Features: Granite and Hidden Lakes are scenic gems nestled in a broad rocky and forested slope stretching from Silver Lake on Highway 88 up to a ridge the forms the northern boundary of the Mokelumne Wilderness. Granite Lake is an easy day hike destination for people who want to stretch their legs for 1.5 miles and perhaps take a plunge into a sub-alpine lake in a beautiful setting. Hidden Lake is 2 miles further up the trail and chances are you will have the lake to yourself. The 4-mile hike on the Minkalo and Granite-Hidden Lakes Trail climbs a modest 500 feet in elevation to Hidden Lake at 7,800 feet elevation.
Located in the Eldorado National Forest in Amador Country, these scenic lakes are in the what remains of the Tragedy-Elephants Back roadless area, a 28,800-acre swath of wild lands adjacent to Mokelumne Wilderness. Some of this area around Round Top Peak and Winnemucca, Round Top, and Emigrant Lakes was added to the Mokelumne Wilderness by Congress in 1984. But a large portion of the roadless area in a semi-circle to the east, south, and west of Silver Lake was not protected as wilderness.
The 1989 Eldorado Forest Plan allocated most of this unprotected area to semi-primitive motorized and non-motorized recreation. Unfortunately, nearly the entire remaining roadless area is cut-off from the adjacent Mokelumne Wilderness by existing legal motorized trails. However, the area could still be added to the wilderness by placing the motorized trails into narrow corridors called “cherry stems” that permit continued motorized use in the corridors but protect the undeveloped adjacent land.
Adding this scenic area to the Mokelumne Wilderness would improve the area’s important role as a refuge for wildlife and rare plants. It would also protect the upper watersheds of the Silver Fork American River and Bear River, which ultimately provide clean water for downstream cities and farms. The area is geologically diverse, with large examples of the Sierra’s granite pluton mixed with outcrops of volcanic rock. Volcanic soils often provide habitat for rare and sensitive plants. A unique geological feature of the area is the Machado Postpile, an ancient volcanic rock formation that cooled into unusual 4-6 sided columns surrounded by the more common Sierra granite.
Much of the area provides a scenic backdrop to Silver Lake and Highway 88. The Thunder Mountain, Horse Canyon, Minkalo, Allen Camp, and Granite-Hidden Lakes trails provide access to popular destinations in the area, including the top of Thunder Mountain and Granite, Hidden, and Kit Carson Lakes. The Carson Emigrant National Historic Trail is also located in the area, along with the historic site of the Plasse Trading Post.
As of October 2017, the Forest Service is initiating a revision of the 1989 Eldorado National Forest Plan. The revised plan will determine the future of this wild place, including whether any part of it will be considered as a potential addition to the Mokelumne Wilderness and how much of the remaining area will be allocated to semi-primitive motorized and non-motorized recreation. Your participation in this important planning process will mean the difference between protection and exploitive resource development of this and other wild places on the Eldorado National Forest.
Driving Directions: At Silver Lake on Highway 88, turn south on the road to Kit Carson Lodge. Within a hundred feet, bear left at the “Y” and drive past the entrance the Lodge entrance on your right. Various side roads lead to cabins, but continue on the narrow but paved road as it curves around the east end of Silver Lake. Continue straight through an intersection (do not veer right on a road that goes down to the lake) and then bear right at the another “Y” where a sign directs you to Granite Lake. Continue on the narrow road over a broad granite slab and across a bridge spanning a seasonal stream to a discreet parking area marked with the “Minkalo Trail” sign on your left. If the few parking spots at the trailhead are taken, there are additional parking spaces about 100 feet further up the road.
Trail Directions: The Minkalo Trail climbs up through granite rock formations and forest and crosses a seasonal stream on a footbridge. About 1 mile in, the Minkalo Trail veers right back towards Silver Lake, but the Granite-Hidden Lakes Trail continues to the left. Granite Lake is about 1.5 miles from the trailhead and Hidden Lake is another 2.5 miles. For current road and trail conditions, contact the Forest Service’s Amador Ranger Station at (209) 295-4251.
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.