2 Nov 2020
The Five Lakes Trail is a trail I’ve hiked at least once a year for decades. It is fairly short, although with a steady, stiff climb you will get a good workout, and the views for the entire journey are varied and awesome. The problem with the Five Lakes Trail is that it is quite popular, attracting a large crowd all summer and fall. My attempted cure this week was to head out early on a chilly morning in the middle of the week. I did pretty well, only passing a dozen hikers, mostly on the way up as we were on the way down.
The Five Lakes Trail is located on Alpine Meadows Road just across from Deer Park Drive. Find parking on either side off the road. If there are no cars at the trailhead, hit the trail quick, then after you get back to your car head to the casinos or buy a lottery ticket since it is obvious this is your incredibly lucky day. The trail begins climbing immediately, quickly passing over an area which sustained a landslide a few years ago during a summer rain deluge.
While we were freezing when we got out of the car in the shade, the trail is open and sunny and we were quickly dropping layers. The trail steadily winds up the slope with some scattered firs and pines, but mostly it’s a rocky, brushy climb on a well laid out trail. To the left, you see a great view of Alpine Meadows, while up above is a meeting of huge slabs of pinkish granite with swaths of dark gray lava rock. Also in those rocky slopes sit a number of Gasex machines, for avalanche control. This slope is avalanche haven and intentionally set little avalanches are frequently set to avoid the big ones that would close the road.
After about a mile, the trail crosses a mini saddle, then traverses a ridge high above a charming canyon, providing closer access to that gorgeous pink granite. At a bit less than two miles, you cross the Granite Chief Wilderness boundary, where the trail levels off and dives into a deep forest of red fir. About a 1/4 mile further the trail meets a junction. Here a left turn takes you to the largest, and busiest of the Five Lakes, while straight ahead leads to the Pacific Crest Trail, Whiskey Creek and the much less busy heart of Granite Chief Wilderness. Wherever you go, enjoy, but be sure to head back out before winter.