Outside with Charlie: Two cool lakes

By From page A6 | August 15, 2012


August has arrived, bringing with it a lot of heat.

Beating the heat can be done. A trip to the pool, park, river, or lake can take the edge off a hot summer day.

Getting into the higher mountains, though, means cooler temperatures. Along Highway 88, a treasure trove of outdoor opportunities, Caples Lake sits right along the road. While Caples is a very nice spot, just above is the beautiful alpine Emigrant Lake, a little over 4 miles from Caples.

The trail head is at the spillway dam on the Kirkwood side of the lake. The trail to Emigrant is well-marked and leads into the Mokelumne Wilderness but day hikers aren’t required to fill out a permit. Overnight stays do require a permit.

The first two miles of this hike are along the shore of Caples Lake. It is relatively flat, and gradually leads up and away from the lake. As the trail meanders around and away from the lake and takes a gentle uphill track, it winds around some wonderful granite gardens.

The granite fields along the way are, by themselves, worth the trek.

You will roughly follow Emigrant Creek for most of the way. As you gain a bit of altitude, turn around and look back into the distance for views of the lava cliffs along with glimpses of the lake.

Not too far from the lake you will come to a sign post. The choices are Emigrant Lake, Kirkwood Meadow, and the old Emigrant Road.

Not far after this sign is a fine little meadow with views of the cliffs above Emigrant Lake. Emigrant Creek flows through here. Continuing past this meadow will bring you to the shore of Emigrant Lake, sitting in what is known as a cirque, which is simply an open-sided bowl.

The cliffs that nearly surround the lake are beautiful. One is Covered Wagon Peak, another named for a pioneer emigrant, Melissa Coray Peak.

The lake itself is glacier-formed and it is pretty deep and cold. Dip your toes in the water for a quick cool down. Swim if you can stand the shock of the cold water.

Depending on your hiking style, and how many stops are made for pictures, the round trip will take between three and half to five hours.

Take plenty of water and food. Bug spray and sunscreen are always necessary. The lake is in the open, and a good hat will come in handy, but there are some shady areas to be enjoyed too.

You are on your own out here. Check the weather report before you start. Remember to leave no trace that you were there. Get outside!

Charlie Ferris

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