Gem Lake Backpacking

Crabtree Trailhead to Gem Lake
August 1-2, 2020

Emigrant Wilderness
Stanislaus National Forest
Sierra Nevada mountains

Day One

granite hills with forested valley

woman wearing a backpack on a mountain trail
Top of the "warm up" and just past the split in our loop. From here we descend to follow the Pine Valley trail (we met many mules).

creek in granite gully with trees behind
The atmosphere of the hike really opened up around here, after we crossed the Cherry Creek drainage and started climbing.

forested valley in granite mountains
Looking back along the route. We came from the forested valley in the distance.
sun shining through a mountain lake
Gem Lake

tent nestled between large conifers

moon rises over Sierra Nevada landscape

granite crag rises above trees and lake at dusk

panorama of mountain lake and backpacking camping areas

granite crag over lake in evening light

moon peeking out from behind trees in rosy evening sky
stuffed toy cat sticks out of backpack pocket across from tent
Meet Beans, the adventure cat!

Day Two

loaded grey backpack sits on a log in front of mountain landscape

Gem lake from opposite side in morning light
Gem Lake opposite the evening angles. If you look closely you can see the next ridge in the distance, which gives the whole place a dramatic feel.
mountainous landscape of exposed white granite
Granite landscape typical of this part of the Sierra. Above Piute Meadow.

lake covered in lilies with rocky rise behind
Lily Lake, how ever did it get this name?

man wearing head shroud and backpack poses in front of granite hills
topographic map showing hiking route taken
Pine Valley route (day one) 9.5 mi, 1,676 ft ascent, 772 ft descent
Crabtree route (day two) 10.3 mi, 935 ft ascent, 1,962 ft descent


We were super stoked to get into backpacking back around 2008–2009, but several early trips were frustrating as we were perhaps too ambitious. Last year we decided to ease back into it with some simple overnighters. This trip, however, was just ambitious enough—a big enough hike as to be about as much as we could reasonably do, but with that a sense of scale and grandeur that we hadn't quite matched before. I really felt like this was the kind of trip I was wishing for all those years ago. I also felt my feet screaming by the time we made it back to the car. –Eric

This was a great trip. We saw lots of wildflowers we didn't get photos of, many really cute dogs on the trails, and we swam in a lake with snakes. I am also the new owner of a large 3D jellybean-shaped blister on the inside of my heel which I picked up as a souvenir!  Although the photos we posted make it look like we were alone, there were plenty of people out there. Most of the folks we saw on the trail had masks, handkerchiefs, or Buffs and practiced social distancing. It felt great to get out of the house, and I am always thankful for the opportunity to explore the wilderness in California. –Amber    


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