Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps – Backing Guide

Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps is a strenuous out and back trail located near the town of “Forks of Salmon” in Northern California. Not for the faint heart, this backpacking trip is not for a faint heart. It’s not just the elevation and distance, it’s also the heat that will make the hike challenging.

Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful hike with sweeping views.

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Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps

Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps

How long is the Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps Trail ?

19 miles round trip.

What is the elevation of Caribou Lakes ?

Starting elevation of the hiking trail is at 5020 ft.

Highest elevation you would reach is 7474 ft. Overall elevation gain for the entire hike is 4,251 feet.


How hard is it the hike to Caribou Lakes  ?

As you can see the elevation gain is pretty intense. And it’s all uphill from the moment you hit the trail head all the way to the lake. And usually this trail is done as a backpacking trip.

Add another 30-40 lbs of backpack to the all uphill trail, it’s HARD to say the least. I am not saying it’s impossible by any means. Just don’t want to give a wrong impression that it’s easy and anyone can do it.

Decent fitness is required to attempt this hike. If you start the hike really early in the morning, with plenty of breaks you can make it up there.

For a tough hike like this, I recommend a structured break like every one mile, you stop to take a few bites of the bar and drink water and stretch. Or every 45 miles you break for 15 mins, etc., basically whatever works for you.

The first few miles are all switchbacks with no mountain or valley view.  Eventually, you will hit the very sun exposed miles along north-facing slopes. Finally you will turn around the corner to get a stunning view of Caribou mountain. You can also see the river, and the lake where you will be staying for the night as you reach the top.

If Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps is not an option for you. Don’t be disappointed. There are other relatively easier day hikes such as Boulder Lake Trinity Alps and backpacking options like Canyon Creek Lakes Trinity Alps.

When to hike Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps ?

Summer months are ideal to hike Caribou lakes. Make sure to check with the rangers at one of the Trinity Alps visitor centers, if you are planning a trip in late spring to know the snow condition on the trails.

Here is the link to Trinity Alps Visitor Center phone numbers.

Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps

Camping at Caribou Lakes

We went 4th of July long weekend and saw a lot of people. There were dozens of tents arounds the lake with people camping at Caribou Lakes, as we were, and there was enough campsites to accommodate everyone.

Bring lots of water and food on trip as there is not any store pass Coffee creek rd turn off on your way to the trail head. I recommend stocking up early.

Backpacking and Fire Permit for Caribou Lakes

Self issued Wilderness Permits and California State Campfire Permits are required that is available at the trail head. This fire permit is technically required even for using camping stove.

You can pick up the permits from Weaverville or Big Bar Ranger Stations, or at the Forest Service Supervisor’s Office in Redding.

Drinking Water

There are plenty of water sources along the trail and at the lake of course.  You will see rivers and brooks along the way, in case you need to fill water.

To be on a safer side, you should filter the water before drinking. Some people chose to just directly boil the water instead of filtering it. I feel safe filtering and then boiling.

Generally backpacking trip that requires cooking, cleaning the utensils etc., I recommend carrying a water filter pump, so you can filter out a lot of water quickly.

Survivor Filter PRO – Virus and Heavy Metal Tested 0.01 Micron Water Filter for Camping, Hiking and Emergency. 3 Stages – 2 Cleanable 100,000L Membranes and a Carbon Filter for Family Preparedness.

Is Caribou Lakes Kids friendly ?

This is your choice. As I mentioned earlier, the hike is hard for obvious reasons. I have taken my toddler to 12,000ft and he has been fine with the altitude. So, altitude may or may not be an issue with your kid. But, this elevation gain means, the kid has to be strong to hike on their own, unless you plan to carry them.

We use the backpacking/hiking carriers that has worked for us as we hiked with my son. When he was really little, we used to carry him with the below body carrier on the front.

Infantino Flip 4-in-1 Convertible Carrier

Now that he is a little bigger and older (22 months at the time of writing this article), he doesn’t like sitting in the baby carrier anymore. Plus he wiggles around a lot and we switched to backpack type baby carrier.

Deuter Kid Comfort 2 Framed Child Carrier for Hiking, Cranberry/Fire

Is Caribou Lakes Dog Friendly ?

Yes, Dogs are allowed on the Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps trail. However, you be the judge of whether to take the dog on a strenuous hike like this.

How to get to Caribou Lakes trailhead ?

Here is the GPS coordinates for the trail head.,-122.93375

You will park at the Big Flat campground, quarter mile just past Mountain Meadow Resort. There was enough parking when we attempted the hike.

Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps Fishing

Fishing is permitted at Caribou Lakes. However, to follow the regulations and to know what fishes need to be released back into the water, I recommend reading the guidelines here.

Can you swim at Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps ?

Yes, we always pack our swim gear with a towel, so we can jump into the water. Just like any other alpine lake, Caribou lake is also freezing cold. But, if you reached the campground by late afternoon, on a hot summer day, taking a dip in the ice cold water may not be that bad.

First few minutes are the swim will be a shock to the body. But, the body temperature will adjust and we almost always enjoyed the alpine lake swims after that few mins of ice-cream effect.

Sun bath on the rocks after the swim to dry off.

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Caribou Lakes Trinity Alps