Backpacking the Four Lakes Loop

What is the Four Lakes Loop?

The Four Lakes Loop is one of the premier backpacking routes in the Trinity Alps. The actual Loop is only about 5 miles, but when you include the access trails, the trip will end up being 16-20 miles. Along the trail, you have the opportunity to see gorgeous lakes, lush meadows and peaks that rival the Sierra Nevada.

Some will tell you that the Trinity Alps are a great under the radar region in California. This may have been true at one point, but the Trinity Alps are now packed on summer weekends. You will probably not find solitude, but backpacking the Four Lakes Loop is still one of the ultimate destinations.

Granite Heart, Trinity Alps

Location

First of all, the Trinity Alps are located in the Klamath Mountains in the north of California. The easiest way to get there is to take the I5 to Redding and then head West on the 299 to Weaverville. From Weaverville, the direction you head will depend on what you are planning to do.

To get to the Four Lakes Loop, you head north out of Weaverville on the 3. The Four Lakes Loop is in the Red Trinities. This is the Eastern part of the range and they are called this because of the distinct red color of the mountains.

Permits

Wilderness permits are required to spend the night in the Trinity Alps. These can be obtained via walk up at the ranger station in Weaverville, CA. If you arrive at the ranger station outside of open hours, you can still help yourself to permits. They are left in a box on the information sign on the front lawn.

Be sure to pick up both a wilderness permit and a fire permit. Even if you don’t plan to make a campfire, you need a fire permit for camping stoves as well. Like the wilderness permits, if you arrive when the station is closed these are also available in a box near the wilderness permits.

Four Lakes Loop Trailheads

There are three main access points  to the loop. The first and most popular is the Long Canyon trailhead. This is the easiest way to get to the loop, since it is the shortest and has the least amount of vertical gain. It is basically a slow walk up to Deer Creek Pass.

The second is the Stoney Ridge trailhead. Despite the name, this is not a ridge walk. The trail starts with a long series of switchbacks up to a meadow. From there, you cross Stonewall Pass and then Little Stonewell pass before walking through Siligo Meadows just before Deer Creek Pass. This is considered the most scenic route, but also involves a lot of climbing.

The final access point is the Granite Lake Trail. This trail is significantly longer, but gives you the opportunity to see Granite Lake. This route is also interesting because it meets up with the Four Lakes Loop between Luella Lake and Deer Lake instead  of at Deer Creek Pass. Be warned: this may be a poorly maintained trail if you choose to go this way. This is the best route to choose if you are planning to do a longer trip.

Deer Lake, Trinity Alps

Camping

Along the loop itself, there are a variety of campsites. Deer Lake and Summit Lake offer the most variety of sites, but they are also the busiest. Diamond Lake has only one or two spots, but offers the best views of the granite heart of the Trinity Alps.

Diamond Lake. Trinity Alps

Luella Lake is considered by many to be the most scenic of the lakes, but is also very small. Like Diamond, there are only a couple good spots. Finally, there are a few good campsites in the meadow between Deer Lake and Luella Lake.

Luella Lake

If you would prefer to camp off of the loop there are several options depending on the route you have chosen.  The Siligo meadows are considered to have some of the nicest campsites. This area is easily accessible from both the Long Canyon and Stoney Ridge trails.  If you take Long Canyon, there is a hidden lake called Lake Anna. There is a short, off trail section to arrive at the lake, but it is very well travelled.

From the Stoney Ridge Trail, you have a couple options. The first is Red Meadows. If you walk this way you literally cannot miss it. The second is Echo Lake. Echo Lake lies just below Little Stonewall Pass behind a small ridge. Echo Lake only has a few good camp sites, but it is insanely beautiful and the sites are large.

Camping at Echo Lake

When to go

The Trinity Alps are covered by snow in the winter and can get extremely hot in the summer. Due to this, there are two best times to go.

The first is between late May and early July. There will be a short window between the trails melting out and the trails getting too hot. This window will also have the best chance to see wildflowers along the trail. 

From July through August, the Trinities get very hot and dry. During this period, you can go, but many of the streams will stop flowing. The lack of water and high temperatures will make the trip less pleasant. In additions, since this is peak backpacking season you will find the largest crowds.

The second window is roughly September through October. Once the weather cools off, the Trinities offer some gorgeous Autumn foliage. There will still be less water available along the trail, but since the weather is cooler this will be less hazardous.

It is really not recommended to do the Four Lakes Loop while there is still a significant amount of snow on the trail. The route can be very steep in some places and if you are not prepared it can be treacherous.

Tips & Tricks

  • Be sure to have the gps coordinates plugged into your device from Weaverville. There is no service as you drive into the mountains and the default locations may lead you to the wrong place.
  • If you go the Stoney Ridge way, the initial climb can be hot and dry. There is a river that you will have access two at switchback 9 and 11 if you need to fill up on water.
  • The Trinity Alps are not the well kept secret they used to be. Popular trailhead parking lots fill up early on weekends throughout the summer.
  • Dogs are allowed throughout the Trinity Alps Wilderness. If you want to bring your dog backpacking the Four Lakes Loop, be sure to pick up after him 🙂

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