At A Glance
After a long uphill climb, the Stoney Ridge Trail access some of the finest meadows and lakes in the Trinity Alps. This is spectacular country.
Total Distance: 8.2 miles (one way to Four Lakes Loop), 16.5 miles (out and back to Deer Creek Pass)
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet
Season: Summer, Fall
Switchbacks To Heaven
The southeast corner of the Trinity Alps is populated by a dense cluster of high peaks, many of which exceed 8,000 feet. Beautiful lakes and meadows, clear creeks and rugged cliffs are spread liberally throughout this area. Aside from the granite wonderland at the heart of the Trinity Alps, this part of the range is the most spectacular and scenic. The best way to experience the staggering views is to hike the Four Lakes Loop. However, this magnificent trail is locked in the backcountry and one must backpack into this area, establish a camp and then hike the Loop the following day. When considering which trail to use to access the Four Lakes Loop, there are a few alternatives but none of them are better than the Stoney Ridge Trail. Although it is not the shortest route accessing the Loop, the trail passes through scenery just as astounding as that found on the Loop. Just like on the Four Lakes Loop, this trail has gorgeous meadows, a stunningly scenic lake, majestic views and a sense of deep isolation. Indeed, this trail makes a great backpacking trip on its own, even if one does not partake of the Loop. Combining the Stoney Ridge Trail with the Four Lakes Loop makes for an incredible foray into the wilderness that will not soon be forgotten.
In total, there are four trails providing access to the Four Lakes Loop. In the north, the Deer Creek Canyon trail connects to the Stuart Fork trail. A steep switchback drops down to the Deer Creek Trail from the Granite Lake Trail. Third, the Long Canyon Trail (the most popular access route) enters from the east. This is the shortest route to the Four Lakes Loop. Lastly, the Stoney Ridge trail is the primary southern approach to the Four Lakes Loop. While the Long Canyon trail provides a more direct approach to the Four Lakes Loop, the Stoney Ridge trail reaches the same destination while serving up some of the most beautiful scenery in the Trinity Alps, including two beautiful meadows and the secluded and spectacular Echo Lake. The view from Stonewall Pass, the trail’s highpoint is one of the most memorable in the Trinity Alps. The scenery in Long Canyon is grand and comes quickly once setting out on the trail. However, it is steep and does not have the scenic charm offered by the Stoney Ridge Trail.
One other note ought to be made concerning this route. The Stoney Ridge trail provides the opportunity to climb Red Mountain, Middle Peak and Granite Peak. The latter two of the tree peaks are over 8,000 feet with Red Mountain being just a few feet shy of this benchmark. All three peaks can be climbed fairly easily from the Red Mountain Meadow area and provides a unique opportunity for those who are motivated by peak bagging. Granite Peak is climbed by a maintained trail while cross-country scrambling is required to ascend Middle Peak and Red Mountain. The views from all three are exceptional. There is also a lot of potential for off trail exploration on these routes. In particular, Red Mountain has a secret lake on its north side and there is a rugged route from Middle Peak to Billy-Be-Damned Lake. Conveniently, all three peaks can be climbed in a day with still enough time to make it to Echo Lake before dark.
Departing the trailhead, the Stoney Ridge Trail climbs up a few switchbacks before leveling off and maintaining a reasonably level grade across a ridge for the first mile. The first section of trail actually passes through private land owned by a timber company. That logging activity once took place in this area is evident since many of the trees are short and the detritus of logging is still present in the form of stump and some downed trees. Nonetheless, the area is slowly recovering. Do not let the inauspicious start be a discouragement. After the first mile (incidentally, the private land crossed in the first mile is one whole section, which is a square mile), the trail finally crosses into the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Immediately the forest is restored to its ancient glory. The trail also begins to climb and switchback immediately after crossing the boundary. This is the most monotonous part of the journey. The trail ultimately makes 57 switchbacks as it climbs up toward Stonewall Pass. With the return of the forest canopy the views are diminished but there are occasional opportunities to gaze southward toward Trinity Lake and the massive block of granite that is Monument Peak. The trail teases a bit, coming near the roar of Stoney Creek as it cascades down toward Trinity Lake, but each time the trail nears the creek it switchbacks away from it again. Be sure to look for a few use trails that do provide access to the water.
After what seems like an interminable series of switchbacks the trail suddenly breaks out from under the forest cover and comes near Stoney Creek again. This time, however, it is at the creeks headwaters, where it emerges from Red Mountain Meadow. The meadow is lush, with a few spring fed ponds scattered around it. At the final switchback before the meadow be sure to look for a trail breaking off to the right. This is the connector trail that traverses across this area over toward Granite Peak, linking up to the trail that climbs the peak. On the opposite side of the meadow rises the rocky bulk of unsurprisingly named Red Mountain. If one is able to spot the Granite Peak trail, continue a little further up the Stoney Ridge Trail and venture off of it at the last switchback before the trail enters the meadow. Swing west around the flank of the mountain until one finds a relatively brush and tree free slope. Follow this slope to the summit. For the adventurous, there is a hidden lake on the opposite side of the mountain (the northern side).
Back on the Stoney Ridge Trail as it passes through Red Mountain Meadow, the route continues for another mile through the grassy oasis. At first it skirts the western perimeter of the meadow before once again climbing up a series of switchbacks. At the beginning of this next climb, it is possible to skirt around the far end of the meadow and then climb up an obvious saddle between Granite Peak and the summit to the left, which is Middle Peak. Though it is uninspiringly named and seemingly uninteresting from this vantage, Middle Peak is an awesome mountain that is more appropriately appreciated from the shores of Echo Lake. If peak bagging is of primary interest Red Meadow makes an excellent base camp for assents up Granite Peak, Middle Peak and Red Mountain. A small spring located at the southern end of the meadow provides water. Views of Trinity Lake are excellent.
The Stoney Ridge trail continues to switch back above the meadow for another half mile. Views of Granite Peak become increasingly better. Finally, one reaches the top of the trail at 7,400 foot Stonewall Pass, 4.5 miles from the trailhead. The view from the top is spectacular. To the east, Middle and Granite Peaks are stunningly close. To the north, Siligo and Gibson Peaks as well as numerous unnamed peaks are visible beyond Van Matre Meadows, which blankets the area below the pass. To the west, the stark white heart of the Trinity Alps is cuts away at the sky. Sawtooth Peak is particularly prominent. Views to the south include Shasta Bally and Trinity Lake. Climbing the slope on the west side of the pass reveals excellent views of the Red Mountain summit and the massive, granite, north wall of Monument Peak, as well as a unique perspective of Middle Peak. The pass surmounts a saddle between Red Mountain and Middle Peak. Like most of the area , the saddle is composed of peridotite, a red stone similar to serpentine. It is uncommon throughout most of North America but amazingly abundant in the Klamath Mountains. Aside from the obvious and significant granite intrusions, the peridotite is also joined by sandstone in some area. It is a bizarre rock cocktail.
From Stonewall Pass the Stoney Ridge trail descends steeply down to Van Matre Meadows, an extensive meadow with large fingers of lush grass creeping up a few drainages. The trail does not cross the meadow itself, instead skirting the edge of the grassy areas, along the flanks of the cliffs leading up to the Echo Lake basin. Lush grass is finally encountered when the trail crosses Echo Lake’s outlet stream just below a series of beautiful cataracts. Overhead a pair of rugged, unnamed peaks looms ominously. These peaks are prominently visible from Echo Lake. They are such awesome summits they deserve a name. I have decided to refer to them as the Echo Twins, due to their similar appearance.
Beyond the lush crossing, the trail makes another series of short switchbacks, climb up nearer to Echo Lake’s elevation. Soon the trail reaches a bench from which there is an excellent view to south. Red Mountain, in all of its vermillion glory, is revealed for the unique and craggy mountain that it is. Below one can see the verdant carpet of Van Matre Meadows spreading out at the feet of the fiery mountain. It is an inspiring scene. Once on the bench the trail turns to the east and heads toward the base of the Echo Twins. Soon the path encounters a tarn set amidst a small grassy meadow. In the distance Middle Peak, its awesome north face now visible, lines the horizon. Look for some use trails heading off to the south. This is the trail leading to Echo Lake.
Echo Lake is one of the prettier lakes in the Trinity Alps. Surrounded by meadows, it is tucked into the bottom of a rocky bowl over which looms both Middle Peak and the Echo Twins. The lake makes an excellent base camp from which to head out to the Four Lakes Loop. The base campsite is on the south end of the lake. There are some acceptable spots on the north end as well. On the east side there is a rocky bench above the lake from which there is a dramatic view of the heart of the Trinity Alps looming beyond Echo Lake’s outlet. Sunrise and sunset from this spot are stupendous. A rough scramble up the talus slope behind this spot leads to the desolate but gorgeous area that contains Anna and Billy-Be-Damned Lakes.
Back on the Stoney Ridge Trail, the path continues to the north from Echo Lake. Almost immediately it begins a short but steep ascent of Little Stonewall Pass, which is just over 7,000 feet. Though not nearly as awesome as the view from Stonewall Pass, the view from the diminutively named pass is still tremendous. In particular, Sawtooth Peak feels alarmingly close. Even though the lake itself is not visible, the bowl containing large Smith Lake is obvious from this perspective. One thing that makes Little Stonewall Pass different from its cousin is the intimacy one feels to the peaks around it. Tall red cliffs surround the pass and give the area a very closed in feel, despite the far-reaching views. When one is ready to break away from the vista (don’t worry, there are much, much more to be had on the Four Lakes Loop), the Stoney Ridge Trail makes its descent down into Siligo Meadow.
Lovely Siligo Meadows is a three tiered meadow complex. The lowest tier lies below the trail and is dotted with numerous small ponds. In the distance are the towers of Little Granite Peak and Trinity Journal Mountain, which are part of the knot of granite peaks that form the center of the Trinity Alps. Soon the trail passes through the middle tier of the meadow before climbing into the upper and final portion of the meadow. Massive Gibson Peak (the tallest peak in this part of the Trinities) and Mount Temple loom over the well-watered meadow. It is a beautiful and peaceful spot. Bee Tree Gap divides the two, aforementioned mountain. It is here that the Long Canyon Trail finally arrives at the beginning of the Four Lakes Loop. If coming that route Siligo Meadow makes the best campsite from which to use as a basecamp for the loop. The same can be said for the Stoney Ridge Trail, but with a spot like Echo Lake, it is hard to pick which basecamp is better. From Siligo Meadows, the Stoney Ridge trail makes a short, final ascent up to 7,500 foot Deer Creek Pass, 8.5 miles from the trailhead. The Loop begins here at the intersection of the Stoney Ridge Trail and Long Canyon Trail. Siligo Peak, Dolomite Ridge and Gibson Peak loom to the north. The Four Lakes Loop awaits.
From Weaverville drive north on Highway 3 to the signed turnoff for the Stoney Ridge trailhead. The turnoff is shortly after the Stuart Fork bridge. Follow the dirt road six miles to the trailhead.
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Thanks for providing this wonderful description of the trail and adventure.