Alpine Lakes Wilderness
14.8 miles, roundtrip
Gain: 3300 ft.
Highest Point: 6600 ft.
Going out to Circle Lake near Mt. Daniel was not our first choice for this backpacking trip, but as you can see in the video below, the parking lot for Tuck and Robin Lakes was insane. For an area that only has a few camping spots available, the parking lot indicated that people were camping in places that most likely was destroying natural vegetation and damaging the area.
Luckily for us, we know the area around Mt. Daniel pretty well, so we had lots of backup plans. Since we had never been to Circle Lake, that was our next destination to explore.
You start out at the Cathedral Pass Trailhead, and steadily climb for 2 miles until you get to a junction. Take the path to the right, and continue along the trail for 1.8 miles until you reach Squaw Lake.
Continue along the path for another 2 miles, which will connect you to the PCT. Along this route are lots of mountain huckleberries, so if you hit the season right, you can have a nice snack along the way.
Follow the PCT south until the first switchback on the downhill side towards Deep Lake. You'll notice cairns and a well worn path heading off the PCT. This is the route to Peggy's Pond.
This part of the path can be a bit complicated since there is a lot of scree, and the trail drops off in some sections. Take your time, and eventually you'll reach Peggy's Pond.
Surprisingly, Peggy's Pond is nothing like you would expect a pond to look like. It is a beautiful miniature lake that has some great campsites around it. If this was your destination, you won't be disappointed. But if you want to make it to Circle Lake, you'll have to continue onward.
Traversing to Circle Lake
This is where things get interesting. Circle Lake is a couple miles away from Peggy's Pond, but route finding can be somewhat of a pain.
Start traversing the ridgeline that takes you towards Mt. Daniel. If you have some sort of GPS tracker (like the Garmin Fenix 6x), pay attention to when you get to 6100' of elevation. Right around that elevation there should be a path that takes you away from the main trail, and around the hillside to a path with cairns towards Circle Lake.
*If you are like us, you would've missed this turn (actually I checked it out, but couldn't see around the corner so continued to go upwards). We ended up at 6600' and then had to downclimb cliffs to get to the main trail. In that process, 2 groups passed us and got the last couple good campsites.*
Once you are on the main path to Circle Lake, it is fairly straight forward. You can see the trail in the distance, so pay attention to the cairns along the route.
Once you arrive at Circle Lake, there are some campsites that sit on the cliff above the lake, and then a couple sites at the outflow of the lake. In total, you can fit probably 5-6 sites comfortably without damaging fragile areas.
Pick your campsite carefully, the wind whips through the lake and stirs up the dust along the lake shore. We ended up with about a 1/4 inch of dust covering all of our stuff (including our teeth) overnight. Winds can be very strong as well.
If you go during the buggy season, the mosquitos will be horrendous. So keep that in the back of your mind.
Otherwise, this is a fairly quiet place to camp at. We had 4 groups at the lake the first night, and the second night we were the only ones.
Click on images below to see a bigger picture
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Practicing LNT Principles, and Giving Back
We really want to encourage everyone to practice LNT principles when they explore these beautiful places. We spent years trying to minimize social impact on these locations, but the cat is out of the bag and these places are easy to find online. So it is our mission to share more about ways to keep these places as pristine as possible.
We also donate 3% of all our profits to organizations supporting the outdoors and working hard to keep these areas protected and safe.