Have this beautiful lake to yourself in the magic of winter!

This is a long, beautiful snowshoe to a lake that is very accessible in the summer but almost untouched in the winter! There are a couple of ways to access the lake during the winter, but this is the most interesting:

Starting at the easternmost sno-park along Highway 4 going east of Bear Valley, hike along the highway until you pass Alpine Lake and hit the intersection for the Backpackers, Pine Marten, and Silver Lake campgrounds. Take a right up this road until you hit the summer trailhead and the road veers right towards Silver Lake campground. From here, head southeast over the ridge towards Duck Lake (only 150 feet of uphill in this direction, followed by 300 feet of downhill). Here, there are a couple of dilapidated cabins left over from the pre-wilderness designation days. Even at this point, only 3 miles from the trailhead, you’ll likely have almost complete solitude.

Once you hit Duck Lake, head east-southeast past the meadows near to the east of Duck Lake, until you’re parallel to a low point on the small ridge east of Duck Lake (near a small pond that is visible on the map and viewable during the summer). By this point, you’re roughly halfway through the hike distance-wise, but still have 3/4 of the elevation gain left. From here, you’ll head almost directly northeast, over the aforementioned ridge, cross the North Fork of the Stanislaus River, then head up towards a noticeable rock outcropping to the northeast of your crossing. Here, you should stop on top of the rock outcropping to enjoy panoramic views of the river below and the hills to the north and west.

After reaching the rock outcropping, follow the contour lines on the map clockwise towards point 7944, the beginning of the final climb to Bull Run Lake. From this point, head south-southeast up to Bull Run Lake (another 400’ of elevation gain). Note that you may not be able to access point 7944 from the west, so you may have to take a circuitous route to the north and east of it, as we did. The best campsites seem to be on the northern side of the lake, and many of them are sheltered from the wind.

This hike offers tons of solitude and a great challenge, combined with multiple beautiful lakes and a great campsite at Bull Run Lake. If you want to take an extra day, there are good day hikes to the various peaks surrounding the lake in addition to Heiser Lake (if you hike to those peaks, bring avalanche gear and make sure that you are well trained in avalanche avoidance and rescue techniques. The hike to Bull Run lake has minimal avalanche risk as it is almost entirely in heavily forested areas). In good (read: solid) snow conditions, this should take one long day each way, though it could easily be a longer trip in soft snow. If you do this hike early or late enough in the season, you may be lucky enough to be able to drive directly up to Silver Lake Campground, thereby cutting off almost 2 miles each way.

Disclaimer: please note that distances are only a rough estimate, as off-trail and winter travel times and distances can vary greatly depending on actual navigational decisions and snow conditions. 

Geo-coordinates to the lake: 38.4809, -119.9147 (WGS84 datum).

Route: https://caltopo.com/m/K37B

Pack List

  • Avalanche gear (beacon, shovel) and avalanche training
  • Snowshoes
  • Backpack
  • 4 season tent
  • Rain pants
  • Rain jacket
  • Gaiters
  • Waterproof boots
  • Long underwear
  • Normal underwear
  • Enough jackets to keep you warm at 15-20 degree nighttime temperatures (for me, that’s one light jacket, one medium jacket, and one heavy jacket).
  • Fleece sweatpants or a second pair of long underwear
  • T-shirt
  • Thick sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag (rated to zero degrees or below)
  • Snow shovel
  • Warm gloves or mittens
  • Waterproof glove/mitten liners
  • Stove
  • Cookware
  • Map
  • Compass
Show More
RT Distance 15 Miles
Elevation Gain 2400 Feet
Activities Skiing, Snowshoeing, Backpacking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Winter
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Wildlife

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