CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Stuart Fork Trailhead . . . Memorial Day Weekend Memories

COVID-19 message from Shasta-Trinity National Forest. “Please continue to recreate locally and practice self-sufficiency & responsible recreation when visiting the forest. Pack it in, pack it out. Pick up all of your trash and dispose of waste properly. Trash overflowing the receptacles becomes potential sources for the spread of COVID-19. Law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues. High risk activities such as rock climbing or backcountry activities that increase your chance of injury or distress should be avoided. Please avoid visiting national forests if you are sick and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. If an area is crowded, move to a less occupied location. Also consider avoiding the forest during high-use periods.”

This is the time of year I think about my introductory backpacking trips into the Trinity Alps. The year was 2012 and I was still a newbie but thankfully had a friend who was happy to share his knowledge and experiences by planning and leading trips. Late May access to roads and trails is determined by winter snow levels and spring melt. With the trailhead at about 4,000′ we hedged our bets and took the gamble.

This image seems to match John Muir’s words, “and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

I haven’t looked at these photos in several years and it’s nice to recognize the improvement in my photography skills. I believe these are Western azaleas (Rhododendron occidentale).

I remember a lot of details about this trip but the moody skies were a surprise revealed only in photos. The beauty of Morris Meadow was lush and green just as I recall.

Emerald Lake was a highlight! I’ve returned several times since but it was this first visit that had me saying WOW.

The granite and waterfalls grabbed my heartstrings.

The old dam structure at Emerald Lake is also a memory that remains. Note: This photo was taken during a different trip.

We hiked around Emerald Lake with intentions of reaching Sapphire Lake. This is the view from the far end looking back down the Stuart Fork canyon. Tip: where you see the group of trees and scrubs along the lake (north side) is where the “trail” runs. The manzanita requires a bit of a bushwhack. It’s not considered a maintained trail but that section is well used and easy to follow. Once you get to the rocks it’s cairns and personal choice.

The manzanita bushwhack getting around Emerald Lake.

The boulder scramble between Emerald and Sapphire Lakes.

Along the way is a lot of old mining equipment.

This is the one and only time I’ve made it to Sapphire Lake. For those interested in scrambling further Mirror Lake lies beyond. It’s still on my bucket list.

The Emerald Lake outlet stream had dramatic waterfalls.

Nearby the Dogwood Trees were blooming.

Caribou Trail

Hiking the 90ish switchbacks 2,200 feet up to Sawtooth Ridge provides an opportunity to look down at Emerald Lake as well as enjoy views of Caesar Cap, Thompson Peak and Wedding Cake (places I can only dream of climbing).

This image of Sawtooth Ridge reminds me of Castle Crags. I believe this is about where the trail reaches the pass. One of these days I need to hike this again in conditions where I can drop into the Caribou Lakes basin.

Views from the ridge include this one into Caribou Lakes Basin, where I’ve spent time but still need to create a blog post. Although the trail was clear on the Stuart Fork side, there was a blockade of several feet of snow on the ridge and nothing but white on the other side. We met another hiker who’d planned to descend but changed his mind after this reality check.

The 360-degree views were worth the effort. This is looking back down Stuart Fork drainage toward the trailhead.

Looking down at Sapphire and Mirror Lakes, surrounded by Caesar Cap, Thompson Peak and Wedding Cake. I remember the even more stunning view I captured on a clear skies day when reaching the ridge from the Tri-Forest Trail (yes, another missing post).

Looking down at the Caribou Trail and across at Sawtooth Mountain.

On our descent, we noticed something red across the canyon.

We couldn’t safely access but we took zoom photos and GPS coordinates to submit to law enforcement. I don’t think we ever heard back regarding a missing person or if they collected and determined contents. It left us with a creepy feeling, worried that there might also be a body somewhere nearby.

Back down off the mountain, we found tree art courtesy of the local bears.

Morris Meadow showcasing corn lilies and the greens of spring.


Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site.

This memory is dedicated to my friend Scott who introduced me to the Trinity Alps and helped me fall in love with photography and this backyard wilderness.

2 thoughts on “CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Stuart Fork Trailhead . . . Memorial Day Weekend Memories

  1. That old dam rock structure at Emerald Lake looks amazing, I need to check it out. You know I’m a little fanatical with rock work lol.

    • It’s such a beautiful structure and amazing that’s it’s mostly withstood time with only a small breach. There’s another dam at Sapphire Lake. I need to get up there this summer so I can see it without ice and snow. I still need to get to Mirror Lake so both will be on my agenda since it looks like I’ll be sticking near home.

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