EXPLORING EMIGRANT LAKE TRAIL
The Emigrant Lake trail; one trail, two lakes. The journey to Emigrant Lake begins with a beautiful drive to the Kirkwood area of Alpine County. Aptly named for the majestic pine-covered mountains, Alpine County is home to world-class skiing, and for day hikers, panoramic views, lush greenery, running streams and mild temperatures.
A dear friend told me about Emigrant Lake Trail for backpacking and camping. I admit I don’t do a lot of backpacking, I am a day hiker, I like to sleep in my own bed and need coffee in the morning, but eight-miles is a doable day hike and with the drive it’s a full day.
This was a first for me in a couple of ways; I brought my friend Lizzy to hike with and this was my first hike in Alpine County.
To get there, take Highway 49 to Placerville where you pick up US 50 East to Sly Park Road to Mormon Emigrant Trail/Silver Lake Road. Take left on CA-88E to Caples Lake.
The trail head has limited parking but I went on a three-day weekend that may have added some congestion. A convenient restroom and a large sign marking the trail head set you on your way four-miles back to Emigrant Lake. The trail begins by skirting Caples Lake for the first two-miles. At the end of the lake you will notice the gentle climb that takes you away from the noise of the highway, through tall pines, with the call of the birds above and wildflowers at your feet.
A couple of creek crossings may get your shoes wet if you misstep, but even in September the runoff leads to lush greenery decorated with impressive rock formations and mountain meadows, a joy to behold. I am happy to report that this is a well maintained and well signed trail. Near the end a handful of switchbacks. The trail then opens up to a meadow that leads to Emigrant Lake surrounded by peaks including Melissa Coray Peak, named for a Pioneer woman who walked 2000-miles to reach the west, Peak 9597 and Covered Wagon Peak, that still held patches of snow.
It’s downhill from here. After a good rest, maybe a snack, the trek back is a gentle downhill, weaving among the trees and boulders strewn about the wilderness. Before you know it, Caples Lake comes into view, the roar of the highway finds your ears and this hiking day-dream will be over.
Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guides (Available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, and favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2018 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.