Redding, CA: Stuart Fork to Smith Lake

This 23-mile out-and-back in the Trinity Alps features pristine mountain lakes, stunning views and an easy, off-trail scramble.
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Reserve three days for this 23-miler in the Trinity Alps.
Day 1: Begin with a 6-mile, gradual climb up the Stuart Fork Trail. The trail winds between two granite mountains, paralleling Stuart Fork. At mile 6.6, veer right onto the Bear Creek Trail and climb 2,500 feet in 2.4 miles. At the top of the ridgeline, head west to Alpine Lake and trace the northern banks to a campsite above the water.
Day 2: Pack up camp at Alpine Lake and head back to Waypoint 14. Leave the marked trail, and head north for a bushwhack up the gully. After a ½-mile ascent, the brush ends, revealing an exposed granite face. Continue ascending northwest up the face for 0.5 mile to a clearly visible saddle. Crest the saddle and descend down the granite face to Smith Lake. After crossing the small outlet stream for Smith Lake, turn west to reach the eastern edge of the lake and several campsites.
Day 3: Catch the sunrise and pack up camp. Retrace your route up-and-over the saddle, back to Waypoint 14. Turn left on the Bear Creek Trail and continue descending to Stuart Fork and your car.
-Mapped by Leon Nelson

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 18.5



Location: 40.8759078979492, -122.92008972168

Hike northwest on the Stuart Fork Trail.


Location: 40.8812484741211, -122.924751281738

The trail winds through the valley, paralleling Stuart Fork. Ahead: Pass through Cherry Flat.


Location: 40.88427734375, -122.930633544922

Bear left @ Y-junction and continue hiking on the Stuart Fork Trail.


Location: 40.8908729553223, -122.935081481934

Cross Lightning Creek (great place to filter water).


Location: 40.9045066833496, -122.94499206543

Cross Little Deep Creek and continue hiking northwest. A scenic canyon opens up to the right.


Location: 40.9102745056152, -122.948463439941

Cross the footbridge over Deep Creek.


Location: 40.9230346679688, -122.955299377441

Oak Flat Campground: Several campsites are available; great fishing and swimming, too.


Location: 40.9323120117188, -122.95760345459

Bear left @ Y-junction and cross Stuart Fork. Caution: During spring runoff, the creek may be too high to cross.


Location: 40.9329071044922, -122.958831787109

Trail curves to the left (south). Prepare for a steep uphill.


Location: 40.9275741577148, -122.961090087891

Begin a 1.9-mile climb, gaining 1,362 feet of elevation.


Location: 40.9316864013672, -122.967979431152

Bear right @ Y-junction with Bear Creek Trail. Although the trail at this point is not officially maintained by the Forest Service, it typically remains unobstructed.


Location: 40.9363708496094, -122.972473144531

Pass a campsite 50 feet to the left. To refill water bottles, filter water at Alpine Creek.


Location: 40.9370574951172, -122.973129272461

The final climb before Alpine Lake starts here. Prepare for a steep, 1.2-mile climb, gaining 1,084 feet of elevation. The trail climbs past manzanita, offering little to no shade.


Location: 40.9447784423828, -122.983436584473

Turn left (west) to reach Alpine Lake. During the springtime, coreopsis wildflowers fill the meadow directly ahead.


Location: 40.9439964294434, -122.988700866699

Alpine Lake (6,150 ft.): This deep-blue lake is surrounded by thousand-foot granite cliffs and fragrant pines. Forget the overused sites at the base of the lake and walk around the northern shoreline to a campsite at the lake's far edge.


Location: 40.9422836303711, -122.993919372559

Lakeshore may become overgrown; look for rabbit trails to follow through the thick brush.


Location: 40.9415092468262, -122.993980407715

Continue across a meadow to the southwestern tip of Alpine Lake.


Location: 40.9413566589356, -122.99333190918

The best campsite at Alpine Lake, this large tent site sits 40 feet above the water and has wide, open views of the surrounding mountains.

To reach Smith Lake, retrace your route back to Waypoint 14. Turn left and head northeast off the marked trail. Bushwhack up the gully below the ridgeline on the right.


Location: 40.9465599060059, -122.983055114746

Continue heading north through a small clearing. Look for cairns that mark the trail.


Location: 40.9468307495117, -122.98307800293

Scramble over small granite boulders, and swing northeast to continue up the drainage.


Location: 40.9485702514648, -122.982948303223

Begin heading north away from the dry creek bed.


Location: 40.9496421813965, -122.983024597168

Swing back northeast and begin paralleling the the creek bed again.


Location: 40.9501571655273, -122.98388671875

End of brush and start of open granite slab. Easy route finding, target the saddle directly ahead.


Location: 40.9526710510254, -122.9853515625

Take a moment and look around at the surrounding views of the Trinity Alps Wilderness.


Location: 40.9532623291016, -122.986869812012

Trail approaches the saddle.


Location: 40.9536972045898, -122.987289428711

Continue straight ahead and crest the saddle.


Location: 40.9548492431641, -122.987640380859

Perfect place for a picture, look south and enjoy beautiful vistas of Alpine Lake shimmering in the sun.


Location: 40.9560470581055, -122.989807128906

Cross a shallow snowfield, which usually never melts due to the rock wall directly above.


Location: 40.957218170166, -122.989936828613

After crossing the snowfield, continue northwest to descend the granite face towards Smith Lake.


Location: 40.9592742919922, -122.993392944336

Swing northeast and continue descent to the western edge of Smith Lake.


Location: 40.963550567627, -122.990669250488

To reach the Smith Lake campsite, turn left at the small outlet stream and head to the lake's eastern tip.


Location: 40.9637413024902, -122.992156982422

Smith Lake (6,942 ft.): Tucked at the foot of two high peaks, this lake has amazing views to the east. To return, retrace your steps back to Waypoint 14 and turn left on the Bear Creek Trail. Follow trail back to your car.

Alpine Lake

Location: 40.9450416564941, -122.98412322998

It's hard to imagine a better place to spend a few nights.


Location: 40.9413757324219, -122.993316650391

Forget the tent and just use a tarp.


Location: 40.9415626525879, -122.993095397949


Location: 40.9415893554688, -122.993278503418

Jump into the lake from the rock formation on the edge of the campsite.

Alpine Lake Basin

Location: 40.9426307678223, -122.99040222168

Aerial Shot of Alpine Lake

Location: 40.942455291748, -122.990684509277