Trinity Alps Hike to Caribou Lakes

With so many famous hikes and excellent places to visit in California, the Trinity Alps is often overlooked. While the Yosemite and Mammoth Lake area hikes are top-notch, these trails have the potential to get crowded during the summer. Trinity Alps, a five-hour drive north of San Francisco, brings solitude, beautiful alpine lakes, and some of the toughest hiking and scrambling in California. For these reasons and many more, the Trinity Alps hike to Caribou Lakes should be your next epic hiking trip in California!


How to Get to the Trinity Alps

From Weaverville, California head up to Coffee Creek on Rt 3. Turn left on Coffee Creek Road. This road is OK for the first 5 miles. The next 13 miles is a dirt road. Big Flat Campground will be on your right-hand side 18 miles in. The trailhead for the Old and New Caribou Trails begin here.


Caribou Lakes Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness, California

Looking out at the Sawtooth Mountains


Backcountry Permits

You can get a free backcountry permit from the Weaverville Ranger Station on the way to the trail.


Hike Details

Day 1:  7.9 Miles, 2,526 feet gain, 4 hours 10 minutes

Day 2:  7.1 Miles, 2,536 feet gain, 3 hours 48 minutes

Difficulty: Very difficult


Caribou Lakes Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness, California

The Sawtooth Mountains, Caribou Lakes in the background


Trail Options in the Trinity Alps

Old Caribou Trail – This is shorter than the New Caribou Trail, yet it is a very steep ascent directly over the mountain.

New Caribou Trail – The new trail goes around instead of over the mountain. A great option is to take the new trail to the lakes and take the old trail back to the trailhead/parking.

Caribou Scramble – Once you are in the Caribou Basin, the famous Caribou Scramble is an option for a side trip. This scramble up the Sawtooth ridge is extremely difficult and should only be attempted by advanced hikers.


Emerald Lake and Sapphire Lake, Caribou Lakes Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness, California

View coming down the switchbacks into the Caribou Basin


Old Caribou Trail to Caribou Lakes

From the trailhead, it is best to start on the Old Caribou Trail. After a few miles, these trails meet again. From this intersection, the Old Caribou will head directly up Caribou Mountain. Take the New Caribou trail from this point on. This trail will lead you to the Caribou Basin, with views of Sapphire Lake and Emerald Lake.


Emerald Lake, Caribou Lakes Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness, California

Campsite at Emerald Lake


Where to Camp

Emerald Lake has great campsite spots, along with the wooded side of the lake. We found a great spot with a fire pit and space for several tents. We set up closer to the trail, just on the bluff overlooking Emerald Lake.


Emerald Lake, Caribou Lakes Trail, Trinity Alps Wilderness, California

Chillin at Emerald Lake


Caribou Scramble

The Caribou Scramble is a day hike from Emerald Lake. You can hike to the summit of the Sawtooth Ridge, which crosses the famous Caribou Scramble.


Caribou Mountain, Trinity Alps, Shasta Wilderness, California

Old Caribou Trail near the top of Caribou Mountain



Return via Old Caribou Trail

After several switchbacks up from Emerald Lake, there is a 180-degree turn on the Old Caribou Trail and not going back around New Caribou Trail. Take this trail which ascends up to the summit of Caribou Mountains. Some of the best views are from this trail. From the summit, this is the most direct way back to the trailhead. The descent is very steep until you reach the juncture with the New Caribou Trail.


Caribou Mountain, Trinity Alps, Shasta Wilderness, California

Max looking over his conquered lake.



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