Cheryl Strayed, in Wild, found herself in the Marble Mountain Wilderness of Northern California at the midpoint of her PCT hike. She’d been on the trail for approximately 50 days. As she gazed out over the horizon at a sunset made vibrant by distant wildfire smoke, she cried her first trail tears. She wasn’t crying because of sadness or joy but, she writes, because she was “full,” “fierce and humble and gathered up inside,” and “safe in this world too.”
Hike in this Area
Find your own fierce, humble fullness during this is a 15-mile loop hike including two miles of the PCT. The PCT miles are high on the crest with outstanding vistas. You’ll have excellent views of Marble Mountain and spend much of your hike in old-growth forest.
Many PCT enthusiasts consider the Castle Crags, Trinity Alps, Russian and Marble Mountain Wildernesses to boast scenery as beautiful and dramatic as that found in the Sierra Nevada. Combined, these four wildernesses encompass nearly 1 million acres of protected wild lands. Of special note is the opportunity for PCT users to take an approximately hour-long side trip to the top of red-and-gray Marble Mountain where excellent views await. Against a backdrop of deep green forests and blue skies, the limestone summit of Marble Mountain appears to glow with a light of its own.
Beginning at Lover’s Camp Trailhead (see directions below) your trail embarks from the pack stock parking lot at the trail register kiosk. After about one-half mile you will reach a junction with Red Rock Valley Trail (forking left), you will continue on your trail to the right/southwest. After a total of 3.7 miles you’ll reach a trail junction with the right-hand fork leading to the Marble Valley Guard Station, take this trail for side-trips to Marble Mountain, Black Mountain, The Castle, Big Elk Lake, or Paradise Lake, otherwise follow the left-hand trail, which becomes the Sky High Valley Trail. At the next trail junction, continue left on the Sky High Valley Trail. You’ll reach Lower Sky High Lake after a total of 5.7 miles, having passed through broad wildflower-filled meadows along the way. Passing Upper Sky High Lake and Frying Pan Lake, you reach the junction with the PCT after a total of 7.5 miles. Follow the PCT to the left/south. Over the next 1.8 miles you’ll have views of large, forested canyons and Thompson Peak and Sawtooth Ridge in the Trinity Alps. Follow the PCT to Red Rock Valley Trail (you reach the junction after 9.4 miles), turning left on the Red Rock Valley Trail, which will lead you back down to where you started. Note that at the end of this hike you will retrace your steps for approximately the last mile back to the Lover’s Camp Trailhead.
As you hike, take in the beauty of the plants around you. There are more than 500 different plant species in the Marble Mountain Wilderness and the wildflowers are particularly spectacular. Midsummer flowers include fireweed, checkermallow, tiger lily, Indian paintbrush, cascade lily, shooting star, skyrocket, candystick, pussypaws, and wandering daisy.
The geology of the Marble Mountain Wilderness is similarly striking, so much so that it was named for its rocks and for the lustrous summit of Marble Mountain itself. Along the route described above you’ll encounter metamorphic rock, ultramafic serpentine, and outcroppings of light-colored limestone and black metamorphic rock together in a marbled pattern.
Distance: 15 miles round trip loop.
Trailhead driving directions: To get to the Lover’s Camp Trailhead there, follow Route 3 to Fort Jones, California. Turn on Scott River Road and continue 14.2 miles to Forest Service road 44N45. Turn left on 44N45 and ascend for 5.5 miles to 43N45. Turn left on 43N45 and follow it for 1.7 miles to the Lover’s Camp Trailhead.
Agency jurisdiction: Klamath National Forest
Permits: Wilderness Permits are not required for trips into the Marble Mountain Wilderness. A California Campfire Permit is, however, required and is available at any Forest Service or Cal-Fire office in California.
Special regulations: None
Region: Klamath Mountains in far Northern California