Caribou Wilderness: Land o' Lakes

posted Sep 5, 2016, 9:53 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Sep 5, 2016, 9:56 AM ]
We're just back from three days of some of the most peaceful and relaxing hiking we've done a many a year: twenty-three miles of lake after lake in the Caribou Wilderness.
And that brings us to Triangle Lake.  Let's camp here!   ©

It all started from Chester, where we used the wonderful maps from the Lassen Hiking Association to find our way to the trailhead.  They also have just about the best maps we've ever seen for hiking in any area:  clear, comprehensive, and easy to print out.  Check them out here:

It's a good thing we had those maps, because there are no signs from the county road as to where to turn off to the Caribou Wilderness.  (If you are interested, take route A21 to Mooney Road, and follow it to the Silver Lake Campground...then follow the signs towards Cone Lake for a couple hundred yards.  That dirt road to the left is the one to the trailhead.)

It's ironic that there are no signs to get to the trailhead, because once you get on the trail, the signage is very comprehensive and even repetitive at times.  Every junction had at least one sign, sometimes two.  And every lake was identified by a sign as well!
But some were downright gorgeous.  This is Turnaround Lake...which is a good place to turn around if you a doing a day hike.  ©
It was a long drive from Napa, so we didn't get started until well after lunch, and we hoped to hike in about six miles. 

Leaving Caribou Lake itself, we went up towards Turnaround Lake, passing Jewel and Eleanor Lakes on the way, as well as a few smaller ponds that haven't been named yet. 

Turnaround Lake (Photo left) would be a perfect spot for a lunch on a day-hike, or even a campsite, but we pushed on past the Twin Lakes to camp at Triangle Lake.  We weren't sure that we would make it all six miles, but as it turned out the six miles included only about 500 feet of elevation gain, and that was done very gently, with only one serious switchback. 

In fact, in twenty-three miles of hiking we counted only three switchbacks in the Caribou Wilderness.  This is pretty easy hiking. The only real challenge was the number of deadfall trees across the trail...which were every where.  But there was usually a quick route around them, or they were low enough to step over. 

There were quite a few good campsites at Triangle Lake, and even though the first two were occupied, we soon found a place that would work just fine--albeit designed for a group of twenty.  We fit our tent into a small corner of the site, and sat back to enjoy the peace and quiet. 
The weather report warned of a slight chance of rain...but so far, so good.   ©

And cool temperatures.  It never got above 70 degrees on this hike, and in the cool shadows of evening, we were wearing most of the clothes we brought.  Across the lake, someone had a small campfire, and that added just a touch of quaintness to the scene.

The next morning it was darned cold--close to freezing.  We slept in a bit, and didn't hit the trail until about 9 a.m.  We continued on our route around Triangle Lake, noting again that from here trails lead into the seemingly remote Eastern parts of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and then headed south. 

Turnaround Lake had only one campsite occupied, but it did have a lone wood duck  patrolling the surface.  And from there we passed Black Lake and the two Divide Lakes (North and South) on our way to Long Lake.  All of this hiking was between 6750 and 7000 feet of elevation, and so we easily hiked the six miles in well less than three hours, even though we stopped for photos, a snack, etc.  This is easy hiking!

Long Lake had quite a few good campsites, and they ranged from very developed sites to areas that were seemingly untouched, but still perfectly usable.  We choose to stay in a developed site on the peninsula on the West shore of the lake. 
The next morning, after a slight sprinkle, the dawn was stunning.  ©

Most of the campsites here are too close to the water to satisfy the regulations. You are supposed to be 100 feet from both trail and water, and most of these were quite close to the shore.  But since we were late in the season, the water levels were much lower, and what would have been an illegal site in June was now well away from the water levels of September.

So we set up camp, ate lunch and then decided to do a quick day hike of the Posey Lake Loop.

This is a five-mile route through at least ten lakes, and it certainly didn't disappoint us.  In a little over two hours we were back at our camp, and trying to remember the names of all the lakes we'd seen.  There are no towering peaks, no deep gorges, in the Caribou Wilderness.  No soaring waterfalls or roaring rivers--only lake after lovely lake, nestled into the embrace of forests of Lodgepole pines. 

And lots of birds.  We were charmed to see an osprey in the tree above our campsite at Long Lake, and later watched him soar over the lake looking for a fish restaurant. 

We met a few small groups each day on the trail, but all of them seemed rather quite and reserved--unlike some of the "epic" hikers we sometimes meet in the Sierra.  This place has a different, and very pleasant, vibe. 

That evening we settled into our camp and put on all our clothes again.  It was a bit breezy, and the clouds had changed from high cirro-stratus to puffier cumulus...some of which looked a little bit dark and threatening.  By dusk they had all pretty much disappeared. 

Of course, at 4 a.m. it started sprinkling...but not enough for us to worry. 
And we're done!  ©

The next morning we forced ourselves to get started just a bit earlier, and despite the cold weather we were on the trail by 8:30.  From Long Lake it was a quick six miles back to the car, passing the Divide Lakes again, as well as turn-offs to Emerald and Gem Lakes. 

When we got back to Caribou Lake, we were struck by the fact that the ugliest lake we had seen in the whole area was the one whose name was on the Wilderness.  Caribou is a reservoir that simply doesn't stand up to the comparisons of the other lakes we'd seen on the hike. 

We were back at the car by 11, and into Chester in time for lunch.

Here's a link to the rest of the photos: