Hike Name: Bear Lake via Crabtree Trailhead in the Stanislaus National Forest (SNF) – Forest Service Trail Number 20E16
Name of area/general location: Stanislaus National Forest, Pinecrest, CA
Land Acknowledgement: This trail is located in the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Wašiw (Washoe) and Me-Wuk (Central Sierra Miwok). To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the lands, visit native-land.ca
Trail rating: Moderate to potentially strenuous depending on fitness. Significant sun exposure on parts of the trail during the summer months.
Trail mileage: Round trip is approximately 8.5 miles (4.25 miles one-way). Mileage can be shaved off if only going to Camp Lake (2.5 miles one way). For most, the suggested trail should take approximately 5 hours, round trip (not including stops).
For more information: Stanislaus National Forest, Summit Ranger District (209) 459-9236. Additional information to note: Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be on a leash at all times, per Tuolumne County Leash Law. Please remember to #RecreateResponsibly
Description of area, sights, wildlife and any key markers on the trail:
Beginning at the Crabtree Trailhead, this approximately 4.25-mile hike to Bear Lake is a moderate to potentially strenuous hike. The hike leads into the 113,000-acre Emigrant Wilderness which was designated by Congress as such in 1975. The Wilderness is named after Emigrant Pass, which follows the historic West Walker route that was used by the first emigrant group to enter the area, a familiar route that Indigenous communities had long traveled for thousands of years on a seasonal basis and left evidence of in the nearby Bell Meadow area.
The trail tends to be very popular in the summer. Experiencing the Emigrant Wilderness and the several alpine lakes along the way is highly sought after by backpackers and other recreationalist. Bathrooms are available in the trailhead parking area.
The trail can be hiked any time of year, but due to the fact that the main access road, Highway 108, , you may require snow chains to get to the area and may encounter snow on the trail. Additionally, because the trail lacks shade in some areas, one might not want to hike this in the middle of the day during the hotter summer months. It is possible to experience this trail during the winter but traction or other snow equipment is needed; check with the ranger station for information.
Beginning at the parking lot, the trail should be fairly visible given its popularity. However, you might not be able to find parking near the trailhead, so you will have to head to the northwest corner of the parking area to locate the trailhead. Once on the trail, you’ll eventually cross a small wooden bridge. You will want to stay right to head to Bear lake. At this point, you will hit some elevation gain but it will smooth out shortly after. At approximately 2.5-miles, you will reach Camp Lake, another option as a final destination for those wanting to hike a shorter distance.
Along your way, you will likely encounter yellow alpine daisies and purple high sierra wildflowers. Once you reach Bear Lake, you will encounter a lake that offers several opportunities for sunbathing or simply an opportunity to experience the shores of a Sierra alpine lake.
Bear Lake and Camp Lake are both located within the Emigrant Wilderness. Additionally, prior to entering the designated Wilderness, you will hike a majority of the way through the Bell Inventoried Roadless Area, which is an administratively protected area that received this recognition due to the “Natural Integrity of the area [being] very high….” At one point, it was considered for a wilderness addition to the Emigrant Wilderness. Unfortunately, the Forest Service can eliminate the Inventoried Roadless Area administrative protection at any time, which is why legislative designation as wilderness by Congress is most desirable.
Photo on top of page by Rose Hair from Alltrails.com
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.