Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
2,800.00 ft (853.44 m)
Trail type
26.00 mi (41.84 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Sapphire and Emerald Lakes are nestled comfortably among granite ridges in the heart of the Trinity Alps. The outflow from these bodies of water mark the beginning of the Stuart Fork Creek, which meanders through mountains and meadows until it enters Trinity Lake. 

Wildlife is abundant in the Stuart Fork watershed. Black-tailed deer and black bear are common sights during the spring and summer. An even more common resident sighting is that of the rattlesnake. This area is known as one of the most populated rattlesnake area in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Do not be alarmed, though; rattlesnakes in this area are shy and non-aggressive creatures who want nothing to do with humans. Should a rattlesnake be spotted, simply allow it to move out of the way or walk in a wide arc around it. Remember that, as visitors to this wilderness area, we are entering the rattlesnake's home, not the other way around.

At both Emerald and Sapphire Lakes the presence of past human activity is easily seen. The outflows of both lakes have old dams created from granite boulders and reinforced with steel. These dams provided water for the La Grange hydraulic mine. This mine operated from 1862 through 1918 and was at one point the largest hydraulic mine in California. Millions of dollars of gold was extracted during operation, but rising steel and labor costs forced the owners to abandon the search for more gold. Many large pieces of steel, now completely rusted, can still be seen scattered around the edges of both lakes, remnants of a time when the Trinity Alps was a busy center for mining operations. 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Beautiful meadows. Pristine alpine lakes. Wildflowers. Abundant wildlife.


Long trail. Crowded on holidays.

Trailhead Elevation

3,000.00 ft (914.40 m)


Backcountry camping
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Suitable for




Great hike. We camped at Alpine Lake Trailhead (since we couldn't cross the Stuart Fork) and did a long (17-mile) out and back day-hike. Met a few people who stayed at Morris Meadow and did the day-hike from there.

Great hike through pretty forest, lots of great views, especially of the Sawtooth Ridge. This time of year was great since the new green leaves were so vibrant. Later in the season, I can imagine the willow bushes the last 4 miles being a bear to get through. And, this year, the lakes were not frozen as they had been in previous years in early May (thanks to global climate change undoubtedly).

Also, be sure to bring a bear canister since we saw a bear (and my dog chased it) and lots of scat, especially in the meadow.

NOTE: This is a 14+ mile EACH way hike to Emerald Lake (+ more to Sapphire Lake) from the parking lot. Unless you want to do a marathon in one day, I'd suggest an overnight.
Awesome hike! Actual distance is 14.1 miles each way (28.2 round trip) from the parking lot. The last 4-5 miles is all straight uphill, but boy are the views worth it!! Next time will make the hike in a 2 day trip as it has 3800ft of gain and the last few miles were arduous.
Note that the 13 mile distance listed is one-way only, and it's twice that round-trip.
Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.