of the LADWP Dust Mitigation Program.
Owens Lake Public Access Points
There are three public access routes and trails around the lake: Boulder Creek, Dirty Socks, and Plaza. We recommend visiting the Plaza. This is the most developed site and the most interesting. Unfortunately, all three entrances are a little hard to find. There are no signs, just endless miles of dirt roads to choose from. But don’t let that stop you. It’s well worth the effort.
Owens Lake Plover Wing Plaza
The entrance road to the Owens Lake Plaza is off Highway 136 on the lake’s eastern shore. 2.25 miles north of the town of Keeler, turn right and head downhill toward the lake. There are several markers along the dirt road that direct you to the Plaza trailhead parking area. From here, it is a 3/4 mile walk to the Plover Wing Plaza.
Along the trail, you can view shallow flooded areas covered with native salt grass. In the distance across the lake bed, enjoy a magnificent view of the California Eastern Sierra mountains. There are several land artworks at the Central Plaza, short trails with information kiosks, and the largest section of the Owens Lake that is actually covered with water.
Dirty Socks Trail Head
Again not too easy to find but worth a look. There is a metal shade structure that represents the Los Angeles Aqueduct. But the real attraction here is the Dirty Sock hot springs. The spring consists of a large concrete-lined pool that is fed by an underground spring. The water gives off a distinct odor that smells like dirty socks.
Boulder Creek Access
The entrance to the Boulder Creek area is off Highway 395, 13 miles north of Olancha. Be sure to stop by the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns on your way to the Boulder Creek entrance. The viewing area can be 2.5 miles from Highway 395. There are several makers along the route that direct you to the parking area. Once parked, there are a half-mile trail and metal shade structure.
Before You Go
All three Owens Lake public access areas are remote. Chances are, you will be the only visitor for miles. Stay on berm roads and designated trails. Dogs are allowed; camping is not. There are no restrooms or drinking water. If you stop by the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine, they will give you a nice map and brochure about the Owens Lake Trails.