Back to index 5 Lakes and Ward Peak Hike
Trip Date:  07/31/2020

: 10.0 Miles

Vertical Gain: 2500'

Group Size: 6

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
5 Lakes & Ward Peak Route
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5 Lakes & Ward Peak Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 39 10.702, W 120 13.824     End Coordinates:   Same as starting coordinates
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 80 to the town of Truckee and then head south on Highway 89 toward Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows Ski Resorts.  Alternately, if you are coming from Lake Tahoe head north on highway 89.  When you reach Alpine Meadows Rd head west.  Go about three miles on this road until you reach the second intersection of Deer Park Rd and then look for parking on either side of the road.  The trail start is on the north side of Alpine Meadows Dr. at this location.
Hazards of Note:   Trails are well marked all the way but expect some north slope snow in the spring and early summer. Crowd Factor:   Busy to 5 Lakes, moderate to low past this point.
General Notes:
From the parking lot along Alpine Meadows Road head to the trailhead on the north side of the road just across from the intersection with Deer Park.  The trail will start upward almost immediately, and you will gain a good 1000' feet of elevation in the first 2 1/4 miles that will get you to the 5 Lakes area.  Just before reaching the lake that is visible from the trail, there is a junction to the right which will head on to the PCT and Whiskey Camp further on, but don't take this junction yet.  Head to the left, and you will find the largest of the 5 lakes just off to your left side.  There are nice spots here to jump in and swim, or if you go just a little further past the end of the lake you can cross a stream outlet and access the lake from a less brushy shoreline on this side.  This is actually the only one of the five lakes that is accessible directly from the trail, but there are two others of note to the east, as well as a couple of ponds which make up the rest of the 5 lakes area if you wish to explore them more.
To continue from here, you will pass a sign along the trail which states "no more lakes past this sign."  Follow this trail for about a 1/2 mile and you will eventually pick up the Squaw Ridge trail and follow it for a short distance until you come to a junction with the Pacific Crest trail.  Oddly enough at this point, head north to travel on the southbound direction of the PCT toward Ward Peak.  If you actually head south, you will wind around and end up in Squaw Valley unexpectedly.  From here the PCT will gain another 1000' over the next three miles, switchbacking up the ridgeline.  Near the first area at the top of the ridgeline be sure to head about 100 feet up to the left off the trail for a fantastic view of Alpine Meadows and Lake Estelle directly below.
At the point where the trail bends to the south and you can see Ward Peak's tower equipment in front of you, take a small use trail up to your left and then follow the access road all the way to the top of the peak.
From the peak the best way down is to follow the summer access roads, which meander steeply and footing can be a little questionable at times given the steep slopes on the way.  When you reach the lodge at the bottom, there is another 1 mile walk along the road to reach the trailhead where the cars are parked.  

This is the trailhead parking area on Alpine Meadows Road.  The trailhead from here is up on the left side. Trailhead parking
There is a lot of elevation gain up to 5 Lakes over the first two miles, but that opens up great views as well.   This is looking back down the trail toward Highway 89. Early elevation 
Looking south you can get a glimpse not only of the entire Alpine Meadows valley but even Ward Peak in the distance, the high point of our trip about 7 trail miles away from this early point in the hike. Alpine Meadows valley 
A small building near the bottom right of this view gives a good perspective as to the true size of the granite wall behind it. Impressive granite
Nearing the 2 mile mark the trail enters into the Granite Chief Wilderness area. Entering the wilderness 
Only one of the five lakes is actually visible from the trail, but it is the largest and a number of people were enjoying a swim on this day. 1 of the 5 lakes
Seems that enough people continue on the trail toward the PCT looking for more lakes that they ended up having to post this sign just after you pass the big lake. Interesting sign
While taking a little time to explore around the big lake we came upon this amazing tree that just drew your attention from everything else around. Exploration reward
Just past the lake there are junctions to get to Squaw Valley, the PCT north, the PCT south and Whiskey Camp.  They were all well marked for even those without navigational assistance. Junction
Even on the last day of July on a relatively dry year, the wildflower display in the area was fantastic.  In many spots the larkspur plants were over 6 feet tall. Wildflower bonanza     
One of our group, Greg B sporting his wildflower camoflauge. Camoflauge
The PCT junction location is definitely backward from how it feels it should be.  Go north to head southbound and visa versa. PCT Connector
As the PCT heads upward on a constant climb, the views soon open up to the west and the south. Open views
As you climb even higher both Squaw Peak and the High Camp at Squaw Valley are visible to the north. Squaw Peak and High Camp
Directly to the west you can see the deep canyon where Whiskey Camp is located as well as Mt. Mildred in the distance. Mt Mildred
An unexpected bonus on this day was a nice overlook view along the ridge down into Alpine Meadows as well as the pleasant Lake Estelle directly below. Estelle Lake
About 3/4 of a mile from the peak you round a bend in the trail and spot the destination.   There is some equipment at the top but it is still going to be a good climb even just from the PCT. Toward Ward Peak
Looking north from the peak you can see Squaw Peak as well as Granite Chief, Needle and Lyons Peak behind from right to left. From summit north
To the west is the ever-present Lake Tahoe, with the east side peaks (Mt. Rose, Snow Valley, Bliss and Genoa) visible from here north to south. Looking west
The rock formation at the actual peak was very intriguing.  Basalt on its side forming what almost looked like a wall.  To the right you can see Twin Peaks further down the PCT and Tahoe Rim Trails. Peak formation
Today's group of adventurers just before we headed down from the peak. Today's group
It took about 7 miles to get to the top of Wade Peak the way we went, but heading back down was only going to be about 2 miles.  They were steep and slippery along the access roads for the ski resort. Our route down
Greg B and Mark mulling the best way down from the peak. Mulling the route
The lodge is the destination you will want to constantly head for as you navigate the roads back down.  Just as an aside, there is a trail up to Lake Estelle (which we saw from the ridgeline) just to the left of the "Kangaroo" labeled building on the left side of this area. Target destination
GPX image of the hike. GPS track of hike