Trip Type: Loop - 5 Day/4 Night loop (leisurely)
Total Trip Mileage 30 miles
Trailhead to Emigrant Lake: ~16 miles
Altitude Gain: 1900 feet
Trail Difficulty: Easy/Moderate (optional cross country from Emigrant to North of Cow Meadow Lake on Day 3 should only be attempted by those experienced with cross country hiking)
Season: Early Season
Trail Traffic: This is a high traffic area
WSH Trip Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: Stellar beauty throughout. Finding camping at Emigrant Lake can be a challenge.
Trailhead to Gem Lake: Well marked easy trail. At 2.9 miles there's a seasonal creek crossing which may be difficult to navigate around but this is the only area that's questionable. Piute Lake makes a great lunch spot at 7.4 miles in but push forward to Gem Lake (9 miles) or Jewelry Lake (9.7 miles) for better campsites and better access to water.
Gem Lake to Emigrant Lake: Easy hiking from here with gradual uphill until you drop down into Upper Buck Lake at mile marker 11.8. The meadow on the north side of Buck Lakes makes a great lunch spot (13.3 miles). From here it's a short 2 miles with and 500' of gain to Emigrant Lake.
Emigrant to Wood Lake (or Grouse Lake): Unless you have exceptional experience with cross country hikers would be well advised to backtrack and take one of the trails connecting the high trail to the lower trail at either Buck Lakes or Deer Lake. Route finding is particularly challenging on the cross country between Emigrant and North of Cow Meadow Lake. As you leave Emigrant follow the slabs. As you enter a forested area you'll want to veer right around a prominent nob and down to a no-name lake. (We named the lake Bluet Lake because we found an old Bluet canister there. If you don't know what that is feel free to message me.) Navigate around the western shore (you'll pick up an old use trail here) and again head down the slabs. As you get close to the bottom veer west. The better you're able to do this the more you'll avoid the brush, downed trees, and other mess on the floor of the valley. BUT..don't head west too soon or you'll end up on difficult ledges. Yes, it's tricky. Once down follow the stream around (again you'll pick up a use trail) to the lower trail. Do not cross the stream! My recommendation is to camp either on the far west end of Wood Lake because it's incredibly beautiful and shouldn't be missed. The downside is it makes for a long final day. A second option is there's an excellent campsite at mile 22.8 as the trail leaves the West Fork of Cherry Creek. I personally would avoid camping at Grouse Lake as it's frequented by cows that apparently enjoy eating the reeds while standing in the water....that you drink!
Grouse Lake to TH: The hike from the West fork of Cherry Creek to Grouse Lake is a testament to trail building with ample stairs and a trail paved with rocks. Apparently the trail used to wash out quite a bit. It's going no where now! From Grouse Lake it's a short 4 mile hike to the Trailhead at Crabtree with a tame 500' climb back up to the upper trail thus closing the loop and a retrace of day 1's first 1.5 miles.
Camping: Piute Lake can become stagnant by mid season and access to water, given the reeds, can be a challenge. Suggest pushing on to Gem Lake. Camping at Emigrant Lake is limited to the Southwest of the lake where there is a nice beach. Finding tent pads that are far enough from the water can be a challenge. There is limited camping on the West end of Wood Lake.
Trail Notes: The trails are in excellent condition. You won't be alone, particularly during the first couple of miles. This is a favorite day hike for folks coming from the Bay Area but most are heading to Camp and/or Bear Lake. Once you reach the turn-off just past Camp Lake you'll experience less trail traffic.