The lone northern sentinel of the White Trinity Alps, Caribou Mountain is one of the grandest mountains in Northern California. Surpassed in bulk only by the state’s north most trio of ultra-prominence peaks (Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak and Mount Eddy), Caribou Mountain is far and away the largest single mountain in the Trinity Alps in terms of mass. In height, it is the seventh tallest peak in the Klamath Mountains and the sixth highest summit in the Trinities. Yet, in addition to all of the superlative statistics, Caribou Mountain has other qualities that are harder to quantify. In particular, the five lakes cradled in three separate cirques on the flanks of Caribou Mountain are some of the finest alpine lakes in Northern California. Among them is Caribou Lake, which is the largest in the North State (Ukonom Lake in the Marble Mountains and Castle Lake in the Trinity Divide are the closest competitors). The views of the Trinity Alps from the summit, particularly to the southwest, are some of the finest to be had anywhere.
The Trinity Alps can be roughly divided into three regions. The Green Trinity Alps, so named for the vast stands of old growth timber that cover the area’s deeply incised canyons, is the westernmost portion of the Trinities. The Red Trinity Alps are found on the eastern side of the range and get their name from the expansive stretches of red peridotite and serpentine that are found in the area. Sandwiched between these two areas are the White Trinity Alps, which are fittingly named for the soaring white granite peaks that characterize this section. Here is found the range’s highest peaks and the largest lakes. Most of this area radiates in all directions away from Thompson Peak, the high point of the Trinity Alps. Caribou Mountain is a grand granite salient, extending further north than any other portion of the White Trinities. Interestingly, the mountain is the only portion of the White Trinity Alps that lies completely outside the Trinity River watershed. All the waters flowing off of Caribou Mountain contribute to the Salmon River. Consequently, the peak is also the only part of the White Trinities to lie entirely in Siskiyou County rather than in Trinity County.
The mountain itself is a long ridge running north to south. Aside from the summit of Caribou Mountain, two other peaks, Point 8113 and Point 8525, are found at the northern and southern end of the ridge, respectively. North of Point 8113, Caribou Mountain plunges steeply into the canyon of the Salmon River. South of Point 8525, the crest of the mountain merges into Sawtooth Ridge. The vast bulk of the peak is composed of blindingly white granite.
The lakes found on the flanks of Caribou Mountain are justifiably famous, particularly breathtaking Caribou Lake, nestled in a large cirque on the west side of the mountain. At 72 acres, it is the largest lake in the Klamath Mountains. The lake is also 72 feet deep and contains a couple of small rocky islands. A few hundred feet below Caribou Lake are Lower Caribou Lake and Snowslide Lake, both of which are in the upper tier of Trinity Alps lakes, in terms of both size and scenic quality. Lower Caribou Lake is particularly attractive, with the northern Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains visible beyond the outlet. Taken as a whole, the Caribou Basin is one of the most fantastic features anywhere in Northern California. North of Caribou Basin, on the north side of Caribou Mountain, is a cirque that holds Little Caribou Lake. Although the lake is substantially smaller than the three in Caribou Basin, the granite cliffs soaring 1,000 feet above it are undeniably impressive. Due to this lake’s isolation and the cross-country travel required to reach it, it is one of the most seldom-visited lakes in the Trinity Alps. The final lake located on Caribou Mountain is Josephine Lake. Although one of the larger bodies of water in the Trinity Alps, it is seldom seen due its location primarily on private land located within the wilderness. Access is even more difficult.
While the Trinity Alps receive relatively few visitors compared to other popular backpacking destinations, a few spots in the range attract the bulk of them; Caribou Basin is one of these locations. Nonetheless, the relative number of people is low. Even better, the best views are from the high areas, near the summit of the mountain where few venture, and the vistas are unforgettable.
Caribou Mountain Map
From Highway 299 in downtown Weaverville, drive north on Highway 3. After 37 miles, turn left onto Coffee Creek Road. Proceed through the small community and continue for 18 miles to the Big Flat Campground. The road is dirt once you pass through Coffee Creek, but it is suitable for low clearance vehicles. Cars should, nonetheless, exercise caution. The trailhead is near the entrance to the campground. If coming from Oregon, exit Interstate 5 at the junction with Highway 3 in Yreka and continue south to Coffee Creek.
When To Go
Summer is the best time to climb Caribou Mountain, particularly from late June through September. October is also a good time to go. Many of the creeks flow year-round, but the presence of lakes assures the availability of water. The Trinity Alps are often buried in snow until mid-June. The hiking season generally lasts from then until October. The road to Big Flat is not plowed and impassable in winter. Access is difficult before the temperatures increase.
Caribou Mountain is located in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Normal wilderness rules and ethics apply.
Klamath National Forest
1312 Fairlane Road
Yreka, CA 96097-9549
Salmon River Ranger District
11263 N. Highway 3
Fort Jones, CA 96032-9702
There is an abundance of camping on and around Caribou Mountain. The nearest campground is at the Big Flat, a few yards from the trailhead. This campground has pit toilets but no running water. However, the Salmon River is only a short walk from the campground.
On the mountain, the first viable campground is at Brown’s Meadow. There are numerous sites all around the lakes in Caribou Basin. The massive dike on the north side of Caribou Lake tends to be frequented by packing outfits so moving to the east side of the lake is often preferable. However, those who have a larger camping footprint ought to avoid this area due to the fragile meadows that are found here. The best options are on the big granite bench between Lower Caribou and Snowslide Lake. Camping can also be had at the north end of Little Caribou Lake.