At A Glance
A backcountry loop around a magnificent granite peak, visiting four lake basins and dishing up dazzling views every step of the trail.
Total Length: 5.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,050 feet
Season: Summer, Fall
Roller Coaster Ride
The Trinity Alps’ Four Lakes Loop trail is one of the most memorable, thrilling trails anywhere in Northern California. 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. Packed into the trail’s 5.2 are the four eponymous lakes, each nestled into their own cirques arrayed on the flanks of towering Siligo Peak. The loop encircles the granite mountain, visiting the four lakes and taking in magnificent views in all directions. Tumbling creeks, lush, expansive meadows, massive cliffs and brightly colored rocks all flesh out the constantly changing landscape explored by the Four Lakes Loop.
In addition to the taking breathtaking scenery, the sense of discovery is one of the wonderful charms of the Four Lakes Loop. The nature of the trail, slung across the flanks and encircling Siligo Peak, means that nearly every bend of the trail reveals some new vista, either of one of the lake basins or off in the distance, of the rest of the Trinity Alps. It does not hurt that Siligo Peak is advantageously located between the granite core of the Trinities and the large block of dramatic peaks beginning in the south at Red Mountain and extending north to Caribou Mountain. Surprisingly, for all of the payoffs the trail requires little effort. Most of grades climbing out of the lake basins are moderate. Only the climb from Deer Creek Meadow to Deer Lake at the end of the loop is long and sustained (you have to gain back all of the elevation at some point!) but it is not excessively steep and the presence of raucous Deer Creek is refreshing. There are many much harder trails that do not yield a tenth of the astounding sights served up with such regularity on the Four Lakes Loop.
It should be noted that the Loop is one of the few trails in the Trinity Alps that does not have a trailhead accessed by a road. This is a backpacker’s trail; too far from road access to make it a realistic destination for dayhikers.
The Four Lakes Loop can be accessed via four different trails. Although the loop itself is 5.2 miles long, the shortest route to the beginning of the loop is 6 miles. The result of this is that the loop is generally not done as a (ridiculously long) day hike. Instead, people generally establish a base camp at one of the lakes (usually Deer Lake) or in the nearby Siligo Meadows. The shortest access route, at six miles, is the Long Canyon Trail. This is the most popular trail leading to the Four Lakes Loop. The 8.2 mile long Stoney Ridge trail also provides access and is in many ways the preferred approach route because of its incredible vistas from Stonewall Pass, the scenic hike through Van Matre Meadows and the gorgeous camping at Echo Lake. This last point is particularly beautiful. Both trails terminate at Deer Creek Pass, which is the usual starting point for the Loop. The Deer Creek Canyon trail and the trail connecting to Seven-Up Gap also provide access to the Loop below Deer Lake, but these are only reached via long approaches (both in excess of 15 miles) and are generally only used as part of longer, week long treks.
The Four Lakes Loop can be hiked either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Either way yields the same elevation gained and lost. However, it is better to hike the trail clockwise, since this puts all the best vistas in full view, rather than behind the hiker. This is particularly true when traversing above Deer Lake, descending down to Diamond Lake and on the descent to Luella Lake. The last two are among the most magnificent in the entire Trinity Alps and if hiking the Four Lakes Loop in a counter-clockwise direction the incredible sights are all to the back of the hiker and consequently diminished. It should be noted that the clockwise hike does culminate in a steady climb from Deer Creek Meadows up to Deer Lake and then onward up to Deer Creek Pass. The grade is never unreasonable and the uphill at the end of the trail is a small price to pay for all the great views enjoyed while hiking.
If approaching the Loop via either the Long Canyon or Stoney Ridge trails, the route begins at Deer Creek Pass. At over 7,600 feet, it is among the highest points in the Trinity Alps that is reached by a maintained trail. The views from the pass are exceptional and ought to be savored before beginning the roller-coaster of the Four Lakes Loop. Setting out from Deer Creek Pass, the trail descends slightly, then swings to the west, traversing the cirque high above Deer Lake. The trail is built into a large talus slope. Deer Creek Canyon and Caribou Mountain can be seen beyond Deer Lake. Siligo Peak maintains its watch above the lake and the trail provides an impressive view of the granite summit. Snow often lingers on the trail in this north-facing basin. On the far side of the cirque, near the base of Siligo Peak the trail finally switchbacks up to a pass. There are a few use trails that cut across the switchbacks. Avoid these and continue on the main trail. At the top of the pass, the path immediately levels off and azure, 13 acre Summit Lake, the largest of the four lakes accessed by the Loop, comes into view. A short trail leads down to the lake, which lies beneath an unnamed 8,000 foot peak. Red Mountain, a peak intimately associated with the Stoney Ridge Trail, rises in the distance beyond Summit Lake.
Near the trail leading down to Summit Lake, a cross-country route to the Summit of Siligo Peak splits off to the north. The summit of the peak is visible and there are a couple of faint use-trails leading up the ridge. Reaching the summit requires a 350 foot climb up a narrow ridge. Needless to say, the views from the summit are spectacular. The granite heart of the Trinity Alps looms large to the west, across the Stuart Fork of the Trinity River. Mount Gibson, Dolomite Rige and Seven Up Peak all line the horizon to the east. Of the four lakes passed by the Loop, only small Luella Lake is not visible from the summit.
Back on the Four Lakes Loop, the trail continues west, maintaining a fairly level grade. Soon it reaches yet another saddle where what is probably the most stupendous vista on the trail unfolds. To the west, the heart of the Trinity Alps cuts into the horizon, far across the canyon through which flows the Stuart Fork of the Trinity River. All of the highest peaks in the Trinities: Mount Hilton, Wedding Cake, Sawtooth Peak, ThompsonPeak, Julius Caesar Peak and Caribou Mountain all seem so close one could reach out and grasp them. Immediately below the majestic panoply lies the perfectly proportioned and inviting Diamond Lake. The lake is tucked into a small bowl next a precipice above the Stuart Fork Canyon. The bare granite face of Siligo Peaks towers above the trail, which switchbacks down to Diamond Lake. The grand view remains prominent throughout the descent, constantly changing perspective as the lake is approached.
Once Diamond Lake is achieved, the trail turns north and levels off as it passes through a marshy area. The route becomes faint, but if one stays on the rocks to the left, feet can remain dry and the trail found at the north end of the meadow, where it begins climbing once again. The switchbacks turn east, climbing northward up a shoulder of Siligo Peak. Eventually another saddle is surmounted and another incredible vista gained. Below the saddle lies turquoise-clear Luella Lake. Beyond the lake extends Deer Creek Canyon, which flows from Deer Lake to the Stuart Fork of the Trinity River. On the east side of the canyon rise the towers of Seven-Up Peak and Dolomite Ridge. The latter constitutes the west shoulder of Gibson Peak, the mightiest summit in this part of the Trinity Alps. The massive granite bulk of Siligo Peak again towers above, this time to the south. One of the most curious aspects of this view is the rock composition of the opposing canyon wall. Seven-Up Peak is a classic Red Trinities peak made of red peridotite. To the south it merges into granite Dolomite Ridge. The near vertical gulch that separates the two has a peridotite north edge and a granite south edge. The shift in rock types is sudden and dramatic. This same shift can be observed from the saddle above Luella Lake, although the shift in rock types occurs along the lakes south shore.
The trail drops down to Luella Lake, once again switchbacking precariously down the west side of the cirque. From the lake, the trail continues east and continues through yet another set of lazy switchbacks as the route descends into Deer Creek Canyon. Once at the canyon bottom, the gorgeous Deer Creek Meadow opens up in a broad, grassy expanse. Seven-Up Peak and Dolomite Ridge tower majestically to the east. The trail leading up to Seven-Up Gap can be seen faintly in the distance. To the south, Deer Creek Pass, the loop’s terminus can be seen, with the granite towers of Gibson and Siligo Peaks standing guard over the pass. The Deer Creek Canyon trail and the trail to Seven-Up Gap join the Four Lakes Loop here. Once the meadow is reached, the trail turns south and approaches the climb to Deer Lake. Diminutive Round Lake is found here, but is really more of a small pond than a lake. Nonetheless, it makes an idyllic stop or campsite.
All too soon, Deer Creek Meadow is left behind and the long climb up to Deer Lake begins. This is the hardest part of the trail. The bottom part of the trail is in shade so it is not tremendous wearying climb. Near the top, the trail moves closer to Deer Creek as it crashes down its steep course. After the long climb, the proximity to the noisy creek is very refreshing. At the top, the creek passes through a short, but narrow granite gorge. The trail crosses the outlet of the lake and skirts its east shore. At the north end of the lake, the final climb of the loop begins, as the trail makes the final, switchback filled ascent up to Deer Creek Pass. Once back at the top of the pass, relax for a bit, content to have just enjoyed one of the finest trails around.