This 17-mile, three-day out-and-back weaves together streamside hiking and entry-level scrambling in a land of granite and water. From Bridge Camp trailhead (1), start a gradual, five-mile ascent along the shady, riverside Stuart Fork Trail. Craggy peaks rise high above the pool-and-drop creek. Enter Cherry Flat at mile .4 and bear left at the Y-junction (mile .9) (2). In less than a mile, ford Lightning Creek (3), then 1.2 miles later, Little Deep Creek.
The canyon walls open onto killer views of the peaks to the east, including 7,928-foot Red Mountain. Cross Stuart Fork at mile 4.8 and hike west on the Alpine Lake Trail; a signpost indicates the safest crossing (4). Caution: Until July, spring runoff can make the river impassable; check with rangers for conditions. Stay right at the Y-junction with Bear Creek Trail (5) at mile 5.9 and continue northwest. Now earn your alpine paradise: Grunt 1,084 vertical feet in 1.2 shadeless, rocky miles, and pass tangles of manzanita before reaching the lakeshore. Cross the outlet creek (6) at mile 7.9, and turn left at a large rock cairn.
This crossing is just upstream from a multi-tiered waterfall that drops into a gaping Stuart Fork panorama. Pass a small meadow carpeted with pale purple western mountain asters (July), and scuttle around a series of granite slabs and grassy ponds on the use path along the lake’s northern shore. Arrive at your campsite (7), 40 feet above the water at the 14-acre lake’s southwestern edge. Make camp with 8,031-foot Little Granite Peak reflecting in Alpine Lake’s crystalline waters and watch the stars emerge (fires are prohibited at lakeside campsites). Spend the next day scrambling over granite slabs on a circumnavigation of the lake. You could spend a whole day swimming-fishing-napping here, or make an epic side trip up to Smith Lake. Return the way you came.
Trip Planner Get There From Weaverville, drive north 13 miles on CA 3 to Trinity Alps Rd. Turn left and park in 3.5 miles.
Permit Free, available at the Weaverville Ranger Station.