Backpack the Sky High Lakes in the Marble Mountains

Lover's Camp Trailhead, Fort Jones, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    13.25 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    2300 Feet

Forest
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers

A handful of scenic lakes sit high in the Marble Mountains, surrounded by forests and ridges that beg to be explored. The Sky High Lakes are marvelous, but a short side hike leads to an even higher lake that may just be the best of the bunch.

The Marble Mountains are part of the Klamaths, a biologically and geologically diverse range of peaks and ridges often overshadowed by its western neighbors in the Cascades. The Marble Rim is the signature feature of this subrange, a white wall of rock that glimmers in the sun. The nearby Sky High Lakes basin adds to the scenery, making this a great overnight trip, and perhaps an even better multi-day exploration of this magnificent wilderness.

From the Lover's Camp Trailhead, the trail climbs gradually along Canyon Creek. Early on, a trail branches off to the east towards Red Rock Valley, but that's a trip for another day. Canyon Creek is often audible, but the trail keeps you away from its banks, staying up in the conifer forest (with plenty of big leaf maples for color in fall), though after a big rain you may be crossing some intermittent streams and waterfalls along the way.

At 3.9 miles (and after a couple of switchbacks and marble staircases near the end of the segment) the trail comes to a fork. You've arrived at the network of trails that winds through the high valleys below the Marble RIm. Taking a left is the most direct route to the Sky High Lakes Basin, about 2 miles away and 600 feet up. Right leads to the Marble Valley and the base of the Marble Rim. There's no right or wrong choice. The camping is best by the lakes, so you could go set up first and then venture out unencumbered for further exploration. For simplicity's sake, though, the mileage listed here follows a route that heads right at this fork, making a counter-clockwise loop through the Marble Valley, over to the Sky High Lakes, and back to this junction.

Just over a half-mile from the junction, the trail emerges into a meadow at the base of the Marble Rim, an imposing wall of white that looms above the forest. There's an old Forest Service station here, too (locked), and social trails branch off though the meadows towards the rim above. This is also a junction with the PCT, along which the loop continues.

Heading south on the PCT for a mile takes you up to the ridge and a four-way junction. Here, there are more opportunities for exploration, with a short spur hike (< 1 mile one-way) north along the ridge and a scramble up the first peak to the north providing stellar views of the Marble Rim and Black Marble Mountain, as well as the valley below the rim on its steeper western side. Indeed, the whole Marble Rim is accessible from this point, and Black Marble Mountain beyond, but that's all heading away from the Sky High Lakes...

The loop, however, heads south for another half-mile towards another junction. Turning left, the trail climbs over the loop's high point (6,425 ft) and then descends into the beautiful basin of the Sky High Lakes, where ample camping can be found along the shores of and in the forests surrounding Frying Pan, Upper, and Lower Sky High Lakes. The basin is a good base for further explorations of the Marbles.

Taking a right at this last fork, though, will lead to the best lake of them all: Shadow Lake. Just over a mile away, Shadow Lake hangs high above the Sky High Basin, filling a rocky rim and serving as a reflecting pool for the crags above it (and the Marbles to the north from the right angles). There are decent campsites up here, too, but it's much more exposed. It's also stunningly scenic, so do as you will. Shadow Lake can easily be visited in a 4-mile out and back from the Sky High Lakes basin, as well.

The Marble Mountains are also home to a network of caves, so if spelunking is your thing then you may be in luck. The caves aren't marked or developed, so only serious and experienced covers should search them out. Check with the Forest Service or local authorities for more information.

When you're done exploring the wonders of the Marble Mountains, follow the trail north out of the Sky High basin to then complete the loop to the northeast, passing by one last lake, Gate Lake, on the way. Two miles from the basin, you'll hit the main trail again, and it's all downhill along Canyon Creek back to Lover's Camp.

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Water, bottles, filter
  • Food
  • Rope & Bag to hang food in trees (away from nosy black bears)
  • Tent or Hammock
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Camera
  • Topo maps or GPS
  • Layers (be ready for temperature swings)
  • Field guides, esp. for trees - the Klamaths are known for their conifer diversity
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Thanks for posting, I just went up there last Sunday! I started out running the trail to the Marble Gap and the one that loops around behind Black Marble Mountain. Then I ran the trail to the opposing ridge above the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail before running down to the lakes. I didn't go to Shadow Lake, but will next time when I further explore the cave system. Miles of caves in the marble fissures below the main ridge!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Went with my daughter and grand daughter of the 4th. What a way to celebrate America. We did the out and back trail following Canyon Creek and camped on the lower lake. This was a great place to explore, swim, and camp. Will be doing this again!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Chaney Swiney

26, aspiring explorer, photographer, naturalist

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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