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Stuart Fork to Alpine Lake

Trinity Center, California



16 miles

Elevation Gain

4265 ft

Route Type



Added by Clayton Herrmann

A challenging hike that rewards those that succeed with a beautiful lake, and views of epic peaks.

Nestled in the heights of the Trinity Alps, this hike to Alpine Lake is not for the faint of heart.

  • Before embarking on this adventure call the Weaverville Ranger station to check snow levels as well as the flow of the Stuart Fork River. If you are too early in the summer season the snowpack will be too low and the water crossing will be too dangerous. THERE IS NO BRIDGE TO CROSS.

Pre Trip Requirements:
Stop at the Weaverville Ranger Station to self register for a backcountry permit. Here you will also register for a California fire permit so you can legally operate your camp stove. There are no campfires allowed in the Stuart Fork/Lake Alpine drainage areas.

Trip Info:
Take Trinity Alps Road to its terminus at the site of Bridge Camp Campground. Park your car here. Proceed to the trailhead located at the end of the parking lot. From here you will follow the clearly marked Stuart Fork trail into the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area.

Do not be fooled by how the trail starts. You will climb roughly 1,000ft in the fist 5 miles as it meanders alongside the Stuart Fork River. The remaining 3,000ft of climbing will be covered in last 3 miles. Around mile 5 you will come to a mandatory river crossing. This is where you leave the Stuart Fork Trail and begin your journey towards Alpine Lake. If you are too early in the summer season, spring runoff will have increased the flow of the river making it too dangerous to safely cross. River permitting, proceed to the other side. You will find right after crossing that the trail continues up the side of the hill. Follow this trail as it wraps around the hill. You will feel like you are going back in the direction you started, this is OK. .5 miles after crossing the river you will begin the hard and arduous trek up the switchbacks to Alpine Lake. Make sure to bring lots of water as a large portion of this trail is exposed to the summer sun.

Once reaching the end of the switchbacks you will arrive at a lake basin. Continue on the trail towards the looming granite ridge in front of you. In a short while, Alpine Lake will be in full view, nestled under a gigantic granite ridge.

There are two campsite areas: There are two campsites near the mouth of the lake. The second campsite area is located on the other side of the lake. Those that still have enough energy can scramble around the lake. It is easiest to scramble on the right side of the lake to a large rock on the far side. This rock is flat and makes for an ideal campsite. Be wary as many choose to setup camp here and the campsite area at the lake mouth is just as beautiful.

Give yourself a pat on the back and jump into the frigid snowmelt lake water to refresh. Bears are very active in this area. Bring a bear can or create a bear hang. Trees are few in this granite bowl so plan on bearing a bear can.

Side Trip:
To get a glimpse of Sawtooth Peak and view of a large portion of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, backtrack to the end of the switchbacks accomplished the day before. This will be a roughly 2 mile venture from the far side of the lake with over a 1,200ft in climbing . Look for a rock cairn indicating the starting point for this cross country climb up the steep hillside to what looks like a saddle. There is no clear trail for this hike. If you are lucky, you may be able to find a faint passage through the brush created by those before you. Work your way up to your best choosing. Once through the brush, you will then have to scramble your way up and across granite slabs to the ridge of the saddle.

Once at the very top you will have an epic view of Sawtooth Peak, Smith Lake and the surrounding mountains. The aspect is north facing and will hold snow longer than the face you just hiked up. Snow permitting, you can work your way down to the lake or choose to hangout up top.

Keep an eye out for summer storms as this area is exposed and the trek backdown will take just as much care and route finding as the journey up.

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