Trinity Alps Wilderness – Four Lakes Loop trip report

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

by Scott,

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.

Also an amazing variety of high quality landscape photography can be purchased or licensed through my website.

final planning session

final planning session

iphone panoramic picture from the top of Siligo peak. You can see the start of the loop in the background to the right of the person (me) standing on the summit. It goes down into Deer lake, then up and over to Summit, far right. Not pictured, but similar, are the ups and downs to Diamond and Luella lakes. Finally the trail picks up on the far left of the image leaving Luella lake down into the meadow by Round lake, then back up nearly 1700 vertical feet over the pass to Granite Lake.

iphone panoramic picture from the top of Siligo peak. You can see the start of the loop in the background to the right of the person (me) standing on the summit. It goes down into Deer lake, then up and over to Summit, middle right. The trail to Diamond Lake is at the far right and Luella lake is behind us. Finally the trail picks up on the far left of the image leaving Luella lake down into the meadow by Round lake, then back up nearly 1700 vertical feet over the little-used pass to Granite Lake.

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.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Sunset and wildflowers at Echo Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Sunset and wildflowers at Echo Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

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.

 

Lower Siligo Meadows, scenic but hard to reach.

Lower Siligo Meadows, scenic but hard to reach.

Upper Siligo Meadows would have been an awesome campsite. We should have stopped here instead of Summit Lake.

Upper Siligo Meadows would have been an awesome campsite. We should have stopped here instead of Summit Lake.

Climbing up out of Siligo Meadows toward Deer Lake.

Climbing up out of Siligo Meadows toward Deer Lake.

Deer lake as seen from Siligo peak, looking back at our approach from Deer Creek Pass.

Deer lake as seen from Siligo peak, looking back at our approach from Deer Creek Pass.

Deer lake as seen from Deer Creek Pass with the trail to Summit Lake visible high at left.

Deer lake as seen from Deer Creek Pass with the trail to Summit Lake visible high at left.

Deer Lake was covered with Yellow Lupine.

Deer Lake was covered with Yellow Lupine.

Our campsite at Summit Lake. It was the biggest, and clear, but too crowded

Our campsite at Summit Lake. It was the biggest lake with clear water, but too crowded. Though talking to people who had been there a few days, there was next to nobody there before the 4th weekend.

Summit lake was the only lake or even area on our entire hike not covered in wildflowers. These purple bushes were the only ones there.

Summit lake was the only lake on our hike not covered in wildflowers. These purple bushes were the only ones there.

Nathan trying his hand fly-fishing with the alpen-glow of the setting sun.

Nathan trying his hand fly-fishing with the alpen-glow of the setting sun.

Overview of Summit Lake. There are several campsites here, but even so was way too crowded.

Overview of Summit Lake. There are several campsites here, but even so was way too crowded.

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!

 

Hiking up out of Summit Lake. The trail juncture at the top of Summit Lake is the best spot to cut off if you want to bag Siligo Peak, so we did.

Hiking up out of Summit Lake. The trail juncture at the top of Summit Lake is the best spot to cut off if you want to bag Siligo Peak, so we did.

Round lake and the exit out over to the Granite Creek Trail. No camping at Round Lake itself, but you could find a nice spot with water in the meadows below it.

Round lake and the exit out over to the Granite Creek Trail. No camping at Round Lake itself, but you could find a nice spot with water in the meadows below it.

The top of Siligo Peak.

The top of Siligo Peak.

Looking down at Diamond Lake from Siligo Peak. Small campsite there, but amazing wildflowers.

Looking down at Diamond Lake from Siligo Peak. Small campsite there, but amazing wildflowers.

The trail down to Diamond Lake winds through fields of red paintbrush.

The trail down to Diamond Lake winds through fields of red indian paintbrush.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of tiger lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of Leopard lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of tiger lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of Leopard lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

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!

 

The approach to Luella Lake from Diamond lake is a long, steep down with many switchbacks.

The approach to Luella Lake from Diamond lake is a long, steep down with many switchbacks.

Luella lake was another great swimming lake with loads of wildflowers. No real camping here though. You could fit one small tent in a flat spot in some trees nearby, but that's it.

Luella lake was another great swimming lake with loads of wildflowers. No real camping here though. You could fit one small tent in a flat spot in some trees nearby, but that’s it.

Leaving the flower-strewn shore of Luella Lake

Leaving the flower-strewn shore of Luella Lake

Hiking down toward round lake.

Hiking down toward round lake.

The meadows and stream around round lake at the base of the valley sported another insane display of wildflowers

The meadows and stream around round lake at the base of the valley sported another insane display of wildflowers

Monique in corn lillies taller than her near Round Lake

Monique in corn lilies taller than her near Round Lake

The trail juncture in the valley. The trail to Granite Creek is little used and hard to follow for about 400 vertical feet off the valley floor where it is overgrown, then switches steeply up on a more obvious path.

The trail juncture in the valley. The trail to Granite Creek is little used and hard to follow for about 400 vertical feet off the valley floor where it is overgrown, then switches steeply up on a more obvious path.

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers looking back toward Siligo Peak

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers looking back toward Siligo Peak

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

After a steep and poorly maintained hike down from the pass we crash at Granite Lake

After a steep and poorly maintained hike down from the pass we crash at Granite Lake

Nathan catches his first fish, a 3 incher. After much debate we let it go.

Nathan catches his first fish, a 3 incher. After much debate we let it go.

the one main campsite at Diamond Lake was spacious, with plenty of rocks to sit on.

Our campsite at Granite Lake was spacious, with plenty of rocks to sit on.

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.

 

Granite lake has some really nice and large campsites, and there were few people in site when we got there, but you can tell people horse pack in there from the trail head 5 miles further down. Little of interest photographically at the lake itself, but I found this funky log during the morning sunrise.

Granite lake has some really nice and large campsites, and there were few people in site when we got there, but you can tell people horse pack in there from the trail head 5 miles further down. Little of interest photographically at the lake itself, but I found this funky log during the morning sunrise.

Comment

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  • Dotty MoltJuly 9, 2015 - 11:10 am

    These are absolutely beautiful ! And what an amazing story ! When can I come along on one of your backpacking trips !!! ?

  • YvetteJuly 13, 2015 - 4:16 pm

    Always a highlight of our year. Thanks for capturing the experience. Beautiful photos and excellent descriptions.

  • jakeJuly 19, 2015 - 4:31 pm

    Hey I’m planning on doing this trip in a couple of weeks and I was curious how much water was on the trails? Should we pack extra or can we reach water without to much of a problem? Thanks!

  • ssadyJuly 19, 2015 - 4:47 pm

    Depends on which way you go in. If you go in like us via stoney ridge, then you won’t get water until you get up over the pass and near the outflow of Echo Lake. Everywhere else we seemed to find plenty of streams and lakes. I never carried more than 1L of water at a time, and only wished I had more that first day up stoney ridge.

  • MegJune 20, 2016 - 6:02 pm

    Hey Scott – Really appreciate this write up (and other posts too) and love your pictures! Trying to figure out how many days we need to do this trip. Thinking of trying to do it in 3-4 and was wondering how many miles it was? Appreciate your thoughts.

  • ssadyJune 21, 2016 - 5:52 am

    You could easily do this in 3-4 days. The way we did it, the hike in and the hike out were about 7 miles each, but the distance between the lakes in the loop is very short, like a mile or two.

  • John SharpAugust 16, 2016 - 4:27 am

    Hello.

    We are going in the Stoney Ridge trail head as you did. We plan on making it a loop all the way around Bear Basin.

    I have some questions:

    What is the parking situation at the trail head?

    Our plan is to stay night #2 at Diamond lake as you did and we want to hike Siligo peak. Is their a trail to the peak near Diamond or do we have to go back around towards Deer lake to access a trail? We are considering just going up to the peak with our packs then going back to Diamond to set up camp. Or would you recommend setting up camp at Diamond and “free” hiking to the peak?

    Lastly, as I have never been to this area I am somewhat concerned about your report saying there are a dearth of campsites at various lakes. Does this mean at the lake side proper? Are there nearby sites? We have a party of 4 using 3 tents.

    I hope you get this message and can respond. Thank you for your report, it was the inspiration for us choosing this route.

  • ssadyAugust 16, 2016 - 7:29 am

    Parking at the the trailhead was fine if I recall. It is not the most popular entry point. The easiest access to Siligo peak is from where the trail “t’s” to go down to Summit Lake. But Diamond Lake is only 1.5 miles from there, so not hard to do from there either. The lakes, except for summit, usually have one spot. Diamond Lake in particular has one nice large spot where you could all fit. If it is taken, I don’t remember much else there, even away from the lake, but there are a lot of beautiful meadows between lakes with running streams that are good for camping. The Stoney Ridge trail is long and hot and the water sources on the map did not exist for us. Bring extra water for the first days in, and Echo lake had a large flat area for camping.

  • heatherAugust 25, 2016 - 12:44 pm

    hi there – great post! can you recall the driving conditions to the trailhead? I can’t find much. we have a Mini and it drove fine (albeit slowly) to the Lost Coast trailhead a few years ago but thought I’d check…

  • ssadyAugust 25, 2016 - 7:27 pm

    We drove there in a prius

  • John SharpAugust 30, 2016 - 4:14 am

    Thank you for you timely response.
    Are there signs to get to the trailhead?
    Also, our plan was to stay at Summit Lake not Diamond. Again, with three tents which would you recommend?
    Thank you.

  • ssadySeptember 4, 2016 - 10:33 am

    HI John, Summit lake has a ton of campsites. I’m sure if you are not there on a holiday weekend, you will have no problems. Some of my favorite were around to the right of the lake as you come in from the main trail. There are signs for the trailheads, but get a good map, there are 3 or 4 trailheads that feed into this area, just depends where you are coming from and what kind of a first day you want to have.

  • RicardoOctober 6, 2016 - 8:28 pm

    Great photography and writeup, thanks! I see one of the guys in your group had a fly rod. How was the fishing overall? I’m looking for a trip I can bring my fly rod (with my 2 boys and wife) and good fishing is a must!

  • ssadyOctober 10, 2016 - 7:47 am

    We didn’t have much luck. Probably look up some of the fishing supply stores in the area and see what the best times are. One of our last trips was probably only a little bit harder than this one, but we had fish everywhere. http://tahoelight.com/blog/2016/07/sierra-backpacking-pine-creek-pass/

  • James MitchellNovember 9, 2016 - 9:38 pm

    Wow… you nailed it

Fine Art Landscape Photography

Lake Tahoe Landscape Photographer

Scott Sady is a freelance and fine art landscape photographer based in Lake Tahoe and Reno. Scott specializes in Lake Tahoe landscape photography, Sierra landscape photography, Reno and Lake Tahoe stock images and freelance and photojournalism. Scott is available for freelance photography assignments in the Reno and Lake Tahoe area.