We had heard good things about Bull Run Lake. After checking the maps we saw that it was a short hike and a little over a 2-hour drive from our home in Modesto. Perfect for a weekend trip. Our plan: get off work on Friday afternoon, head up to Mosquito Lakes Trailhead and hike into Heiser Lake (about 2 miles) for the night. Then on Saturday, hike over to Bull Run lake (about 2.4 miles from Heiser Lake) for the night, and back out to Mosquito Lakes (about 3.5 miles) on Sunday. We attempted this trip twice this summer, and both times were incomplete – but our two attemps combined cover the trek as a whole…
Location: Unnamed Pond, Heiser Lake & Bull Run Lake in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness of Stanislaus National Forest off HWY 4.
Dates Hiked: July 8-10, 2011 and September 17-18, 2011
Trails Hiked: Mosquito Lakes Trailhead
Other Rules/Info: Wilderness Visitor Permit is required. Keep dogs on leash and/or under control.
Trip Report (July 8-10, 2011): After a late 2011 winter season, early July was an iffy time to plan a backpacking trip in the Sierras. But Shaun had already been on a recent camping trip with his family and a backpacking trip with his friends, so I threw caution to the wind and set my sights for a Shaun/Jen/Rosco weekend trip to Heiser & Bull Run Lakes (about 8000 elevation). We got out of work early on a Friday and hit the road – only to reach Mosquito Lakes covered in snow.
We couldn’t even see the trail. Time was ticking and the sun would start setting soon – although we did have the benefit of long July days. We tossed around the idea of car camping (but at a much lower elevation as the nearby campgrounds were closed) and I finally decided that I wanted to rough it. Heiser Lake was only two miles away. Besides, Shaun & his friends had hiked through the snow to Kibbie Lake a few weekends prior… why couldn’t I handle it??
The hike was pretty miserable for me. My cheapo-boots didn’t keep my feet dry, I was unsteady on the snow and we had to keep checking Shaun’s GPS to follow the trail. After an hour of slow going, we made it to a pond and decided to camp for the night.
The next day we decided we liked our campsite by the unnamed pond and opted to day hike to Heiser Lake. The trail was unfollowable and Shaun’s GPS was running low on batteries, but our research had shown there were trail markers along the way (the letter “i” cut into tree trunks). Eventually we could follow them here and there.
We reached Heiser Lake but couldn’t determine where the best campsites were underneath all the snow. We relaxed and snacked at a lookout point to the west of the lake before heading back to camp for the rest of the day.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing at our pond and staying warm with a fire. We woke Sunday morning to the pond frozen over. Eventually we packed back up and headed back home, only to suffer the hot weather in the valley after returning from our winter weekend escape.
Trip Report (September 16-18, 2011): The idea of this perfect weekend trip kept pestering me. Finally in September we both had a weekend free so we planned for the exact same trip: Heiser on Friday night, Bull Run on Saturday night. We left work about an hour early and headed up Highway 4 with Rosco in tow. But as July offered the nice, long days of summer, September’s days were much shorter. We reached Lake Alpine after 7pm and we realized we would have to car camp for the night due to the darkness. We pulled off at Woodchuck Basin Trailhead a little ways past Alpine and used the dispersed campsites – which were free and no one else was camped there. We turned in early so we could get up and go early. We were fed, filled with coffee, and on the trail by 9:00am Saturday morning.
Even with no snow to be seen on this trip, the trail was still somewhat hard to follow in some areas. There were lots of up and down hills but an overall minimal 300ft in elevation gain from the trailhead to Bull Run Lake. We saw our pond just over 20 minutes into the hike – intact with our fire ring still there! You’ll come upon two signs along the trail: the first pointing the turn off for Heiser Lake, and the second pointing the turnoff for Stanislaus Meadow. The last bit of the hike is uphill in a rocky terrain. But once you’re at the top you’ll see the lake.
The hike took us about 2.5 hours total. We set up camp on the north side of the lake. There were several other groups around the lake and our site was one of the few secluded spots left. The best site was probably on the south side of the lake near a meadow (beware of mosquitos in mid-summer). The other sites we saw were on the west side (hidden in the trees, very shaded) and east side (on an inlet to the lake with audible rushing water). We ate lunch and climbed up the hill on the north side of the lake to get some better views.
Nearly everyone at the lake had a fishing pole, but we didn’t see any action. As sunset came we enjoyed the scenery and snapped some more pictures.
We woke the next day, packed up and hiked out. It took us about 2 hours to get back to the car.
We decided to skip lunch and made a stop at Snowshoe Brewing Company in Arnold, CA for a fulfilling post-backpacking meal – try the Grizzly Brown Ale!