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California Adventures

Four Lakes Loop: The Joys in Backpacking

Before I came to California, if someone told me that there was a remote and lesser-traveled wilderness full of alpine lakes, grassy meadows, towering granite peaks, and hundreds of miles of maintained trails, I would have called them crazy.

I would not have conceived that California holds such a hidden oasis, or a place to seek solace. There are certainly many areas to explore in this beautiful state, but only the Trinity Alps Wilderness can display such incredible diversity and wonder while feeling so far removed from our modern-day society.

Within this vast, 525,627-acre wilderness area, lies the Four Lakes Region — an alpine wonderland, featuring some of the best the Alps have to offer.

As the name suggests, there are four beautiful lakes to be seen. A loop trail – the Four Lakes Loop – connects each through pristine alpine woodlands, granite and peridotite rock formations, and marvelous vista points. This trip takes you to the crest of the eastern portion of the Trinity Alps: the peridotite-stained Red Trinities.

Due to its central location in the Trinities, there are a variety of ways to approach the loop. The loop itself is 5.2 miles (8.4 km), and all approaches add more miles and elevation gain. For the purposes of this four-day itinerary, I will outline the most convenient and sensible approach, and take a tour of the loop itself.

  1. Redding to Long Canyon Trailhead
  2. Long Canyon Trailhead to Deer Lake
  3. Deer Lake to Diamond Lake
  4. Diamond Lake to Long Canyon Trailhead

General Stats:

  • Trailhead Elevation: 3,760 feet (1,146 m)
  • Elevation Gain: 5,700 feet (1,737 m)
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Distance: 17.2 miles (27.68 km)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate


Day 1 – Redding to Long Canyon Trailhead

For my group of friends, we planned our trip to depart our home in Redding, CA on a Thursday evening, arrive at a campground that same night, and then come back to Redding on Sunday night. This would give us a full three days to take in the views.

Day One begins the journey with a drive to Weaverville and Trinity Lake, at the flanks of the Trinity Alps. The great thing about leaving on Thursday, before officially putting in the hiking mileage, is the option of a pit stop in Weaverville and staying at a campground along Trinity Lake.

Before we set off on Route 299 West, we stop in at Country Organics. They have our favorite food and smoothie options here. I opt for the Grilled Vegan Wrap (add Tempeh!) and the Refuel smoothie. It’s always a treat to have a healthy option in town, so I can have the energy and vitality to backpack three days with several hundred feet of elevation gain.

We start our drive towards Weaverville. This 45-minute mountain stroll meanders along the Trinity River, with occasional Klamath Mountains peaks (the broader range) showing their jaggedy nature in the distance.

Weaverville, California, from above! The Trinity Alps loom in the distance.

Weaverville, California, city streets. This an old-style west town with plenty of character!

As we enter the quaint and old west-style Weaverville, my anxious excitement grows. The old-fashioned streets speak to the mysteriousness of this whole region. A strange aura surrounds these once-Gold Rush settlements, and that has not been forgotten.

While in town, we get gas and pick up any last-minute items. This will be the last town with service and amenities, so we make sure to prepare accordingly.

We take a turn onto Route 3, towards the campground at Trinity Lake. This mountain road serves as the springboard for many adventures into the Alps and will be featured more on the California Adventure District.

At the campground, I meticulously check my backpack for all the required gear:

  • Sleeping Supplies: tent, sleeping pad, pillow, and sleeping bag.
  • Hiking Clothes: hiking pants, hiking shirt, rain jacket, fleece sweater, hiking socks, hat, and swimsuit.
  • Hiking boots
  • Food (more on that later!)
  • Water Filter
  • Bear Bin (not required in the Trinities, but more secure than a rope/tree setup!)
  • Jetboil and Propane
  • GPS
  • Hiking Poles
  • SunGlasses
  • Battery Pack/Solar Charger
  • Sunscreen

Organizing gear and understanding what is needed for a specific adventure is important. To be clear, you do not need all these items for a Four Lakes Loop summer excursion, but it still helps to know what you have!

A well-organized pack will allow for easy hiking and finding the right items while on the trail. Because these packs will be relatively heavy, at around 25-30 pounds, the intention is key. As a rule of thumb, a loaded backpacking pack should not weigh more than about 20 percent of your body weight. (If you weigh 150 pounds, your pack should not exceed 30 pounds for backpacking).

To keep things simpler and a backpack lighter, luxuries are not needed. Experienced backpackers will always admit the trial and error that comes with knowing what you will use in the wilderness.

  • For a more detailed description and understanding of what you’ll need for a variety of adventures, check out this article — “A Beginner’s Guide To Mountain Adventures.” As always, feel free to shoot me an email if you have questions or want to go on adventures!

To round out the pack, I fill my bear bin and easily-accessed pockets with meals and bars.

  • Evenings: I recommend Outdoor Herbivore lightweight backpacking meals — having a meal packet for each night.
  • Mornings: I eat pre-made packs of granola, fruit, and nuts.
  • Lunch, and for when I’m hungry: I opt for Organic Food Bar — the most nutritious and cost-effective bar to date. These can also be conveniently found at Country Organics in Redding, CA.

Dusk comes quickly, even on these long summer days. We relax by the lake (not opting for a fire due to regulations in the summer) and watch that classic California sunset. Red and orange hues fill the sky, constantly reminding me of how incredible nature is.

Directions: Turn onto Route 3, in the heart of Weaverville. This winding mountain road goes to the Long Canyon turn-off and up a Forest Service road. If coming from Oregon, Yreka will be the turn off unto Route 3, and then head south to Long Canyon. This half paved, half dirt road brings us to our destination, Long Canyon Trailhead.

Pit Stop: VisitTrinity is a good resource for shops. We opt for Mountain Marketplace, in Weaverville.

Campground: Minersville Group Camp, on the Stuart Fork Arm of Trinity Lake. This is near the trailhead. Lake sunsets are especially memorable here, and set a precedent for the views to come on trail.

Day 2 – Long Canyon Trailhead to Deer Lake

Day 2 Trail Statistics:

  • Start: Long Canyon Trailhead – 3,760 feet (1,146 m)
  • Length: 6.2 miles
  • Highest Point: Deer Creek Pass – 7,760 feet (2,365 m)
  • Day Two Camp: Deer Lake – 7,100 feet (2,164 m)
  • Net Elevation Gain: 3,340 feet (1018 m)

Looking down Long Canyon in the Trinity Alps Wilderness! This section, before Bee Tree Gap, has a decent amount of elevation gain. With a heavy backpack on, consider Day 1 climb to Deer Lake a full day. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

8 am. The road to the Long Canyon Trailhead is relatively easy by dirt road standards and is easily accessible off Route 3. Once there, the little amenities offered clearly show how remote we are. This wilderness might not have the obvious development and organization of places like Yosemite, but it shows its charm in quite the opposite way.

We start off on the Long Canyon Trailhead, at 3,760 feet. The first three miles are on the forest floor, with the trail meandering along a rushing creek. There is an obvious feeling of elevation gain happening when looking towards the central valley to the east, but the views are still not visible if looking up the canyon. From time to time, towering granite and peridotite structures make their appearance through the rows of pine trees. This provides a feeling of suspense and mystery.

Within a few hours, we pass the junction to Bowerman’s Meadows. This alternative trail leads to Lake Anna, which is a respectable alpine lake in its own right but will be explored in a separate trip.

At around mile three and halfway between the trailhead and the first pass is a small campground, as well as the first great views up the canyon. This campground can be attainable for a first night’s day. Because we got an early start on the day, we have lots of time to get to Deer Lake, the first of the four lakes.

Six miles of steady uphill hiking takes us from the trailhead to Bee Tree Gap at 7,560 feet. From here, the views looking down Long Canyon are spectacular. The greater valley, where Redding is located, can be seen all the way to Mt Lassen and the Cascade Range.

Elly, a fellow backpacker in our party, is enjoying the views down Long Canyon and across the valley to the Cascades! Photo Credit: Nicaylen

Bee Tree Gap, at Siligo Meadows! At this junction, you could head down towards Stonewall Pass and Echo Lake (a great trip!), or as this blog post will do, continue towards Deer Creek Pass.

Between here and the next pass, is Siligo Meadows — a junction between the Stoney Ridge route, which is another route to the Four Lakes Loop.  The well-designed trail network makes it fun and captivating to learn more about how all these areas connect together. As I first see these scenes, I begin to dream more and more about how to outline the next trip. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

Deer Creek Pass, the high point of the trail at 7,760 feet, is the next landmark. This is the start of the Four Lakes Loop. In typical Trinity Alps fashion, a whole new scene comes into view — one with incredibly diverse perspectives. Tumbling creeks, lush, expansive meadows, massive cliffs, and brightly colored rocks, all flesh out the constantly changing landscape explored by the Four Lakes Loop.

Siligo Peak is the first obvious feature. This emblematic peak is the central point of the Four Lakes Loop and can be seen from the entirety of the trail. Day 3 features an optional, short scramble to the top. For how mind-blowing that vista point is, optional may turn to mandatory.

The Four Lakes Loop, from Deer Creek Pass. The foreground features Deer Lake and Siligo Peak to its left. In the backdrop is Caribou Mountain and other peaks beyond Stuarts Fork Valley. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

After admiring the view, the group heads down to Deer Lake, where camp will be set up for the first night. A couple of other groups do join us at the lake, but other hiking parties at these alpine lakes keep to themselves and never feel overbearing.

In keeping with the alpine camping tradition, a swim is in order. Yes, alpine lakes are quite cold (due to snowmelt), but there is something so invigorating about taking a dive into crystal clear waters. Especially ones that are surrounded by mesmerizing mountain terrain.

We relax by the lake. This summer evening still features a hot sun that warms us up quickly. We never cease to take in the views here, as well as share experiences. Everything experienced in this setting is so much more profound.

As the sun hides behind Siligo Peak, there are a few things to do before we get ready for the sunset and stargazing.

  • Firstly, we filter and fill up water from the lake. While alpine lakes are some of the cleanest and best-tasting water to be found, it is still pertinent to make sure bacteria is filtered out.
  • Second, we set up our camp with designated areas for tents and a “kitchen” (think Leave No Trace practices!)
  • Then, we fire up the jetboil, a convenient cooking system — adding our favorite backpacking meals and Four Sigmatic mushroom tea (yep, it’s the best tea!).

Deer Lake, with Siligo Peak hanging under an evening cloud. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

After dinner, I always prefer hanging out at a lookout spot right above the lake, towards it’s outlet. This is a terrific place to reminisce on the day, watch the sunset, meditate, appreciate the good things in life, and/or just laugh with friends. Onto day three!

Day 3 – Deer Lake to Diamond Lake

Day 3 Trail Statistics:

  • Start: Deer Lake – 7,100 feet (2,164 m)
  • Length: 2.55 miles (4.10 km)
  • Highest Point: Siligo Peak – 8,162 feet (2,488 m)
  • Day Three Camp: Diamond Lake – 7,300 feet (2,225 m)
  • Net Elevation Gain: 1,062 feet (324 m)


7 am. I wake up to the sounds of Mountain Chickadees. After a night of complete serenity in the wilderness, I am constantly reminded of the power in moments here.

I peer out of my tent to find an impressive alpenglow – a bright orange array on the slopes of Siligo Peak. The sharp contrast between the lake and this morning’s development stirs excitement for the day to come.

The group slowly appears out of our respective dwellings and makes morning conversation. We engage in our morning rituals:

  • Yoga on a granite slab
  • Photography
  • A morning swim
  • Coffee!
  • Breakfast
  • Lakeside chats about a career objective

These mornings tend to operate like any normal morning on a weekday work shift. Yet, the work it takes to pack up camp, get things in order, and backpack to the next objective, is arguably a more rewarding endeavor. The Trinity Alps, as well as the greater Far Northern California wildernesses, provide a refreshing way to spend days away from home.

The last look of Deer Lake (with Seven Up above it), before the hike up to Siligo Peak. Photo Credit: Sam Furey

So, our next objective is Diamond Lake – our personal favorite alpine lake on the Four Lakes Loop. To round out this awe-inspiring day, a trip up Siligo Peak is also on the agenda.

We pack up camp at Deer Lake and say our goodbyes. We won’t be seeing this lake again until we come back up its outlet from the last lake of the bunch.

The ascent from Deer Lake to the next pass is straightforward. Trails are easily understood, and the grade never gets too steep, even with backpacking packs.

Summit Lake is hidden in an alpine bowl. While we didn’t camp at the lake on this particular trip, it still deserves to be an option! Photo Credit: Nicaylen

As we step onto another vista point, the next lake – Summit Lake – comes into view. The deep blue waters are hidden in an alpine bowl that abuts steep cliff faces. This itinerary does not include a night at Summit, but plans can easily include it, if so desired. At any rate, the views are phenomenal.

I look back towards Deer Lake, and marvel at the color contrasts between rock types. The Red Trinities are unique in themselves because there is only one other mountain range in North America that contains as much.

At this junction between the climb up from Deer Lake and the views of Summit Lake is where a day hike begins up to Siligo Peak. With plenty of time left in the day (being that it’s not even 11 am yet), we drop our heavy backpacks and bring only water bottles/snacks to the top.

The refreshing feeling of not wearing the pack is exhilarating. The group scrambles up rocks and summer manzanita bushes. As we gain elevation fast, an incredible scene is developing before our eyes.

To our absolute amazement, the white granite section of the Trinity Alps shows its striking nature. These peaks, with Sawtooth Mountain being the jagged centerpiece, are dazzling in the high noon light.

The granite is mesmerizing and invites full attention to the intricacies of each ridgeline. As we approach the summit block of Siligo, I begin to dream of all the alpine lakes scattered below those high, white granite structures.

The world within this range seems to be just as complex as the Red Trinities and the Four Lakes Loop region. As the next lake, Diamond Lake hangs below Siligo Peak’s summit, my eyes gaze down from Diamond all the way to the next valley, and then back up to the white granite in the distance.

Sam, my good friend, moving from rock to rock on Siligo’s summit block. This is one of my all-time favorite Trinity Alps views! Photo Credit: Nicaylen

Siligo Peak remains a powerful highlight of the Four Lakes Loop. While these views are not officially on the loop itself, it still deserves to be included on any itinerary here.

After a long snack break, a photoshoot, and mountain daydreaming, we descend back to our backpacks at the official trail. The trail then continues towards Diamond Lake, which had already teased us from Siligo Peak’s vantage point.

We hit the ridgeline above Diamond Lake, where the trail rapidly drops in elevation. Once again, I am in complete astonishment with the vistas on display.

Diamond Lake and the White Trinities, featuring Sawtooth Peak as the pinnacle on the horizon. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

For how little attention the Trinity Alps get, these panoramic landscapes feature world-class mountains, lakes, and wilderness all around. This scene is nothing short of breathtaking.

At Diamond Lake, we take in another alpine view, with a swim mixed in for good measure. As mentioned before, this one is our favorite lake, and the view pretty much says it all.

The sun is high in the sky, at mid-afternoon, and represents a brilliant summer day. I take this peaceful time to read a book on the granite dome just above the lake. After every few pages turned, I look up and stare into a front-row seat of the White Trinities. In the deep valley below is Stuarts Fork, another backpacking trip to discover.

Sunset. The sun travels fast through the sky, finding its horizon right behind the White Trinities. Diamond Lake is set perfectly to watch this glorious, rugged sunset. To cap off this memorable day, we lay under the stars, watching the full effect of the Milky Way.

Day 4 – Diamond Lake to Long Canyon Trailhead (endpoint)

Day 4 Trail Statistics:

  • Start: Diamond Lake – 7,300 feet (2,225 m)
  • Length: 10.69 miles (17.20 km)
  • Highest Point: Deer Creek Pass – 7,760 feet (2,365 m)
  • End Point: Long Canyon Trailhead – 3,760 feet (1,146 m)

Diamond Lake, in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

7 am. We welcome another alpine start, fortunate enough to wake up to the motivating views of Siligo Peak and the White Trinities.

We devour our usual breakfast and pack up camp. At this point on our journey, we have dialed in our morning routines, which makes each moment in the backcountry that much more special.

From Diamond, we ascend up a ridgeline — heading towards Luella Lake, the last lake of the Four Lakes Loop. Before the descension down to Luella, we take one last look at the southern view of the Trinity Alps. The sparkling granite terrain will be missed in this backdrop, but variety is the best part of this loop. There are always new views to see.

Luella Lake — the smallest and most hidden of the Four Lakes Loop. This lake caps off an incredible variety of scenery. Photo Credit: Nicaylen

Luella Lake is the most inconspicuous of the lakes, hiding behind steep cliff faces from the ridgeline we came down. We take a quick water/snack break here and marvel at the Red Trinity peaks to the northeast. We continue our journey towards these peaks and Deer Creek Meadows.

There’s a fork in the trail at the meadows. One side goes back to Deer Lake, and the other to Stuarts Fork or Swift Creek Trail. As usual, I daydream about the next trip that could very well involve a mega-trip of sorts.

Towards Deer Lake, we are reminded of the depth that is packed into this loop. This valley has a meandering creek, towering spires on the left and right, and all kinds of colors to focus attention on.

All too soon, Deer Creek Meadow is left behind and the climb up to Deer Lake begins. This is the hardest part of the trail. But, with the minimal elevation presented for most of the loop, it is welcomed as a refreshing challenge. The last feature in this section is the waterfall off the Deer Lake outlet. This rounds out the incredible vista points seen over the entire trail.

After one last swim at Deer Lake (hard to resist in the summer!), we start one more incline to Deer Creek Pass. After the pass, the rest of the day is a descent down to Long Canyon Trailhead. This is the longest day of the journey, mileage-wise, but also represents a lot more elevation loss. The rapid decline that happens down Long Canyon makes for an easier day overall.

As always in the Trinities and these remote Northern California locales, I feel a sense of accomplishment and wonder. The Four Lakes Loop, in particular, checks all those boxes. There is a perfect balance of physical challenge, leisure, and self-discovery.

In terms of the number of staggering views, the diversity of perspective and environment, the sense of discovery around every turn of the trail, and the ease with which all of this is achieved, this trail may not have an equal.

Photo Credit: Nicaylen