Emigrant Wilderness: Gem Lake Loop

It was another backpacking trip kind of weekend. This time I drove up pretty far from my home base in Southern California to Stanislaus National Forest, which sits right above Yosemite National Park.

I met up with some friends from Davis, CA and we did an overnight together. This was a two days trip going out to Gem Lake via the Crabtree Trail and back via the Bell Meadow Trail. Total mileage was 20 miles.


Location: Stanislaus National Forest, Emigrant Wilderness, near the town of Sorona, CA in Northern California east of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Days: 2 days, 1 night

Mileage: ~20 miles, ~2,500 elevation gain

Camp: Gem Lake

Trails: out via Crabtree and back via Bell Meadow trail. Start and end at the Crabtree Trailhead. Check out other trails in the Emigrant Wilderness Area.

Wilderness Permit: A free permit can be picked up from the Pinecrest Summit Ranger Station which is only about 7 miles from the crabtree trailhead. No arrangement required and there’s no quota.

Status Report ( Late july, 2013): Trails are highly maintained and well marked. Trails are fairly populated but solitude is plenty. Creeks are NOT reliable source for water, depend on lakes, which were many. Mosquitoes were few and none in some area. Lake water were good temperature and swimmable.

Camping before and after: Camping is allowed for one night at the crabtree trailhead, first come, first served. There’s a lot of parking too.

Summer time is perfect for sierras backpacking trip. I’ve always wanted to explore Stanislaus National Forest because it offers similar terrain and landscape as the Yosemite National Park but without all the crowd.

The trip was easy to plan because no reservation was needed and there’s no quota so spots were guarantee. But, the only thing I concerned about was mosquitoes. Emigrant Wilderness is wildly infamous for clouds of blood sucking vampires. I called in the ranger station and asked the ranger about the mosquitoes condition; they said that it was fairly low, so i thought that i was a good time to.

We started from the Crabtree trailhead which is easy to find. Make sure to stop at the ranger station to pick up a free permit and ask for direction to the trailhead. There’s no real address for it and don’t rely on GPS, but the trailhead is easy to get to. Rangers will have a map for you.

We parked and immediately started hiking. It was already midday when we started; i realized that we probably weren’t going to get as far as Buck Lakes like we originally thought. I didn’t want to hurry to the lake and miss out on the journey. We took it nice and easy and camped at Gem Lake instead.

I thought that it was the perfect choice to stay here. While there were quite a few other campers who were way too visible as they camp almost right on the water, it was still a great camping place.

We went swimming and got to rinse out dirty legs. The lake was nice and really refreshing. It was a really HOT day, even at that elevation.

After a great night hanging up by the fire and under the great milky way, we went to sleep. We woke up the next day to one of the clearest sky I’ve ever seen. We ate some oat meals and began our journey back.

We hike along the Gem to meet with another trail, Bell Meadow trail, to get back to the crabtree trailhead. The hike was beautiful and mostly downhills with a couple of exceptions.

The creek water was low, so we waited to Grouse Lake to get water. It was our last hangout place before heading back to Davis.

I highly recommend Emigrant Wilderness area if you live in Northern California. If you live in SoCal and don’t want to drive that far to experience the sierras, i highly suggest Horseshow Meadows in Inyo National forest, which offers a great high sierras country hike, lakes, and access to one of California’s Fourteeners, Mt. Langley.


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