A group of us have been backpacking together for the last 5 years or so. We always go someplace in the High Sierra range, but this year decided to hit the Trinity Alps for a change of pace. Not knowing what to expect, I did some research online and found very few details, and even fewer of the kind of details I want. So what follows is the most detailed trip report you will find about backpacking the 4 lakes loop in the Trinity Alps wilderness. This trip report is from a photographer’s point of view, and from the point of view of a group of folks who like to swim in secluded lakes and are not particularly fond of seeing people from where they camp. If you get anything useful from this trip report, feel free to share. Also check out some of our high sierra trip reports such as Dusy Basin, Humphreys Basin, the Sawtooth Range, and Thousand Island Lake. The relevant quads for this hike are Siligo Peak and Covington Mill. A wilderness permit and campfire permit are required, but are free and can be done at any hour via a self-registration box at the Weaverville ranger station. There are no trail quotas.
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Day one: Echo Lake
Our original plan was to hike across the trinity alps from Long Canyon to Caribou lake and out. But after a little research showed that this region, unlike the high sierra, is full of many small, steep valleys which didn’t sound good to some of us who have not got out yet this year, we decided to tone it down a bunch and do a leisurely loop around the four lakes. We started at one of the southern most drainages to enter the area, Stoney Ridge. We then proceeded up and over Stonewall Pass and made a slight detour off trail to Echo Lake. This is south of the four lakes loop proper, but was a good 6 miles and nearly 4000 ft of elevation gain to start the day. Stoney Ridge trail is up above the stream, but the map showed water at Red Meadows. Ooops! The springs at Red Meadows were dry, so we ended up having to go up and over the pass until we crossed Deep Creek, the drainage from Echo Lake, before we could get water. Folks were a little dehydrated, given the near 90 degree heat during the climb, but soon recovered. Echo lake was a beautiful camp spot, with good swimming and lots of wildflowers around the lake. There is only one campsite here, able to hold about 3 tents, on the south side of the lake. We saw no people.
Day two: Echo Lake to Summit Lake:
Leaving Echo lake we passed above lower Siligo Meadows, where we saw beautiful meadow pools and our first hint of the wildflower diversity that was to come. Soon after we passed upper Siligo Meadows. There was one tent in this very large, flat meadow with a running stream. I would consider this a great camp site. Especially from a photographer’s point of view, we would have had setting sun light on a rugged mountain range in the background and wildflowers and a stream in the foreground. But not knowing the area, we decided to push a little farther to Summit Lake, the largest lake in the group, and according to the topo, containing the most flat ground nearby. The hike from Echo Lake to Summit Lake was only a few miles with plenty of water and views along the way. Between Siligo Meadows and Summit Lake we passed Deer Lake. There was one decent, but smallish campsite in the north-west end and if you are doing this hike and that campsite is free, take it. Deer lake had massive fields of yellow lupine and was deep and blue with few people around.
Day Three: Summit Lake to Diamond Lake with a detour to the top of Siligo Peak:
Summit Lake was just over the pass from Deer Lake. It had several campsites, the best and most secluded of which were around the right side of the lake as you come down the trail. The largest, and the only one still free when we arrived, was right next to the trail. I think there must have been a Backpacker’s Magazine article recently on “How to hike the 4 lakes loop,” which probably stated, “Hike in to Summit Lake and set up camp, then do the loop as a day hike from there.” Granted it was fourth of July weekend, but there were people streaming into this remote backcountry lake at 10:30 pm. And since our campsite happened to be right near the trail, they just proceeded to set up their tents a few feet from us, essentially within our site. Poor form! Visually, Summit Lake had nothing going for it. It was the only Lake without wildflowers. I summited the high ridge on the far end of the lake and apart from a decent view into lower Siligo Meadows, it was unremarkable. Climbing up out of Summit Lake the trail “T’s” into the trails from Deer Lake and Diamond Lake. If you want to bag Siligo Peak, one of the highest in this area, you are now at your closest point. We scrambled up and were rewarded with amazing views of our trail. Diamond Lake is the next lake over from Summit. We hadn’t planned to stay there, as it only took an hour or so to hike to, but after descending through amazing fields of red paintbrush, purple pennyroyal and yellow lupine to get there, I begged for a stop. There is one decent campsite at this lake and the possibility to pitch one tent on a flat spot atop a ridge at the far end of the lake. Since nobody was there, we set up camp and proceeded to explore the amazing wildflower-filled meadow down below the lake. The meadows below the lake, and the flower fields above the lake were a veritable humming bird forest. While I was crouched in the flowers waiting for the sunset, dozens of humming birds buzzed in the flowers all around me. Sunset came and we were rewarded with a rare, spectacular slow burn sunset floating through the color spectrum from hot yellow, to cool red-blue over a couple of hours. Literally. I stopped shooting and stars were visible and the sky still had a deep low red. Fortunately this sunset happened at the most scenic lake with an amazing granite mountain background and a massive field of multi-colored wildflowers, only a hair past their prime on July 4. We figured nature gave us the best fireworks anyone could ask for!
Day four, Diamond Lake to Granite Lake:
We woke to grey skies and drizzle at Diamond Lake the next morning and took our time packing up. Shortly before departing, Nathan noticed a bear in the meadow just below us. We climbed up on some rocks and watched him root around for a while before heading off. The hike over to Luella lake was short and easy, with a small up and a long, switch-backing downhill to the lake. Parts of this downhill were only 6 inches wide on an extremely steep hillside, possibly not good for those with a fear of heights. This lake also was littered with wildflowers. We stopped for a swim and never saw a soul. I don’t think there is much camping at this lake. If you are solo, or in a small two-man tent, you can probably find a flat spot in the trees just south and east of the lake, but that is it. The trail drops another 400 feet or so into an amazing meadow near Round Lake. Round Lake is totally overgrown, but there are plenty of flat spots near water in the grassy, wildflower-filled meadow below the lake. That valley had flowers taller than my wife. From there our trail climbed straight up, steeply for about 1700 vertical feet to the pass over to Granite Creek. The Granite Creek trail is lightly used and poorly maintained. It was a little tough to follow for the first 400 vertical feet or so above the meadow because it was so overgrown. As it climbed out of the thick brush, it became obvious once again. This trail climbed through the largest field of Leopard Lilies any of us had ever seen. There were also other flowers of every color and height. After that the trail climbed steeply for a while, then passed through the thickest indian paintbrush field I had ever seen about 2/3’s of the way up. We rested briefly at the summit, having so far come 5.4 miles and over 1800 vertical feet since leaving Diamond Lake. We then descended steeply 1.5 miles to Granite Lake. The trail on this side of the hill was overgrown as well. We saw giant dandelion flowers gone to seed (think make a wish and blow) in the middle of the trail in pristine condition. When we walked by and brushed them, half of the little parachute seeds brushed off, telling us nobody had passed this way since these flowers started going to seed. There were large wildflower fields on the way down particularly lupine. The valley that Granite Creek descended was interesting. It marked the intersection of the “Red” Trinities and the “White” Trinities, with half of the valley red rock and the other white granite, with an occasional falling boulder the only color overlap at the base of the valley. Also, the trail builders on this side of the hill do not believe in switchbacks. This trail went strait down, steeply and poorly until Granite Lake. Granite lake is hard to get to. There are many large and amazing campsites around 1/3 of it. Obvious horse pack use, but you have to bushwack to get to the water in all but the farthest campsites winding around to the east. The lake was visually un-remarkable being hard to access and with no wildflowers or other foreground. Just a steep drop to the water. Swimming was great however!
Day five, wake up at Granite Lake and go home:
We got up, fixed a quick breakfast and were ready to get back to our cars. I made a quick picture in the morning sunrise by balancing out into the middle of a log-jam and finding a cool burl in a log for my foreground. The trail from Granite Lake to the Granite Creek trail-head, which unlike the Stoney Ridge trail-head, had a bathroom and ample parking, was a super highway compared to everything else. It was nearly 5 miles from the lake to car, and it is obvious that this is a popular destination, stopping at the lake and going no further. We crossed swift creek about 1.25 miles from the trail head and this was a beautiful, clear creek with great swim holes and a scenic gorge and waterfall if you had time to downclimb into it. Feel free to share this post and it’s images. We really enjoyed this area and plan to go back. The High Sierra is more in-your-face dramatic in it’s scenery and lakes and nothing beats laying out watching the stars on a slab of smooth granite, but being below treeline for a change we found much more diversity in both plants and wildlife.