Owens River Headwaters


The Owens River and its tributaries, Glass and Deadman Creeks, are headwaters for the famed Owens River System, a renowned fishery which calls anglers and other recreationists to the rugged landscapes of the Eastern Sierra. With its headwaters beginning at the 11,600-foot summit of San Joaquin Mountain, the eastward draining waters contain over 100 seeps and springs that sustain some of the most abundant riparian habitat in the eastern Sierra.

The Owens River Headwaters are an area of forested mountains and alpine meadows on the east side of the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Mono County, California. This area contains exceptionally diverse landforms and habitat, including the expansive subalpine Glass Creek Meadow, the largest sub alpine meadow east of the crest, which provides habitat for the threatened Yosemite toad and is also home to the highest diversity of butterflies in the eastern Sierra. These waterways flow through the region’s largest old-growth red fir forest, which provides for highly diverse ecological conditions that support many other plants and animals in the area.

Diversity can also be found in the many activities and pursuits that one can find in the area. Popular activities include hiking, camping, angling, birding, and many other forms of nature study. Nordic skiing, snow shoeing, and snow play are also popular wintertime activities. The relative ease of access makes this river ideal for both day and overnight trips for the travelers who are exploring the Inyo National Forest along Highway 395.

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Designated Reach

March 30, 2009. Deadman Creek fromfrom the two-forked source east of San Joaquin Peak to 100 feet upstream of Big Springs. The upper Owens River from 100 feet upstream of Big Springs to the private property boundary in Section 19, Township 2 South, Range 28 East. Glass Creek from its two-forked source to its confluence with Deadman Creek.

Outstandingly Remarkable Values


The river corridor hosts a diversity of plant species, ranging from the subalpine meadows of upper Glass Creek to sagebrush and pumice flats with unique vegetation in the lower portion of Deadman Creek. Glass Creek Meadow is a locally important hiking destination for subalpine meadow and wildflower viewing; the meadow contains a high diversity of wet meadow associated plant species compared to the surrounding area.

In addition, the river drainage plays an important role for the migration of westside floristic species in the area to the east of the Sierra Nevada crest. Furthermore, Upper Deadman Creek flows through the world’s largest Jeffrey Pine forest and supports stands of rare eastside old-growth red fir trees. Overall, the area has a diverse understory of plant species which represent seven unique floristic zones.


There is geologic evidence of volcanic activity along Owens River Headwaters. Significant geologic features or attractions within the region include Inyo Craters, Obsidian Dome, Obsidian Flats, Glass Creek Flow, Deadman Dome (North and South), Recumbent Dome, Long Valley Caldera, and locatable pumice. Other features in the corridor include Resurgent Dome, Feeder Dike, vents and fumaroles, north-south trending fault scarps, and Sherwin, Tahoe, and Tioga glacial deposits.

Stream segments also contain unique geology. Rare geologic features include basalt and andesite, formed by volcanic and glacial events. Specifically, the Obsidian Dome and Glass Creek Dome are outstanding examples of rhyolite domes, tephra layers, explosion craters, and marble-cake blocks. The corridor has scenic geology with interpretive potential, historic mining, and is a known geothermal resource area exhibiting a unique geothermal reservoir.

The upper Owens River is fed by Big Springs, which is a large spring unique to the eastern Sierra Mountains. It is recharged by runoff and snowmelt that infiltrates into permeable pumice deposits and migrates along a hydraulic gradient through fractured andesite to the springs.


Portions of the corridor are used year-round. Use in the spring, summer, and fall includes camping in Forest Service campgrounds and dispersed campsites, fishing, OHV riding, day hiking on the Glass Creek Meadow Trail, and hunting. In the winter-spring season when there is enough snow, recreation includes backcountry ski touring in the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling outside of wilderness. The narrow and shallow streams do not allow for much paddling, floating, or swimming.


The viewshed is limited to the foreground throughout much of the corridor due to low relief and forest cover. Glass Creek and Deadman Creek are both typically out of view from the main roads but can be seen from some parts of the campgrounds and dispersed campsites. A portion of Obsidian Dome can be seen from the corridor. The Glass Creek Meadow Trail closely parallels a short section of Glass Creek with a small cascade. The upper end of the trail provides wide views of Glass Creek Meadow and the surrounding mountains. A portion of Deadman Creek passes through a gorge that can be seen from above at the end of a few dead-end roads.

Obsidian Dome can be seen in the foreground from an off-highway vehicle route and an access road in the corridor. The Dome provides an unusual up-close view of a large obsidian feature. Glass Creek Meadow offers a large meadow surrounded by a volcanic landscape of pumice flats and hillsides. The background includes rounded ridges and peaks of the Sierra Nevada Range. Although outside the river corridor, White Wing Mountain is another unique natural feature which can be seen from Glass Creek and Deadman Creek, contributing outstanding scenic views of pumice on its peaks.

Glass Creek Meadow provides wide views of wildflowers in summer and golden colors from willow, aspen, and cured grasses in the fall. Winter offers views of the landscape under snow.


River-dependent wildlife species in the corridor include habitat for the Yosemite toad which is federally threatened. The northern goshawk occurs in abundance within the national forest, and there are also multiple northern goshawk nesting and foraging territories within and adjacent to the river corridors for both Deadman Creek and Glass Creek. There is potential habitat for willow flycatcher but no known breeding habitats.

The Deadman Creek corridor is a significant seasonal migration corridor for mule deer, and it provides summer foraging habitat and fawning areas. Deadman Creek also provides an important trans-Sierra migratory corridor for furbearing species, such as black bear and bobcat. The corridor also hosts a diverse community of bird species. The upper watershed may provide foraging habitat for California spotted owl located outside of the crest of San Joaquin Ridge. Glass Creek Meadow contains a high diversity of butterfly species, including six species listed as species of conservation concern for the Forest Service.

Managing Partners And Contacts


Public Law 111-11164.88 KB


Recreational Scenic Wild
Recreational — 6.2 miles; Scenic — 6.6 miles; Wild — 6.3 miles; Total — 19.1 miles.
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