We made up this hike the night before and it ended up being a great success. Borrowing from several sources we pieced together an awesome dayhike that took us past some great ruins, up a really cool old trail and road, to the top of a desert peak, then down into the depths of an old mine. The loop is about eight miles long with a little under 3k feet of gain.
In order to get to the start of this hike you will need 4WD. If you have 2WD you can still do it but you’ll have to add some distance. Referring to the map below, a 2WD vehicle can get (as of November 2010) to the intersection of Nadeau Rd and Thompson Canyon Rd as long as it is approached from Minnietta Rd. Nadeau Rd to the north and south of this intersection is 4WD only. Just north of this intersection a road angles to the northwest towards the foot of the mountains. This road is 4WD only. If you have a 2WD vehicle leave it parked near the intersection and walk this last ~1/2 mile to the start below.
About 1/2 mile up the road there are the ruins of an old crane/gate looking thing and then an old helicopter pad. Park in here somewhere – there are plenty of places to pull out, turn around, and even camp. From the parking, head south and then west up the canyon where you see old roads and mining tunnels. Follow the old road to the upper tunnel (right around the 0.6-0.7 mile marker on the track below). Just above this tunnel you’ll find old use trails – follow the most obvious one and soon it will become even clearer. You’ll be on the “China Wall Trail”, a trail built by Chinese workers who worked the mine and lived above.
This trail is in better condition than many Sierra trails I’ve followed. It switchbacks easily up the canyon and eventually pops out on a shoulder of the mountain. From here the old road and engineered rock walls holding it up are visible. Follow the road around to the next shoulder and you’ll be among the ruins of the town of Lookout. A plaque here describes the history, and there are some interesting ‘junk piles’ to sort through with interesting glass and other relics.
You may notice some tire tracks on the old road up here – this is drivable by 4WD vehicles and is a popular excursion with some 4×4 clubs. The road comes in from the canyon to the north and curves around to approach Lookout City from the west. However, we were in it for the hike and would have missed the cool China trail if we had driven it!
From here on out the hike was simply following the old road. We took the short side trip to bag Lookout Peak, and then continued down the west side to a saddle above Defense Mine. Defense Mine is a side trip from the road with some really difficult 4×4. We hiked it, realized we’d never punish our vehicles with that road, and then spent some time in the mine at the end. Shafts, chutes, and various equipment were fun to explore but we had to move on or risk running out of daylight (a flat tire had us off to a late start that morning).
From the Defense Mine it’s an easy hike down the road and back to where we left the vehicles. Keep an eye out for burros – we saw tons of them around here!