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California Trails

Rip & Go: Stuart Fork to Alpine Lake -Trinity Alps, CA

Discover the inner sanctum of California's second largest wilderness.

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Stuart Fork gurgles over a granite streambed (Ed Callaert)

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Pale granite batholith peaks in the White Trinities (Thomas Hallstein)

Do It

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.

Gear Up Trinity Outdoors, 1615 Main St., Weaverville. (530) 623-4999;

Contact Weaverville Ranger Station, (530) 623-2121; Map USGS quad: Siligo Peak ($8,

Key Skill: Basic Scrambling

Whether hiking the boulder-strewn shores of Alpine Lake or blazing off-trail to Smith Lake (see Locals Know, below), you’ll need to put down your poles and use your hands to climb over blocks of granite and slabby slopes. Here’s how to do it safely and efficiently.

A. Balance Maintain three points of contact on the rock, and move only one limb at a time.


B. Hands With your weight squarely over your feet, scan for handholds shoulder height and higher. Reach a stretch of flatter terrain? Hold your arms out for balance.

C. Rock Test hand- and footholds with a fraction of your weight before committing your entire mass.

D. Pack Arrange your load so heavy items are on bottom and close to your back—to lower your center of gravity and keep the pack from pulling you backward.

E. Focus On the steepest pitches, keep your attention on the rock—and your stable hand and foot placements. Gripped? Stand or sit in a secure spot and take three deep breaths.

See This

Seabed to mountain top

The Trinity Alps Wilderness can be divided into three regions: Green, Red, and White. The White Trinities, in which this trail is located, are known for pale granite batholith peaks. These spires originated from ancient offshore sediments uplifted on a head of magma, and folded in with the indigenous and granite bedrock deep underground. Red alps, in the southeast, contain iron-rich rock, and the Greens are the lower, forested peaks in the western reaches.

Locals Know

Want to really get away from it all? Smith Lake, with no trail access, affords a high and quiet haven in a range already known for solitude. Between the slow and tricky cross-country travel, and the time you’ll want to spend exploring Smith, allow all day for this 3.8-mile (round-trip) detour. Go north at the rock cairn on the Alpine Lake Trail, northeast of the lake, and bushwhack up the gully. Follow cairns north through the boulder field and emerge onto a granite slab at .5 mile. Aim for the saddle, cross a small, near-perennial snowfield, and begin a 1,000-foot descent to Smith Lake.

On The Menu

Breakfast 1On the road

Lunches 1 & 3Beef jerky and Monterey Jack cheese

Dinner 1 Alpine Garlic Trout (below)

Breakfast 2 Dried fruit & granola

Lunch 2Peanut butter and jelly burrito

Dinner 2 Trinity Alfredo (below)

Breakfast 3 Oatmeal

Snacks Energy bars

Alpine Garlic Trout

Catch of the day with a zesty spin

1 trout, cleaned, no head or tail

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 yellow onion, chopped

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 teaspoon butter

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Put garlic, onion, and lemon juice in the fish’s cavity. Place trout on foil and rub with butter. Sprinkle jalapeño around fish. Season, seal fish in the foil, and cook on coals until flesh is flaky. No luck? Eat a tuna and cheese burrito.

Trinity Alfredo

Hearty Italian trail-fare

1 7-ounce pouch chicken

1 pack Alfredo sauce mix

2 tablespoons milk (from powder)

1 cup sliced mushrooms

8 ounces linguine

2 teaspoons butter

Parmesan cheese

Boil pasta until al dente, strain, and put in bag with Parmesan. Sauté mushrooms and chicken in butter, add Alfredo and milk, and let simmer 5-7 minutes. Add pasta.

The Grocery List (Aisle # – In nearest store below)

[ ] 1 pack of dried fruit

[ ] 1 box granola

[ ] 1 block Monterey Jack cheese

[ ] Parmesan cheese

[ ] beef jerky

[ ] energy bars

[ ] peanut butter

[ ] jelly (any kind)

[ ] tortillas

[ ] instant oatmeal

[ ] 1 pouch tuna

[ ] 1 pouch chicken

[ ] 1 garlic clove

[ ] 1 yellow onion

[ ] 1 lemon

[ ] 1 jalapeño

[ ] 1 packet Alfredo

[ ] 1 box linguine

[ ] 1 box dried milk

Pack Salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter, and aluminum foil



1665 Main St., Weaverville, CA

(530) 623-2656

PIT STOP Step into the saloon-style La Grange Café for home-smoked pork ribs. Save room for the cafe’s signature dessert: Rein de Sabe, a chocolate, flourless cake with walnuts and whipped cream. 315 N. Main St., Weaverville, CA; (530) 623-5325

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