Back to index Red Peak Trail to Lake #3 Hike
Trip Date:  10/21/2016

: 16.0 Miles

Vertical Gain: 1600'

Group Size: 3

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
Red Peak Trail Route
See video of this hike   See video of hike   Download GPXGPX for this trip
Red Peak Trail Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 38 55.860   W 120 19.301     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 50 to Ice House Road.  Head north on Ice House for about 17 miles until you reach the turnoff for Van Vleck Bunkhouse (Cheese Camp Road.)  Follow this road for a little over 5 miles until you get to the Van Vleck Trailhead parking area.
Hazards of Note:   Red Peak trailhead is located almost a mile past the parking area.   This is not taken into account for mileage to Lake #3 in most guidebooks.  Early spring and after a rainstorm will swell a number of water crossings on the way. Crowd Factor:   Moderate.  Any trailhead into Desolation Wilderness will be popular, but this one is fairly remote and has a long walk of 3+ miles before even reaching the Wilderness boundary.
General Notes:
From the parking area near the Van Vleck bunkhouse, head back up to the paved road that you drove in from Ice House, and turn to the west.  There is a (probably) locked gate here, which you will walk around to start the hike into Desolation Wilderness.   This first part of the hike is along a jeep road, which early on takes you past a new (as of 2016) culvert over a river crossing which used to require rock hopping even late in the year.   Follow this road until you reach the junction for either the Tells Peak trail (to the left) or the Red Peak trail to the right at a vertical wooden signpost.  
From this point the trail becomes single-track, and travels without too much elevation gain for a couple of miles until you reach the Desolation Wilderness boundary marked by a rectangular sign.  On the way there will be a potentially dicey water crossing over Bassi Creek, which on the day we went in the fall was at least 25 feet wide and about a foot deep after a three day rainstorm a few days previous.  
Once into the Wilderness, the elevation gain will begin, and there will be spot views toward the northern Crystal Range and Silver Peak from time to time as you begin to slowly climb out of the forest which dominated the first few miles of the hike.  Most of the 1600' of elevation gain occurs in the 2+ miles between the Wilderness boundary and the junction where an off-shoot trail to the left, which is signed will take you the last 1/3 mile to Lake #3.  If you head just past this junction about a 1/10 of a mile, there is a nice overlook view of Lake #4 below, which is a worthy journey of another 1/2 mile from this point to an old navy airplane crash from the 1960s.  
On this late fall day after a snowstorm a few days prior, the junction trail to Lake #3 was impassable due to deep, swampy conditions on the trail.  We were able to navigate to Lake #3 by heading back down the trail to the most recent water crossing, which is an outlet from the lake about 400 feet above.  Staying to the left of the waterway, head cross-country up the granite to find your way up and over the rise and finally to the western edge of the lake.  

Our group at the trailhead, making sure we go the right way into Desolation and NOT to Cascade Falls. First junction well before Red Peak Trail
Hiking partner Greg on the early part of the trail.  The gate is usually closed, but there were fresh tire marks and obvious use of the trail up until we turned onto the Red Peak Trail a mile after the gate. Greg on the early trail
The actual 'trail' starts at this marker a mile into the trek, where Red Peak Trail heads to the right and the Highland Trail up to Forni Lake and Tells Peak further on heads to the left. First junction
This nice open meadow undoubtedly would be filled with wildflowers in the late spring and early summer.  This is some old field fence posts left here with any fencing attached to it long gone. Open meadow
This sign, indicating 4.7 miles to Lake #3 is misleading, as by this point you are over a mile into the hike.  It also looks to be hand-made, with lettering not as straight or aligned as others on the way. First lake sign
One of the many river crossings on the way, including this one over the narrowest area we could find at Bassi Creek. One of many water crossings
Greg and Mark setting up for pictures of each other at the Desolation Wilderness boundary.  Of note was the sign off to the right which warned of no hang gliding allowed in the area.  Really. Wilderness boundary
Heading up out of the forest there are open views from time to time before finally reaching the high point of the trip.  This view is to the north toward Tells Peak and then Loon Lake on the other side of the ridge. Views opening
Greg and Mark making their way up one of the deep-cut trails that are indigenous to this part of Desolation Wilderness. Hiking up the trail
Reaching some of the famous Desolation Wilderness granite areas, the views open up to the east to show Silver Peak towering high above this area. Silver Peak
After the recent rainstorm there was water everywhere, including a series of waterfalls which were just off the east side of the trail. Waterfall
The junction for the last 1/3 mile of trail to Lake #3.  Lots of snow and marshy conditions past this point caused us to look for an alternate route. Lake #3 Junction
A view of Lake #4 from an overlook spot just past the Lake #3 junction. Lake #4
Lake #3 with Silver Peak in the distance to the north. Lake #3
A view of Red Peak, a common peak-bagging destination for those heading out to Lake #3. Red Peak
Heading back down the open granite from Lake #3 to pick up the trail a little further below.  Red Peak is in the background. Heading back down
On the way back down was a good far off view of Union Valley Reservoir. Union Valley Reservoir
A view back toward the trailhead area a few miles away in the forest. Looking back down the trail
Mark and Greg making their way back over one of the many water crossings on the way back to the trailhead. Back over the water
GPS track of the hike. GPS track of hike