Lonesome Miner Trail
People venturing into the Inyo Mountains Wilderness should proceed cautiously and not overextend their supplies or capabilities. Backpackers must carefully adhere to all wildland backcountry safety measures and initially explore short distances until they become personally familiar with trail alignments and water sources before getting into the more isolated portions of this wilderness. Most of the Lonesome Miner Trail has not been maintained or signed and is not easy to use or follow. On some segments, it is necessary to push through dense brush or cross steep slopes covered with loose rock. Anyone considering using this trail must approach it as a rugged backcountry exploration where no other people will be encountered and no assistance is readily available.
The Lonesome Miner Trail is a historic mining trail which is approximately 40 miles long. This trail is an amazing historic legacy left by small groups of miners who built trails in the Inyo Mountains starting in the 1860's, and continued intermittently through the depression of the 1930's. The Lonesome Miner Trail is a series of interconnected trails, which were built at different times by miners to access different mining and mill sites. There had been no maintenance of this trail since it was abandoned by miners in 1941.
The existence of most of this trail was unknown to hikers until an avid hiker contacted BLM in 1989 offering to initiate work to explore the Inyos and stabilize historic cabins. As a result, a volunteer group known as the "Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness" was formed. The BLM along with the "Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness began in 1989, and completed their first project by stabilizing the Beveridge Ridge Cabin and descending Beveridge Canyon to Saline Valley. Since 1989, the "Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness" have completed over 45 projects to obtain wilderness information, monitor wilderness values, stabilize cabins, inventory the historic trails, and perform minor trail maintenance and signing work in the 205,000 acre Inyo Mountains Wilderness. So far a total of 16 Inyo trails covering 123 miles have been inventoried and mapped.
These trails are generally hard to follow and along some stretches they are completely slid out or overgrown. While the volunteers have done some limited maintenance work and signing, it will be necessary to complete a wilderness management plan to determine which, if any, trails should be adequately signed for first time visitors and brought up to better standards.
In December 1993, volunteers completed locating the elusive final 3 mile segment of the Lonesome Miner Trail between the bottom of McElvoy Canyon and the Keynot Ridge. At that time, it was given the Lonesome Miner name by a BLM volunteer. The Lonesome Miner Trail that this volunteer helped discover and name is now a part of the lasting Inyo Mountains legacy of cross country exploration and historic research writings, which the volunteer completed during 4 years as a volunteer. The Lonesome Miner Trail is at the heart of the Inyo Mountains historic trail system and connects many of the historic trails and canyons. It is a continual trail, which traverses north to south through the recently designated Inyo Mountains Wilderness in the northern California Desert. The trail extends from a trailhead at an elevation of 4,900 feet near Reward in the Owens Valley, south for 40 miles to its southern terminus trailhead at the elevation of 1,800 feet at Hunter Canyon in the Saline Valley. Only two short segments of this trail are shown on the current 7.5" topographic maps. The first 6 miles of the trail on the north end are shown on the Bee Springs and Pat Keyes Canyon maps (labeled as the Pat Keyes Trail) extending eastward from Reward, crossing the Inyo Crest at Pat Keyes Pass, and ending at an elevation of 8,500 feet on the east side of the Inyo Crest.
The first 7 miles of trail on the south end are shown on the Craig Canyon and New York Butte maps starting at the mouth of Hunter Canyon at 1,800 feet, and extending first west, and then north past Bighorn Spring to the Bighorn Mine at 7,100 feet. The intervening 27 miles of trail are not shown on the maps. Portions of the trail are truly inspiring with panoramic views overlooking Saline Valley, the rugged Inyo Crestline, and the deep intervening canyons which the trail crosses.
Not much is known about the construction of these trails by miners and their periods of use. From copies of historic newspaper articles of the 1870's through the 1930's, we know they were built by miners to access mines and millsites. The trails are generally built with grades not exceeding 15 degrees - probably the maximum grade for burros to use when heavily loaded with mining equipment - thus ideal for backpackers with heavy loads.
The Lonesome Miner Trail is VERY STRENUOUS AND ALONG SOME SECTIONS IS VERY HARD TO FOLLOW DUE TO BRUSH, ROCK SLIDES AND LACK OF MAINTENANCE. It is initially necessary to do a steep ascent out of either Owens Valley or Saline Valley, and then descend and ascend each of the following east side Inyo Canyons: Pat Keyes, McElvoy, Keynot, Beveridge and Hunter. Traveling from south to north requires over 17,000 feet of elevation gain while over 21,000 feet is gained in the reverse direction over the length of the trail. Most water sources are located where the trail crosses the canyon bottoms. Reliable water sources along the trail, from south to north, are at: Bighorn Spring, Frenchy's Cabin, Beveridge Canyon, Keynot Well (0.5 mile up Keynot Canyon off the trail is sometimes dry), McElvoy Canyon, Pat Keyes Canyon, and a small spring on the west side of Pat Keyes Pass at 7,700 feet. When using this trail, the following 7.5" topographic maps are needed: Bee Springs, New York Butte, Craig Canyon, Pat Keyes Canyon.
BLM through its volunteers is also maintaining three primitive historic "Adopt-A-Cabins" along the Lonesome Miner Trail, which offer some shelter for backpackers. Frenchy's Cabin is at 6,200 feet in upper Beveridge Canyon, Bighorn Cabin is at 7,200 feet at the Bighorn Mine in Hunter Canyon and Beveridge Ridge Cabin is at 8,400 feet on the Beveridge ridge. The location of the Beveridge Cabin is shown by a small square on the New York Butte 7.5" map.
Trail Log from Hunter Canyon Trailhead: The trail starts from the end of the Hunter Canyon Road at an elevation of 1,800 feet in Saline Valley where there are numerous mill site equipment remains. Start by going south from the end of the road and crossing through 200 feet of riparian vegetation. From the south side of the canyon, follow the trail up the canyon bottom for about 0.5 mile. The trail leaves the canyon bottom by climbing steeply up 300 feet to the top of the canyon's south side. From here, the trail climbs steeply and at the elevation of 3,700 feet passes a ledge where three tent platforms are located. These tent platforms provide an excellent camping site.
The trail continues climbing steeply up from the tent platforms to 6,700 feet where it crosses over a shoulder off the Craig Ridge. The trail drops steeply to Bighorn Spring at 5,100 feet in Hunter Canyon where there is a good source of water. From the Bighorn Spring, the trail first climbs northward along a canyon bottom, and then climbs a ridgeline to reach the Bighorn Mine and Bighorn Cabin at 7,200 feet. From the cabin, the trail climbs steeply to cross the Hunter ridgeline at 8,700 feet. The trail then descends steeply to Frenchy's cabin at 6,200 feet in the bottom of Beveridge Canyon where there is a good source of water. From Frenchy's Cabin, the trail goes down the bottom of Beveridge Canyon for 1 mile, and at 5,100 feet ascends a ridge to the Beveridge Ridge Cabin at 8,200 feet. Keynot Well is the only known water source in the area of the cabin and it is sometimes dry. Cove Spring is a reliable source of water, but it requires a descent of 1,200 feet from the cabin on the Cove Spring Trail.
From the Beveridge Cabin, the trail traverses northward to Keynot Canyon and the Keynot Mine. Where the trail crosses the bottom of Keynot Canyon is the point to reach the Keynot Well by going 0.5 mile up canyon. Down canyon from the Keynot Mine, there are some small, intermittent water flows and 10 waterfalls which require ropes to traverse. Starting from the bottom of the Keynot Mine tailings at 8,000 feet near the abandoned Allis-Chambers bulldozer, follow the trail upward pass the mine to the top of the tailings at 8,700 feet. At this point from the uppermost mine diggings, the Lonesome Miner Trail contours eastward for 3 miles to reach the top of the Keynot Ridge at 8,000 feet. The trail heads northward and climbs to almost 9,000 feet as it traverses for 2 miles around the side of the Inyos before dropping steeply down to the bottom of McElvoy Canyon at 5,300 feet. There is a continual flow of water in the canyon bottom from this point down to Saline Valley. The trail then goes down canyon through dense brush for 0.5 mile to reach the McElvoy mill site at 5,200 feet. Below this in the lower canyon, there are eight major waterfalls which require ropes to traverse.
From the McElvoy mill site, the trail ascends north to the McElvoy Ridge at 8,200 feet, and then follows along the beautiful, forested McElvoy ridgeline for a mile westward towards Mt. Inyo. This flat topped ridgeline is a great camping site. On the west side of the flat at 8,300 feet, the trail leaves the ridge and traverses northward around the northeast flank of Mt. Inyo for 2 miles. It then drops down to the Pat Keyes mill site at 7,800 feet where there is reliable water. Down canyon from this point, there is a continual but intermittent water flow, and 13 major waterfalls which require ropes to traverse.
From the Pat Keyes mill site, the trail then ascends to the Pat Keyes ridgeline at 8,100 feet, and then follows the ridgeline westward up to cross the Inyo Crest at Pat Keyes Pass at 9,400 feet. The trail then descends 4,400 feet and passes a small spring at 7,000 feet. The trail ends in Owens Valley at the Reward roadhead at 5,000 feet.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: In order to enjoy this rugged area, you will have to drive to a point and park a vehicle. Therefore, the BLM encourages all recreationists and travelers exploring public lands, not only within southern California but throughout the west, to use a propylene glycol based antifreeze/coolant in their touring and recreation vehicles. Proven safer, it will have minimal impacts on both the wildlife and the environment should a leak occur. Please help BLM protect your desert wildlife...and their fragile desert environment.
Please park or set up camp in previously disturbed sites.