Short Backpacking Trip in the Trinity Alps

We were in Arcata (Northern California) for a friendís wedding. When we planned this trip we decided to add a couple of days for some exploring. Besides the obvious attractions like the coast, beaches and redwood forests we also wanted to do some hiking in the Trinity Alps. Our friend suggested weíd do an overnight hike and offered us the use of some of his backpacking gear, guide books and maps. We thought this was an excellent idea!

The photo gallery for this report can be found here: Canyon Creek Hike

Day 1, June 23

We left Arcata on Saturday just after noon and headed east on highway 299 towards Weaverville. It had been raining all Friday and the weather system which brought this unseasonable rain was still moving through. Along the way we saw plenty of dark clouds and as we got closer to our destination we passed through some rain showers. The frequency of showers increased and as we were approaching the parking area it rained moderately hard. We reached the trail head around 3:30 pm in light rain. According to the forecast the weather was supposed to improve by the next day with only slim chances for showers. So we decided to wait out the current shower before starting our hike. At 4:30 it finally stopped raining and we hit the trail.

Trailhead to Upper Canyon Creek Meadows

  • Distance hiked: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1500 ft
  • Time on trail: 2h 15min

The trail gently climbs in a very lush, green forest. This is something we are not used to from southern California where we donít come across much running water, moss on trees/rocks or dense underbrush. We really enjoyed the healthy green, the stream crossings and the sound of the bigger creek at the bottom of the canyon. We hiked for about 2 hours/~4miles during which the forest shielded us from most of the light rain showers. When we reached the Upper Canyon Creek Meadows a stronger shower started. There were some nice camp sites right next to the creek, some of them occupied but several available. Not knowing what lay ahead, with only about 1.5h day light left and getting a little cold and wet, we decided to make camp right there. This was a few miles earlier than we had planned but we didnít want to risk ending up in a less favorable situation.

After setting up our tent under the trees and making sure all our gear was protected from the rain we warmed up a couple of bags of freeze dried food. The hot food warmed us up and gave us some more energy to complete the final chores, including hanging our food from a tree out of bearís reach (this still works up here unlike in the Sierra Nevada). With the heavy cloud cover it got dark quite quickly after sunset and we crawled into the tent only to fall asleep right away.

Day 2, June 24

After a nice long sleep we woke up early and eager to check the weather. Opening the tent door revealed glimpses of the sky through the trees and the morning fog which was due to the moisture from the previous nightís rain. The humid air felt rather cold and it took some effort to crawl out of the warm sleeping bag. We put on all the cloths we had brought along and were thankfull that we always keep some light gloves in our goretex jackets no matter what time of year. Next we boiled some water for coffee and hot oatmeal. At around 7am we hit the trail towards the Canyon Creek Lakes. The air was very clear and cold. Our legs were soon wet from the dense brush along the trail, heavy with water. We passed a few camp sites in the forest and some campers told us that the rain the previous day was nothing compared to the rain on Friday. After a while the trail started to climb out of the forest and we got the first good views of some of the Trinity Alps peaks.

Camp to Upper Canyon Creek Lake

  • Distance hiked: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1100 ft

We passed several waterfalls and had to cross the creek on some fallen trees before reaching the lower Canyon Creek lake. It was sunny, but cool and very quite. We sat on some rocks to have a little snack while taking in the views and before continuing to the upper lake. As we were climbing up the trail we saw a deer use the trail in front of us. It was one of several deer sightings along the way.

L-Lake Side Trip

  • Distance hiked: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 ft
  • Time: 2h

Once we reached the upper lake we continued to the east side of the lake and the outlet to the lower lake. Here Srisuda decided to rest in the sun, protected from a cool wind by some boulders, while I went on to L-Lake. I had to cross the outlet which I did rather carefully since we had seen a posting warning about the depth and strength of the flow at the ranger station. It turned out that the water was not too deep (knee high for me), but there was certainly a decent current. Once on the other side the well defined trail quickly ends and one has to follow cairns up the big granite cliffs. The route quickly gains elevation and views of both of the Canyon Creek lakes open up. Once I reached the elevation of L-lake I came across some small snow patches and a rather cool breeze. I did not spent much time at the lake since some dark clouds were building up from the west. So after taking a few pictures I rushed back to Srisuda. It turned out that the clouds never brought any rain but they did block the sun and were accompanied by some cool wind. Leaving the upper lake we met a local hiker who told us that this was the coldest June day in the Trinity Alps he could remember.

It was too cool and breezy at the lakes to just hang out so we opted to hike back into the forest. When we came to the trail intersection with the Boulder Creek Lakes trail I decided that that would make a nice excursion. Srisuda thought that it made a nice rest spot right by the creek. So we filtered some water, I forded the creek and headed up to Boulder Creek lakes.

Boulder Creek Lakes Side Trip:

  • Distance hiked: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 ft
  • Time: 2h (incl. 20min exploring around the lakes)

The trail up to Boulder Creek lakes appears so see much less traffic than the main trail. It was rather overgrown in places and quite narrow. The trail climbs out of the forest on the northern edge of the canyon and crosses some muddy meadows and numerous creeks to finally end up above the lakes. A small gorge separates the point where the trail reaches the lakes elevation from the lakes. So some contouring is required to reach the actual lakes. There are several lakes separated by big granite faces. The north facing slopes still had snow banks right up to the lakes. I explored a little and enjoyed the sound of the streams entering and leaving the lakes. The view to the east and the mountains was also something to admire. The time to return to the main trail came too soon.

Upper Canyon Creek Lakes to Trailhead:
(without side trips)
  • Distance hiked: 9.5 miles
  • Elevation loss: 2600 ft

Once back at the creek crossing we filtered some more water before hiking back to our camp site. At camp we started up the stove to prepare a nice warm meal and started to take down the tent. For a brief moment we considered staying another night, but the heavy mosquito attacks quickly took care of that idea. At about 7:30pm with just over 2h of daylight left we started our hike out to the car. We arrived at the car just before sunset, changed into some clean cloths and drove to Weaverville where we ended the day with a burger and an ice cold beer.

This was a great hike. Much too short, but it gave us a taste for more.