The Trail to Deer Lake
Wildflowers, Panoramic Views, Tranquil Lakes
Deer Lake rests deep in the Emigrant Wilderness amidst dozens of other
lakes, each one as scenic and inviting as the next. You could spend days exploring the area around
Deer Lake and never grow weary of your exploits. Some are wide, classic mountain lakes
while others are quiet, little gems hidden away in the forest.
The hike to Deer Lake covers 12 miles of up and down terrain. Although it is a rather
long one-day hike, the final destination is worth the effort. While other lakeshores may be dotted with
tents in mid-summer, Deer Lake usually is overlooked. Good campsites are found all around
these lakes. Fishing is excellent in most.
Hiking Guide to Deer Lake
Wilderness Permits for a backpacking trip to Deer Lake can be picked up at the Summit Ranger
Station near Pinecrest or back at the Mi-Wuk Village Ranger Station. There are no restrooms or water at the
trailhead, so be sure to stock up before you leave Pinecrest.
Getting to the Gianelli Cabin Trailhead
From Pinecrest drive up the Dodge Ridge Road until you see a turnoff to Bell Meadow and Crabtree Camp to your
right. A short connecting road will bring you to Crabtree Road, which left Highway 108 back near Cold Springs
(an alternate way to come). Drive up Crabtree Road past Aspen Meadow Pack Station and the turnoff to Crabtree
Camp, keeping your sights on Gianelli's Cabin as your destination. It's 12 miles from Pinecrest, much of it on
a gravel road.
Hiking to Deer Lake
The trail from Gianelli's Cabin climbs 500 feet along the ridge to Burst Rock (9,100') where you will find
great views of the Stanislaus River watershed to the north. 1852-54 emigrants brought their wagons over the
top of Burst Rock and followed the ridges down to Dodge Ridge and then Pinecrest. Continue down the
backside of Burst Rock. A mile from the summit you pass a "use trail" that leads down to Powell Lake, known for great swimming
and also as a popular hangout for young people.
The trail to Deer Lake crosses three ridges, all just above 9,000 feet and drops several hundred
feet between them. Then it heads out to Whitesides Meadow before dropping into Salt Lick Meadow. Two more
low ridges challenge weary backpackers before the final descent to Deer Lake.
An alternative - and to some backpackers' minds an easier - route to Deer Lake is to begin at
Crabtree Camp and head out past Camp Lake, Piute Lake, Gem Lake, and then on to Deer Lake. It's
about 10 miles by that route. Crabtree Camp is at about 7,100 feet, so the trail climbs fairly steadily to
Deer Lake. One important advantage of this alternate route is that it has more good mid-way
campsites for those who want to split the trip into two days.
Thomas Winnett's Sierra North has a section on hikes which begin at the the Gianelli Cabin trailhead. Included in this
9th edition of Sierra North, written with Kathy Morey and
others, are hikes throughout the Northern Sierra Nevada. This book is considered the best hiking guide available for the region.
Camping at Deer Lake
The best campsites at Deer Lake are on the northeast side, although sites can be
located all around the lake.
Explore and Fish the Surrounding Lakes - several great day trips can be made from
Deer Lake. For anglers, Wood Lake and Buck Lakes makes a nice loop trip. Leighton
Lake and Karl's Lake are also favorite destinations for fishermen. Beautiful Gem Lake is well worth
visiting as is nearby Long Lake.