Backpacking season has begun! Read about our first trip backpacking last summer in the Granite Chief Wilderness!
Tom and I have talked about doing a backpacking trip for years and we FINALLY did it! We had already planned a trip backpacking in Mammoth Lakes for the weekend of the 4th of July, but decided on a last minute trial run the weekend before in Lake Tahoe in the Granite Chief Wilderness.
Granite Chief Wilderness
The Granite Chief Wilderness is located near Truckee, CA close to Lake Tahoe. Its about a three hour drive from the East Bay of San Francisco. This wilderness is dog friendly except for the French Meadows Game Refuge (except for the area east of the Pacific Crest Trail) and Big Springs Trail from May 15th - July 15th due to deer fawning. However, the Five Lakes Trail is ok for dogs to be on.
We chose to hike last minute in Granite Chief because the only permit required are for campfires. (Other wilderness areas may require permits to camp overnight.) Since California is in midst of a four year drought, most wilderness areas are banning any type of open fire except for camp stoves. This permit is required to use a camp stove and is FREE. You can get a California Campfire Permit here for free and its good for the entire state.
Five Lakes Trail
The Five Lakes Trail is located between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. The trailhead is located off of Alpine Meadows Road at the intersection of Deer Park Drive. Lots of overnight parking is available on the side of the road. The hike up to the lakes is about 2.5 miles making it perfect for a day hike or relaxing for a longer overnight stay. We passed a lot of day hikers and trail runners who were just on the trail for the day. Several groups were up for the night like we were, but we had no idea until we hiked out and saw tents scattered around the forest.
The trail starts with an uphill hike. Actually, the hike is all uphill to the lakes, but steeper at first, then it levels out a bit.
The initial trail takes you through a bit of forest before it opens up into a large canyon.
Once you climb up and over the granite side of the trail you officially enter the Granite Chief Wilderness and hike back into a more covered forest section before almost immediately hiking past the first of the five lakes.
The trail splits - going right keeps you on the main trail and up and over the lakes. It leads down to the final and largest lake. The left trail takes you closer to the edges of the lakes and through a bit of brush too as we got a bit off trail and did a little wilderness exploring hoping to find the path again. The five lakes are very close to each other, making a visit to each of them a hop, skip, and a jump.
The largest of the five lakes became a popular swimming spot for people and dogs alike as the day went on and the sun warmed. We used the lake to pump through our water filter and let me say, it was some of the BEST water I've ever had.
One of the best things about backpacking is being able to camp wherever you want. Well, not wherever you want, in this area you have to camp 600 feet from the lakes, but otherwise, any flat spot you can stake your tent is yours. The cool thing is, a lot of these areas have make shift camps so you can see where other people have camped. We found a flat spot just past the lakes near a stream (600 feet away) and set up for the night.
Bailey was pretty tuckered out after a day of hiking and swimming and snuggled in for the evening. We spent the night playing cards under our tent lights (since campfires are currently banned due to the drought) and listened to a thunderstorm rumbling in the distance and the creek from the lakes babbling in the distance. It was amazing.
We headed out early the next morning to beat the heat of the day, but not before filling up one last time on the filtered water from the creek by our camp.
The hike down was quick - we tried to take our time enjoying the last views of the area, but it was easy to just let gravity help us down the mountainside.
The Five Lakes Trail is a great hike for a quick day trip or an overnight. Next time we plan on taking the trail further into the PCT to meet some of the hikers going through and maybe one day we'll get enough courage to follow in their footsteps.
Here's a short video we made about our time in Granite Chief - we went back a few weekends later because we couldn't get enough of it!
And more than that - here's a compilation video of our summer last year backpacking both Mammoth Lakes and Tahoe!