The Sugar Lake Trail takes you into the beautiful glacial granite of the Russian Wilderness. It’s a great option for day hikers and backpackers who want solitude along with stunning scenery.
Sugar Lake “Miracle Mile” Conifer Diversity
The drainage is famous for containing a very high level of conifer diversity. Here’s the list of the 18 Sugar Lake “Miracle Mile” conifers:
- Ponderosa pine
- Sugar pine
- Western white pine
- Jeffrey pine
- Lodgepole pine
- Foxtail pine
- Whitebark pine
- Douglas fir
- White fir
- Shasta fir (red fir)
- Subalpine fir
- Incense cedar
- Brewer spruce
- Engelmann spruce
- Pacific yew
- Mountain hemlock
- Common juniper
- Western juniper
Some are quite common and are near the trail. You’ll have to explore the basin ridges to find foxtail pine and whitebark pine. How many will you find on your explorations?
Sugar Lake Trail Key Data
Distance: 6.2 miles roundtrip
Type: Day hike or Overnight
Elevation gain: 1200 feet
High point: 5950 feet
Season: Mid-June to October
Contact: Klamath National Forest, Salmon/Scott River Ranger District
Maps: USFS Marble Mountain Wilderness & Russian Wilderness, USGS Eaton Peak
Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 41 18.631 W 122 54.179
Notes: dogs allowed
Sugar Lake Trailhead Directions
Drive CA Highway 3 to French Creek Road, which is 30.9 miles from the junction of CA 3 and I-5 in Yreka and 8.3 miles from Callahan. Drive west on French Creek Road. At 5.4 miles the pavement ends; you’re on good dirt roads the rest of the way. At 6.9 miles turn right onto Forest Road 40N22, and then go left at another junction onto Forest Road 41N14 at 7.6 miles. Go another 1.7 miles and look for a wide area on the left for parking, large enough to hold eight or so vehicles. This is just 100 feet past a gated road that rises to the right, and 200 feet before Forest Road 41N14 crosses Sugar Creek on a bridge. The Sugar Lake Trail sign is nailed to sugar pine (makes sense!), but it’s difficult to see from 41N14.
Hiking the Sugar Lake Trail
Start climbing steeply and southwest past ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Brewer spruce, and sugar pine, with the sound of Sugar Creek to the left. Be grateful to the California Conservation Corps, which did major maintenance on the trail in 2013, making the route fairly easy to follow.
Smell tobacco brush on hot days as you wend your way between granite boulders, large and small. The gradient moderates at 0.4 mile as you continue through old-growth forest that now includes plenty of white fir.
South Sugar Lake: No Trail?
On old topo maps, including the one I used for the map above, you’ll see an unmaintained trail heading southwest from the main trail about 1.5 miles from the trailhead to rise to South Sugar Lake. I briefly looked for the South Sugar Lake Trail but didn’t find it. I suspect that much of it is overgrown, so if you want to do it, have strong cross-country hiking skills and the ability to navigate well.
Update From Facebook Discussions
One person said he found the trail by first noticing a rock cairn on the south side of the Sugar Lake Trail. He continued about about 100 yards southwest to find another cairn upstream of the confluence of the two streams that emerge from the two lakes.
Another person said the trail was “sketchy… steep… rough… brushy.”
I have one Facebook friend who hiked cross-country to South Sugar Lake by first taking the Bingham Lake Trail, heading toward Russian Peak, and then dropping down to the lake. I know it’s quite steep and only for experienced cross-country hikers.
Continuing to Sugar Lake…
At 2.1 miles the route passes through wet areas, followed at 2.3 miles by the first good view of tumbling Sugar Creek. Continue onward as the surrounding ridges rise higher above you.
Reach Sugar Lake at 3.1 miles. Official stats say it’s 2.5 acres and 6 feet deep. I believe the first number, but I’m not so sure about the second. Regardless, it’s a beautiful lake ringed by willows, lodgepole pine, western white pine, Shasta fir, and many other tree species. If you’re backpacking, look for sites on the east side of the lake. (Make sure you have a California campfire permit if you plan on having a fire.)
You’ll love the views most. Serrated granite ridges rise on the south, west, and east sides. A faint use trail goes near the north shore, and it’s fairly easy to hike cross-country along the lower portions of the granite on the north side.
Other Russian Wilderness Hikes
Find my full trail descriptions:
In addition, my book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen and Trinity Alps Regions covers the Duck Lakes, Paynes Lake and Middle and Upper Albert Lakes, and Russian Lake.
Done the hike? Questions? Let me know in the comments below…