There are many reasons to hike up the Stoney Ridge Trail, so we find ourselves doing this day hike into the Trinity Alps Wilderness several times each summer. In mid-June we decided to take a challenging hike to a marvelous tree in Red Mountain Meadow that we call The Lunch Tree. It was predicted to be over 100 degrees but we pictured ourselves lounging under the Lunch Tree in a meadow while staring at peaks and, umm, yes, eating lunch.
We headed out early, knowing that the trail on the south-facing slope is a hot one this time of year.
If you are starting out from Weaverville driving up Highway 3, be sure to pull over at the airport for a minute and notice the three peaks looming in the distance behind Musser Hill. From left to right, these peaks are Red Mountain, Middle Peak and Granite Peak. The peaks appear to be co-linear, but Middle Peak actually sits slightly behind the other two peaks. Now, imagine being at 7,000 feet in Red Mountain Meadow surrounded by those three peaks.
To get to the Stoney Ridge Trail trailhead, follow Highway 3 and turn left on the signed access road a half mile past Trinity Alps Road (Stuart Fork). The 5.8-mile dirt road has some ruts and rough spots and is not recommended for low-clearance vehicles.
The hike up Stoney Ridge Trail to Red Mountain Meadow is just over four miles, and in those four miles the trail climbs almost 2,500 feet. The first mile of the trail is not in the designated wilderness. It is mostly open and sunny with magnificent views of the north side of rocky Monument Peak off to the left.
After about a mile the trail enters a short but welcome shady stretch. From here the trail switchbacks all the way up to the meadow. While most Trinity Alps switchbacks are zig-zag-zig-zag, these are more of the ziiiiig-zaaaaag variety. The trail ziiiiigs way to the right toward a cascading creek and then zaaaaags way to the left toward the Monument Peak view. These long, back-and-forth sweeps across the side of the mountain keep the trail from being unbearably steep, although the hike was still quite strenuous in the heat. Wildflower shows along the way helped. Yellow lupine was particularly abundant.
At the end of several of the ziiiiigs there are short spur trails over to the creek. This steep little creek originates in Red Mountain Meadow, and it was putting on a show of waterfalls in this wet water year.
On a long, exposed section of the trail we invoked our Shade Protocol, which involves pausing in every scrap of shade we come across to catch our breath and cool off.
Finally, after false hopes were raised several times that Red Mountain Meadow was just around the corner, we reached the small meadow surrounded by the three peaks. In early season it is soggy, with water running through it and on down the waterfall.
In the meadow is a wonderful, double-trunked white pine tree. After a long, hot hike we love to lounge in the shade of this tree and eat lunch. There is always a breeze in the meadow to cool us off.
Rejuvenated, we considered hiking on up to Stonewall Pass for a view into the interior of the Alps, one of the best views into the Trinity Alps that can be accessed in a day hike. Stonewall Pass (elevation 7,400 feet) is a low gap between Red Mountain and Middle Peak. It’s called Stonewall Pass because there are remnants of an old stone wall which was built for livestock.
But it is a rocky, steep half-mile from the meadow to Stonewall Pass, and we were already behind schedule.
We headed back, appreciating views of Trinity Lake’s Stuart Fork arm far below, water filling not just the main arm but all the little fingers.