The trek from Caples Lake to Emigrant Lake leads from the smooth lakeshores of Caples Lake through the dense forests of the Mokelumne Wilderness to the small expanse of Emigrant Lake. In only 4 miles you'll move up Emigrant Creek from the popular summer lodge and reservoir to reach Emigrant Lake. At an elevation of 8,602 feet, the lake feels distant from all the worldly noise down below.
Begin at with a brief climb from the parking area to the lakeshore. You'll follow the southwest edge of Caples Lake, which alternates between a wide and flat path and a rocky shore that requires light scrambling or possible detours for obstacles and seasonal streams. As you continue along the lake for about 2 miles, views of Elephant's Back Peak will open up to the east along with a panorama across the lake to the north.
Near the southernmost tip of the lake you'll leave the openness and head into the thick trees and brush. A trail exists here that is marked with blazes cut into trees, though you may be hard pressed to find any sign of it in the snow. The best rule of thumb here is to stay west of and parallel to Emigrant Creek as you proceed upstream. Once you enter the forest, the route becomes a gradual climb with a few steep spots, depending on how you choose to maneuver past some of the granite outcroppings along the way.
At about 3.5 miles into the snowshoe you'll begin a steep climb, and the sound of the creek may be replaced by the whir of a motor. When you emerge from the creek valley, the lifts of Kirkwood hum atop the mountain just to the west.
When the climbing levels out you'll find yourself at a small meadow. Emigrant Lake sits at the far end, a small lake at the base of a cirque made up of 9,500- to 9,700-foot peaks. From here it's about an 800-foot descent over about 4.1 miles back to the trailhead.
Note that if the parking area is full or snowed-in, you may have to park at an area off of the highway just east of the spillway.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.