Four Lakes Loop – Trinity Alps Wilderness (20 mile trek)

 

Trip overview: The Four Lakes Loop is a ~20 mile out and back backpacking trip from the Long Canyon Trailhead in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area. A 5.7 mile one-way hike gets you to the Four Lakes Loop Trail, which is a ~6 mile loop connecting four alpine lakes within a beautiful area of the Trinity Alps. +/- 6,000 feet with a starting elevation of 3,760 feet and a peak elevation of 7,760 feet. Several side trips are possible to add variety and additional mileage. Highlights include alpine lakes, meadows, and multi-colored mountain peaks.

Long_canyon_map
Overall map of the trek to the Four Lakes Loop via the Long Canyon Trail. The Long Canyon Trail is shown in purple and the Four Lakes Loop is shown in Blue. Alternate trails to the Four Lakes Loop are also shown: Stoney Ridge Trail (red) and Swift Creek Trail (yellow)
  • Overall map of Four Lakes Loop Trek  (pdf)

Jump to Day 1: Long Canyon Trailhead to Deer Lake (or Summit Lake)
Jump to Day 2: Hiking the Four Lakes Loop
Jump to Day 3: Potential side trips
Jump to Day 4: Deer Lake (or Summit Lake) to the Long Canyon Trailhead
Jump to: Alternate routes to the Four Lakes Loop

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Preparations:

Permits: You will need a Wilderness Permit to camp in the Trinity Alps Wilderness and need a California Campfire Permit in order to have any camp fires.  Luckily, there are no quotas in place limiting the number of permits, so you can backpack in the Trinity Alps without needing to reserve a permit well in advanced of your trip.  Both the camping and fire permits are free and can be picked up at the Weaverville Ranger Station in Weaverville, CA.  If you arrive when the ranger station is open, you can go inside get your permits and talk to the rangers.  If you arrive when the station is closed, there is a self-service kiosk outside where you can fill out a permit and drop it in a lock-box.  You can find some basic information about the wilderness and permits at the National Forest webpage for the Trinity Alps.

For information on current conditions, your best bets are to either call the ranger station (530-623-2121) or to visit the Trinity Alps Wilderness facebook page.  I found the facebook page to be the most useful because many people were posting pictures and descriptions of the treks they did the previous weekend.  There are only a handful of rangers covering the whole wilderness area, so they are not able to check out all the trails on a regular basis.

Logistics: Since you can grab permits at the self-service kiosk at the Weaverville Ranger Station, you do not need to worry about arriving when the ranger station is open (unless you want to ask the ranger questions).  After getting your permit, you will have to drive to the trailhead because there are no shuttles or buses.  Parking at some of the popular trailheads can get crowded, but if you arrive early and beat the day hikers, you should not have a problem.

The Four Lakes Loop can be reached via several different trails. In this itinerary I will primarily describe the route along the Long Canyon Trail. Alternatively one could hike the Stoney Ridge Trail or the Swift Creek Trail. I will briefly talk about these alternative trails at the end of the report, but will not go into much detail. All three trails have a fair amount of elevation gain, so plan to hike at a rather slow pace.

Supplies: You will need to either store your food in a bear canister (Bear Vault BV500 transparent canister) or bring supplies to hang your food at night (Liberty Mountain Ultralight Bear Bag).  Bears in the Trinity Alps are not as mischievous as the bears in Yosemite or Sequoia, but follow the rules and protect your food so the bears do not develop bad habits. I prefer the bear canister because I use it as a chair. There also are not many trees to hang food in on this loop, so the canister is the best option.

There are a fair number of mosquitoes near the lakes and in the meadows, so treating your clothes and tent with permethrin repellent is a good idea. I also like to use a picaridin-based bug spray on my exposed skin.

The trail is quite steep in many areas, so you will want trekking poles to help save your knees. Some areas of the loop can have snow on them if you go early in the season. If this is the case, you may want to brings some microspikes/crampons.

Below is a list of the gear suggested for this type of trip in the Trinity Alps:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

Weather and Trail Conditions: The trail is fairly easy to follow and is well-maintained. If you are backpacking in the middle of the summer, be prepared for warm temperatures and also check that there are no forest fires in the area.  It can easily get up to the 90s in the forest during the middle of the day because the Trinities are lower altitude compared to the Sierras.  There can also be afternoon thunderstorms.  If you go earlier in the season, be sure to check current conditions and make sure the snow has melted.

Difficulty: The trails in the Trinity Alps are typically very steep with lots of elevation gain, and this trail is no exception. Expect to be hiking up and down a lot. Luckily the Four Lakes Loop is only ~6 miles from the Long Canyon Trailhead, so the overall mileage is limited. If you plan to cover more ground than is shown in this itinerary, be prepared for tough hikes and many switchbacks in the Trinity Alps. The views are often beautiful, but that trails make you work hard.

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Day 1: Long Canyon Trailhead to Deer Lake (or Summit Lake); 5.7 (6.5) miles; +4,220 / -800 (+4,560 / -800) feet

Day_1
Map of the Day 1 hike to the Four Lakes Loop from the Long Canyon Trailhead. Two end points are shown: either Deer Lake or Summit Lake

Map of Day 1 hike (PDF)

Day_1_elev_deer_lake
Approximate elevation profile of the hike from the Long Canyon Trailhead to Deer Lake.
Day_1_elev_summit_lake
Approximate elevation profile of the hike from the Long Canyon Trailhead to Summit Lake.

The Long Canyon Trailhead is located off of Long Canyon Road about a 10 minute drive in from Highway 3. There is a sign on Highway 3 at the turnoff that notes the entrance for the Long Canyon Trail. In total, the trailhead is about a 40 minute drive from the Weaverville Ranger Station. If you wish to car camp the night before starting your trek, there are several forest service campsites in the vicinity of Trinity Lake and the trailhead.

Long_canyon_start
The start of the Long Canyon Trail is within a forest for the first few miles (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
Long_canyon_exit_forest
The trail then  exits the forest and you catch your first views of the granite peaks within the Trinity Alps Wilderness (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
meadow_long_canyon
The trail continues to steadily climb and depending on the time of year you may encounter blooms of wildflowers (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)
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It’s a steady climb for the first 4.5 miles. This view is looking back towards the trailhead (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)
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The Long Canyon Trail approaching Bee Tree Gap (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
looking_across_long_canyon_at_gibson_peak
The view of Gibson Peak from the Long Canyon Trail from near Bee Tree Gap (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
upper_siligo_meadow
After you pass Bee Tree gap, you encounter Siligo Meadow. This meadow is surrounded by mountains on most sides.  (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
dear_lake_and_siligo_pass_from_deer_creek_pass
After crossing Siligo Meadows you reach Deer Creek Pass and catch you first view of Deer Lake with Siligo Peak in the background. At this point you have reached the Four Lakes Loop (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)

At this point you must decide to either head to the right and work your way down to Deer Lake or to head left and continue to either Summit Lake or Diamond Lake. There are campsites at all three of these lakes and there are also campsites in the meadow areas near the Four Lakes Loop. Deer Lake is the most popular lake to camp at and has a few developed campsites. Summit Lake is nice as well and is a bit more sheltered than the other lakes. Diamond Lake has spectacular views but has only a couple places to camp. Some photos of campsites at the lakes are shown below. If you have a large group or want to avoid crowds, it may be wise to avoid camping at one of the lakes and to camp by Siligo Meadows or somewhere by Deer Creek.

Deer_Lake_Camp
Some developed campsites at the shore of Deer Lake (photo credit: Mike Fowler)
summit_lake_camp
Campsite at Summit Lake (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)

After all the climbing on the first day, you will likely just set up camp and relax the rest of this day. If you wanted to catch a great sunset on this night, you could make your way to Diamond Lake.

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Day 2: Hike around the Four Lakes Loop; 6 miles; +/- 2,300 feet

Loop_map
Map of the Four Lakes Loop (blue) in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Map of the Four Lakes Loop (PDF)

Loop_elevation
Elevation profile for the Four Lakes Loop starting and ending at Deer Lake.

On this day, it is easiest to leave your large backpack behind and hike the Four Lakes Loop with just a day pack. The loop is only 6 miles long but has plenty of switchbacks. Along the way you can make several side trips to add mileage if need be. These include scrambling to the top of Siligo Peak, hiking up to the summit of Seven Up Peak, or making longer trip to Echo Lake. Alternatively you could just hike the Four Lakes Loop and explore the areas around each of the lakes (Deer Lake, Summit Lake, Diamond Lake, and Luella Lake).

Most hikers go around the Four Lakes Loop in the clockwise direction because this provides some great views. The following photos show scenes from the Loop in the clockwise direction starting from near Deer Creek Pass.

looking_back_at_deer_lake_and_pass
Take the trail towards the left to Summit Lake when leaving from Deer Creek Pass. After a short travel if you look back you are treated to this view of Deer Lake and the Deer Creek Pass to the right (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
Capture
The trail climbs for about 0.7 miles before you reach the turn off for Summit Lake. This is the view looking back towards  Deer Lake and Seven Up Peak from near the Summit Lake turn off. (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
summit_lake
This is the first view of Summit Lake. From the main trail you will head downhill a bit to reach the shore of the lake. (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
summit_lake_2
The shore and clear water at Summit Lake (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
summit_lake_3
Another view of Summit Lake (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
looking_down_on_diamond_lake_and_stuart_fork
After checking out Summit Lake, head back to the main loop and begin hiking downhill to Diamond Lake. This is a view looking down at Diamond Lake with the Stuark Fork Valley in the background (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
diamond_lake_white_trinities_background
View of Diamond Lake with some granite peaks in the background. If you stay at Diamond Lake until Sunset you can get some great photos. (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
vuew_between_diamond_and_luella
View from the Four Lakes Loop trail between Diamond and Luella Lake (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
luella_lake
Looking down at Luella Lake (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)
luella_lake
View of the small Luella Lake along the Four Lakes Loop. If you want to swim, this lake is likely to be warmest. (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
deer_creek_valley_before_ascending
After passing Luella Lake you descend down to Deer Creek and the valley it sits in. This is the lowest point in the Four Lakes Loop and there is a big climb to finish the hike. At this point you would decide if you want to take the trail to ascend Seven Up Peak (or down to Granite Lake) or simple head back to Deer Lake (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
on_ascent_back_up_seven_up_peak_on_right
View looking back after beginning the ascent up back towards Deer Lake. Seven Up Peak is in the back right of the photo (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
deer_lake_looking_at_deer_pass
Eventually you end up back at Deer Lake after a tough but beautiful day hike. This is Deer Lake with Deer Creek Pass in the background (photo credit: Maia Averett, plutoniclove.com)
siligo_peak_and_luella_lake
View of Deer Lake with Siligo Peak in the background (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)

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Day 3: Potential side trips from the Four Lakes Loop

Summit of Siligo Peak – The off trail hike to the peak of Siligo Peak starts from the portion of the Four Lakes Loop near the turn off for Summit Lake. The sidetrip to the peak is ~0.6 miles and +/- 400 feet round trip. At the top of the peak you get great views of the surrounding area.

siligo
Map showing the short sidetrip to the top of Siligo Peak (red)
siligo_peak
Hikers atop Siligo Peak (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)
diamond_lake_from_siligo_peak
View of Diamond Lake from atop Siligo Peak (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)
deer_Creek_from_siligo_peak
View of the Deer Creek Valley from atop Siligo Peak (photo credit: Miguel Vieira)

 

Summit of Seven Up Peak – This side trip provides nice views of the Deer Creek Valley, Four Lakes Loop, Bear Basin, and Granite Creek area. The hike is longer and more strenuous than that for the Siligo Peak trip, but still no technical climbing is required. The side trip to the summit of Seven Up Peak is about 4.3 miles and +/- 2,100 feet round trip from the junction with the Four Lakes Loop near Deer Creek.

seven_up_peak
Map of the side trip up to Seven Up Peak (red).
Seven_up_traverse
Looking towards Seven Up Peak from the saddle that separates the Four Lake Loop from the Granite Creek area.

More info on this side trip can be found on the summitpost page.

 

Echo Lake – The side trip to Echo Lake could be done as a day trip or you could even hike over and set up camp here for a night. From Deer Lake the trip is 5 miles and +/- 2,400 feet round trip. Along the way you pass through Lower Siligo Meadows, can catch views of nearby Van Matre Meadows, and get to see the scenic Echo Lake at the end.

echo_trail
The route from Deer Lake to Echo Lake (red).
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Echo Lake with some of the granite peaks in Trinity in the background (photo credit: Tim Hilton)
Oly
Echo Lake (credit: Becky)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View of a boggy area within Van Matre Meadows (photo credit: Tim Hilton)

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Day 4: Deer Lake to Long Canyon Trailhead; 5.7 (6.5) miles; +800 feet / -4,200 (+800/ -4,560) feet

This hike is just backtracking along the Long Canyon Trail back to the trailhead. Unfortunately it is not possible to make a nice loop with no backtracking in area of the Trinity Alps. If you did not want to take the whole Long Canyon Trail back, you could do a little off-trail hiking and exit via Bowerman Meadows. This trail would involve going from Deer Creek Pass to Siligo Meadows to Echo Lake to Billy Be Damn Lake to Bowerman Meadows and back to the Long Canyon. Note that the section between Echo Lake and Bowerman Meadows would be off trail hiking.

Day_1
Map of the Day 3 hike from the Four Lakes Loop to the Long Canyon Trailhead. Two starting points are shown: either Deer Lake or Summit Lake

Map of Day 1 hike (PDF)

Day_3_elevation_deer
Approximate elevation profile for the hike from Deer Lake to the Long Canyon Trailhead
Day_3_elevation_summit
Approximate elevation profile for the hike from Summit Lake to the Long Canyon Trailhead

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Alternate trails to the Four Lakes Loop

The hike in from the Stoney Ridge Trailhead is arguably the most scenic route to the Four Lakes Loop. However, this route is less popular than the Long Canyon Trail route because of its length and steep, steady climb. That said, you can camp at Echo Lake along the way in at the ~6 mile mark to break the hike up. The Stoney Ridge Trail is a great option if you are a strong hiker or have an extra day to camp at Echo Lake before reaching Deer Lake. Along this trail you get great views from Stonewall Pass and Little Stonewall Pass and you hike through Van Matre Meadows and both Lower and Upper Siligo Meadows.

Stoney_ridge_map
You can also access the Four Lakes Loop via the Stoney Ridge Trail (red). The hike to the Deer Lake from the Stoney Ridge Trailhead is 8 miles and +4,250 / -1,730 feet one way.

Map of hike in from Stoney Ridge Trailhead (PDF)

The third route one can take to the Four Lakes Loop is the Swift Creek Trail. This trailhead is the furthest North and is quite long to get to Deer Lake. Along this route you have the opportunity to visit and/or camp at Granite Lake.

Swift_creek_map
You can also access the Four Lakes Loop via the Swift Creek Trail (yellow). The hike to the Deer Lake from the Swift Creek Trailhead is 9.5 miles and +4,750 / -1,550 feet one way.

Map of hike in from Swift Creek Trailhead (PDF)

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Here are some similar trip reports!

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11 Replies to “Four Lakes Loop – Trinity Alps Wilderness (20 mile trek)”

    1. Hi George – If you do the Four Lakes Loop on a weekend, you are likely to encounter some other hikers. This will be especially true this summer as many other backpacking areas are very snowy. I could see there being more traffic in the Trinity Alps as people try to avoid the snow. The area is still beautiful though! I wouldn’t let the crowds discourage you.

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  1. Thank you so much for this guide! Going to do this in July – Long Canyon to Summit Lake, then to Deer Lake, and then back to the trailhead. Hard to find much information on this trail, so this is super helpful!

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  2. Great detailed write up! Thanks. Love the photos and the commentary. Didn’t see a date for this trip. Did you go up this year (2019)? We were planning on going up this weekend but heard the snow was still blanketing the trails as of a week ago.

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    1. Hi Diana – we actually went on this hike a few years ago at the tail end of the drought. The pictures are not indicative of the current conditions. Probably a good amount of snow still covering the trail near the four lakes! The Trinity Alps facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/trinityalpswilderness1984/) sometimes has recent photos of the trails. I would check there and/or call up the ranger station.

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      1. Ahh, I figured, but held out hope given the recent comments haha! Thank you for the clarification.

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  3. Anyone do this hike this spring/summer (2019)? I’d love to hear about trail conditions (snow, washouts, road to trailhead). Thanks!

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    1. My sister and I attempted this trail early June, snowed in couldn’t get to deer lake even. We are attempting it again this weekend July 26th. fingers crossed that most of the snow is gone!

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      1. Awesome, let us know how it goes! The Four Lakes Loop area looks mostly snow free in the latest weekly satellite images, so you should be good to go.

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  4. My wife and I plan to do this hike Aug 2-4. If anyone would like to “buddy up” so we can hike in via Stoney Ridge and out Long Canyon (or vice versa) Please get in touch with me (8015051404. I’m envisioning a car shuttle.

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