Backpack to Bear Basin and The Four Lakes Loop
Rate this Adventure Lake Tahoe › Swift Creek Trailhead
Added by Jeff Driscoll
The Four Lakes Loop in the Trinity Alps Wilderness is mile for mile one of the best hikes in the Trinity Alps. In a long weekend trip, you can experience lush forests, valleys, and meadows followed by mountain lakes, and scenic vista after scenic vista.
Swift Creek Trail Head to Bear Basin
The trip begins at the Swift Creek trailhead in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Permits are very easy to get, just stop by the Ranger station in Weaverville, CA. They are free and can be self-issued in front of the ranger station, or you can go in if you would like to talk to a ranger. You can also pick them up after hours in case you wanted to drive to the trailhead and camp the night before.
From Weaverville, it is about 35 miles to the trailhead. You'll drive down CA Hwy 3 and turn onto Swift Creek Rd near Trinity Center. Expect the drive to the trailhead to take about 60 minutes. Swift Creek Rd is all dirt and gravel and can be slow going, and CA Hwy 3 is windy and also slow going.
Once at the trailhead, you will follow the signs for the Swift Creek Trail. Like most trails in the Trinity Alps, this one begins in a forested river canyon. You'll follow Swift Creek for several miles with mild elevation changes throughout but mostly a gradual net gain of elevation. To complete the loop in the same direction that I did (highly recommended), you will pass the Granite Creek Trail and keep hiking until you reach the junction with Bear Creek. Turn here and follow this as you gradually ascend towards Bear Basin.
On our trip, we drove from Sacramento to Weaverville, and then to the trailhead. So we ended up setting up camp for the night not too far after we turned off onto Bear Creek and just before the ascent to the beginning of Bear Basin. You will notice several highly used campsites near Bear Creek as you ascend the valley.
Bear Basin to Summit Lake
Warning, Day 2 is probably the most strenuous day of the hike, but also very enjoyable and scenic.
The trail begins by meandering through Lower Bear Basin on its way to Upper Bear Basin.
As you continue to climb, the basin just gets better and better. As you reach the upper basin, the trees thin out, and views of the ridge line and Seven Up Peak start to come into view.
Once you reach the top of Bear Basin, you will have an incredible view of the Sawtooth Range (above) and will reach a trail junction with a few options.
From the junction you will have the option to head; North towards Mumford Peak and Mumford Basin, West down Black Basin towards Deer Creek and the Stuart Fork Canyon, or wrap around Seven Up Peak and head South towards Granite Creek and the Four Lakes Loop. You will want to head South. As the trail wraps around Seven Up Peak, the views are incredible! Make sure to keep your eyes on the trail here though. The trail is cut into the hillside, and a wrong step could have you sliding down the loose rock for quite awhile.
As you get closer to the Granite Creek Trail junction you will begin to see the beautiful red and white rocks caused by a mix of metamorphic rock and granite in this area. This is where the "Red Trinities" meet the "White Trinities," named for the color of the rock. The granite peak just across the valley to your left is Silago Peak, which you will circle when doing the Four Lakes Loop. Get familiar with this area since you'll be seeing a lot of it over the next two days. The lake to the right of Silago Peak sitting on a bench is Luelle Lake and in the meadow far below is Deer Creek and Round Lake.
Once you come to the junction with the Granite Creek Trail, head right and descend towards the meadow with Deer Creek and Round Lake. Be prepared for a lot of long, gradual switchbacks as you descend to the meadow below. However, if you hate hiking downhill, don't worry a nice long climb back up to Deer Pass is coming up next.
Now that most of the downhill hiking is over for the day, and you have reached the meadow below take advantage of refilling your water at Deer Creek. If not, the next chance for water will be at Deer Lake, which is almost all the way up to Deer Pass. Once your water is filled, follow the signs towards Deer Lake and Deer Pass.
From Deer Lake, you'll see the trail cutting across the upper portion of the bowl, this leads to Summit Lake, your home for Day 2. Follow the trail up and out of the bowl until you reach the junction for Deer Pass, you'll stop just short of the pass and from this junction cut right across the top of the bowl and follow the trail until you gain the next ridge. Now you can see Summit Lake, and you can feel free to start descending and finding a campsite for the night. Summit Lake is beautiful at sunset (above), and you'll find plenty of mostly exposed campsites all around the lake on the hillside.
Summit Lake to Granite Lake
Now prepare for more fantastic scenery as you'll complete the Four Lakes Loop and end up on the way back towards the car.
Your morning starts out by climbing the ridge you descended to get to Summit Lake. From here, you'll slowly traverse until going up and over the ridge and down towards Diamond Lake (above). Diamond Lake is one of the prettiest "infinity" style lakes I've seen. From the water's edge, it looks like the heart of the Trinity Alps is rising from just the other side of the lake. Once you descend to Diamond Lake, you'll begin traversing the gorgeous meadow to its North on the way to the next ridge that stands between you and Luelle Lake (above).
From here, descend to Luelle Lake. Stop and rest the knees for a bit at Luelle Lake (above) because you still have another long descent back to Deer Creek (above). Once you get to the junction in Deer Creek head back to where you cut off yesterday on your way to Summit Lake. From this junction you get to head back up those long switchbacks you walked down yesterday as you head back to the Granite Creek Trail.
Once you've climbed back up to the Granite Creek Trail, make sure to admire the view again of Mt Silago and the Four Lakes Loop. It was a tiring loop with lots of ups and downs, but also incredible scenery. Now you'll get to descend the Granite Creek Trail and have almost nothing but downhill back to the car. We stopped to camp for the night at Granite Lake, a very popular and crowded lake. It's so crowded that you'll find yourself missing the quiet solitude of Bear Basin and the other destinations a little bit further away.
Granite Lake to the Swift Creek Trailhead
Now you're in for an easy day through the forest as you wind down the canyons and back towards the car. You'll get to pass through some gorgeous forest (above) and also see Gibson Peak over Gibson Meadow on the way out.
I hope you enjoy this trip. I still look back on it as some of the best scenery mile after mile and will definitely do it again.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- First-aid supplies
- Extra food
- Water Filter
- Bear Canister (Recommended)
- iPod/mp3 player
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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