Trinity Alps Wilderness Backpacking and Hiking Trails Update, July 2010

by John Soares on July 1, 2010

Note: Get the weekly updates on Trinity Alps trail conditions from the Forest Service.

Like much of the rest of northern California, the Trinity Alps received an overabundance of snow this winter and spring. There’s still a lot of snow at the highest elevations, and in some places the heavy storms knocked trees across the trail.

The U.S. Forest Service has issued an excellent 13-page Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report; if you are planning to hike or backpack Trinity Alps trails this summer, you must read it. It looks like it’s updated frequently, so check it often.

There are six Trinity Alps hikes from my guidebook 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California:

  • Hike 56: Big Bear Lake
  • Hike 57: Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes
  • Hike 58: Horseshoe and Ward Lakes
  • Hike 59: Granite Lake and Seven Up Gap
  • Hike 60: Four Lakes Loop
  • Hike 61: Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes

Here is the latest update from the July 1 Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report for each hike I covered. (Keep in the mind the report covers dozens of other trails and destinations.)

Hike 56: Big Bear Lake

Bear Lake Trail #7W03 – The access road to the trailhead is clear of snow and debris. The trail is now clear of downed trees. As of 06/25/2010 Katie of the Wilderness Patrol reports: “On Friday we day-hiked to Big Bear Lake. Most of the lake is surrounded by snow, and is still about 90 percent frozen/covered in snow. There was one campsite melted off at the lake, but there was about 5 feet of snow around the lake.”

***When the snow does finally melt, overnight hikers please note that the campsites on the north side of the lake are rapidly becoming devoid of firewood. If you must have a campfire, make it only a small social fire at night in a pre-existing fire ring. The last Wilderness Patrol visit in 2008 entailed removing six new fire rings on the white granite just to east of the lake’s outlet.

Hike 57: Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes

Caribou Lake #9W180 – The Coffee Creek Road is now open to Big Flat. The campsites at the Big Flat Campground are now melted off and usable. Trail snow conditions in 2010 are not known, but the South Fork of the Salmon is undoubtedly unsafe to cross at this time. No matter what the season though, due to the basin’s rapidly disappearing organic matter, responsible hikers should refrain from having a campfire. Please keep in mind that most of the lakeside organic matter needed for plant growth (90% of the nitrogen needed) has already gone up in campfire smoke…

Note from John Soares: Hiking over the ridge from Caribou Lake to the Stuart Fork Trail is not advisable until late summer when all the snow is gone. That said, here’s data for Emerald and Sapphire Lakes and the Stuart Fork Trail:

Stuart Fork Trail #9W20 – The three-mile access road to the trailhead is free of rocks and debris. It has quite a few potholes however, so drive with caution. As of 06/24/2010 the trail is free of snow to Emerald Lake. However, there is a lot of water on the trail (for 1/2 mile or so) around the Caribou Lakes trail junction All of the campsites in Morris Meadows are usable as are all of the campsites at Emerald Lake. Sapphire Lake is still socked in with snow. The trail is now open for stock access to Morris Meadows. However there are 17 trees down between Morris Meadows and Emerald Lake. Several are stock stoppers, but only one is much of an inconvenience for backpackers. Salt Creek (one mile before Morris Meadow) is running high but there is a log downstream that hikers are using. On 06/24/2010 one stock party made it across Salt Creek to Morris Meadows, but with increasing temperatures this weekend stock passage is questionable.

And backpackers please remember, it is NEVER a good idea to wade across a creek barefoot when wearing a heavy backpack. If you do so the chances are you will end up in the creek with all the unpleasant possibilities that can entail… It is also a good idea to use a staff in your downstream hand to assist your sense of balance. You can almost always find a suitable branch to act as a staff. Then just leave it on the other side of the creek for the next returning passer by. Always unbuckle your waist and sternum straps before crossing –just in case you fall— so that you don’t end up bouncing along on the bottom of the creek struggling with your pack-straps.

On the May 24th Eric saw three different bears foraging in Morris Meadow over the course of just one day, so be SURE to hang your food in an appropriate manner. (See our Leave No Trace page under the ‘Useful Recreation Links’ heading on the Website’s Home Page for instructions on how to do so).

Just this last week the Wilderness Patrolmen Tony saw six different rattlesnakes between Morris Meadows and Emerald Lake. Most of them were near creek crossings, so be mindful of snakes in this area.

Remember, the current Forest Order for Stuart Fork specifies that there are NO CAMPFIRES ALLOWED AT ANY OF STUART FORK’S LAKES. It is a $375 fine (absolutely no exceptions) for anyone caught in violation of this Forest Order.

Hike 58: Horseshoe and Ward Lakes

Mumford Basin – (This is an unmaintained trail.) – No Information

Parker Creek Trail #9W19 – Snow conditions in 2010 are not known at this time.

Hike 59: Granite Lake and Seven Up Gap

Granite Lake Trail #8W14 – There are 45 trees down from the Swift Creek Bridge to the lake. They are scheduled for removal on July 1st. As of 06/27/2010 the snow started in earnest at Gibson Meadow and there are three (of eleven) campsites that melted off and useable. Hikers reported on the 27th that the only realistic (safe) way to get over the pass and into the Deer Creek basin was with crampons. They estimated that it would be considerably safer for the average hiker within 1.5 weeks.

Additionally, in 2009 the Wilderness Patrol reported that: “The trail above Granite Lake towards 7-Up Peak is very brushy, there is a spot that lasts for about 100 yards where the brush completely covers the trail up to and over head height.”

Hike 60: Four Lakes Loop: Summit Lake, Diamond Lake, Luella Lake, Deer Lake — plus Echo Lake

Stoney Ridge Trail #9W21 – The road to the trailhead is passable. There are a few large rocks within the roadway and several branches encroaching along the roadsides however, so proceed with caution. As of 05/13/10 the snow started in earnest one mile from the trailhead. There are two tress down within this section (a 10” and a 12”) but both are easy to get around for stock users and hikers.

Four Lakes Loop Trail #9W13 – Snow conditions in 2010 are not known at this time.

Hike 61: Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes

Canyon Creek Trail #10W08 – The road to the trailhead is now completely clear of snow and debris. Just before the Lower Meadows there is a ¼ mile section of trail that is virtually underwater however. It requires either the use of sandals or high top waterproof boots if you want to have dry feet after this watery traverse. As of 06/27/10 the trail is clear of snow and debris all the way to Lower Canyon Creek Lake. The Lower Lake is now snow free and all of the campsites are usable. The creek crossing (1/3 mile from the Lower Lake) is difficult but manageable to cross. There is a log at the crossing that folks are using, but it requires skipping some rocks on the far side –or wading a short section with appropriate footgear. The trail to the Upper Lake has only a few remaining snow patches that are easy to traverse. Only two of the established campsites around the lake are still covered in snow, and they should be melted off by the 4th of July weekend. It is virtually impossible to cross the outlet creek from Upper Canyon Creek Lakes -where the trail crosses this outlet creek- to continue on to ‘L’ Lake (high water flows with rocky cascades below). However, I talked with several hikers that claimed they were easily able to cross the outlet creek closer down to where it enters Lower Canyon Creek Lakes.

Boulder Creek Lakes Trail #10W02 – As of 06/27/2010 the trail to Boulder Creek Lakes was free of snow and debris. The lake was still about 1/4 covered with icebergs, but they should be long gone by July 4th. Only two campsites were out from under the snow, but the remaining campsites should be thawed off by the 4th weekend also. The creek crossing just before the lake was high, by very manageable. Be sure to pay strict attention to the cairned route across the bare granite just before lake. If you simply follow your intuitions you will probably end up at the base of the cliff below the lake. The cairns lead you higher and more to the north than you would expect, but they also lead you to the only spot that makes it possible to access the lake without the use of ropes and pitons!

Remember, the current Forest Order for Canyon Creek specifies that there are NO CAMPFIRES ALLOWED AT ANY OF CANYON CREEK’S LAKES! It is a $375 fine (absolutely no exceptions) for anyone caught in violation of this Forest Order.

Upper Canyon Creek Lake and Sawtooth Mountain in the Trinity Alps. (Photo by Jeff Lang, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Upper Canyon Creek Lake and Sawtooth Mountain in the Trinity Alps. (Photo by Jeff Lang, via Flickr Creative Commons)

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Noel Hastings July 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

I was just up the Stuart Fork trail on July 3-4. The ranger’s state that everything above 6000ft is frozen solid, but that is not quite the reality. The north & east facing slopes do have more snow that starts around 6000ft this year, but it is melting fast. The south and west facing slopes were all dry as a bone. I hiked up to Emerald Lake and did the scramble up to Caribou Pass to peak over into Caribou lake. I will be posting photos soon, but Caribou is frozen in but had big melt holes starting. Looks like the trail to Caribou is open just about up to the lake. Lot’s of good hiking up there and don’t let the reports of snow turn you away. Weather was great and I am sure the higher elevations will be accessible very soon. Also, there were no bad creek crossings on Stuart Fork. They warned me, but I never found anything deeper than my mid-shin!

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Eric Johnson July 14, 2010 at 11:25 am

John,

My copy of Classic Hikes is dog-eared and wonderful. My brother and I are zipping up to camp at Mary Smith this weekend–what are your thoughts on being really aggro and doing Morris Meadows and back as a day hike from the trailhead?

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Noel Hastings July 14, 2010 at 11:42 am

Hey Eric,
I just did this hike and put photos up last night. I will put the link below. You can see form the GPS photo that if you average 2 miles per hour on your hike it takes about 4 hours to get to Morris Meadows, so you could do it as a long day hike. Alternatively, the hike to Salt Creek which is just below is a real nice hike and a nice place for lunch.

http://picasaweb.google.com/noel.hastings/TrinityAlps#

Enjoy! – Noel

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Drey Vyenielo August 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Hey Noel,
Thanks for the link to your pics, was just taking a look, thinking to a trip up that way soon. While looking at you photos I saw an old familiar face ;-) , my old friend Autumn from college – small world gotta love it!

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John Soares July 14, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

@Noel, glad you made it to Emerald Lake, and I’m impressed you zipped up Suicide Ridge to give us the report on the Caribou Lake basin.

I just spent the last three days hiking in the Trinity Divide Mountains just west of Mount Shasta. Most of the snow is gone here, but I had good views of the Trinity Alps and I could see solid snow from about 7000 feet on up in many places. I agree the north slopes will be the snowiest, but most of it should melt out toward the end of the month.

@Eric, I’m glad you’re making good use of 1oo Classic Hikes in Northern California! I hope you have a great dayhike to Morris Meadows (or Salt Creek).

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Eric July 19, 2010 at 9:41 am

Thanks for both your thoughts. It was a bit toasty, but we zipped through to Morris Meadows in about three hours from the trailhead. No bears or snakes, but hundreds of butterflies and dozens of birds, and several Boy Scouts. Whets my appetite for a longer trip to check out Emerald and Sapphire. Onward!

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John Soares July 19, 2010 at 10:56 am

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

Eric, if you’re good at hiking cross-country, consider heading from Sapphire Lake to Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is one of the prettiest lakes in the Alps — or anywhere. I haven’t been from Sapphire Lake in many, many years, but I’ve reached Mirror Lake from both the Canyon Creek Lakes area and from Grizzly Lake.

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Marianne July 20, 2010 at 5:07 pm

John, Great Reports! We are heading up toward Sapphire Lake to Mirror Lake and want to cross over down to the Canyon Creek Lakes in EARLY August – like the 2nd – 4th. What do you think?
Thanks!

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John Soares July 22, 2010 at 5:39 am

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

Marianne, it’s doable and I’ve done it without equipment. But there are several tricky spots where you’ll need very good cross-country hiking skills and excellent physical conditioning, and possibly a rope and the skills to use it.

Snow is a wild card then, and it could make the journey over the ridge more difficult.

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Noel Hastings July 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Here are the photos from the recent trip up the Stuart Fork in early July…

http://www.everytrail.com/fullscreen.php?trip_id=714870

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John Soares July 22, 2010 at 5:37 am

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

Noel, you got some great pics here. Thanks for sharing them.

And I really like the EveryTrail.com site.

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David Sheridan July 27, 2010 at 9:38 am

John,

I am glad I find your site and have found it extremely helpful in planning a trip to the Alps over Labor Day Weekend. We plan to cross over some of the higher passes and are greatful for the snow reports, pictures, etc… Thanks again for providing this great resource.

David

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John Soares July 27, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

David, thanks for your kind comments. Have a great time on your Labor Day backpacking trip.

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Marianne August 8, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Just got back home from our trip. We decided to head in at Swift Creek to Horseshoe Lake (not a soul at the lake but US)! Then we hiked over Mumford Pass cross country (so as not to lose the elevation gained to Horseshoe) – its a pretty tame go – traversing 1 drainage – and exiting thru a notch – we flushed out a golden black bear – cutest thing!! BUT THEN we lost the Black Basin Trail that day but hunkered down “on golden pond” – the mosquitoes were about a 4 out of a 10 surprisingly. We figured out the trail to Black Basin in the morning (thanks to an early morning hiker which confirmed my reading the night before). If you go this way GO THRU THE MEADOW as you lose the path – do NOT STOP until you get to the PAR 3 above – there will be a cairn on the far side of the meadow – then trail signs… everywhere – we affectionately left this place and named it “Thwart Wart” for the hump you have to go over. We made it all the way over to Portugese Camp and hiked w/o packs the next morning up to Emerald for a skinny-dip! Then we hiked back to Deer Creek (the best site might be to the right as you are heading up to 4 Lakes Loop before you cross the creek again). The next morning we hiked about a mile up to the intersection w Luella Lake and hid our packs and hung our food in a bundle of trees to the left of the trail. We did the 4 Lakes Loop backpack-less. It took about 5 hours which included a dip in Summit Lake – it was awesome! The snow is almost all melted from all the passes. Its an easy go. We then picked up our packs and headed over to Granite Lake for the night… it was just gorgeous. We hiked out the next day and hit the car about noon. =( Sad to leave – this is great country. It is RUGGED. Be prepared to get chewed by mad manzanita! The ups and downs are demanding in combination with the heat and sun. Wake up early and get done by 2pm. Solves a lot of probs that way!

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John Soares August 8, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

Marianne, thanks so much for giving us the details of your trip. They will definitely help others plan their routes. I have friends doing Granite Lake and the Four Lakes Loop right now.

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Marianne August 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm

One more thing – there are 93 (yep we counted them and traversed them twice) downed trees on Deer Creek Trail as you head over to Stuart Fork. It must have been one heck of a snow storm!

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David Sheridan August 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Hey John,

I am looking forward to a backpacking trip this weekend and had a few questions. I wondered if you knew any more information.

How difficult is it to cross the Stuart fork in order to get to the Stuart Fork trail from Alpine Lake?
Do we need crampons to go over the pass between L Lake and Smith/Morris Lake
Is the Mirror Lake/L Lake pass is OK condition?

I read the latest trail conditions report and was a little nervous about the mention of difficult creek crossings.

Any information you have would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
David S

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John Soares August 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

Stuart Fork is running big right now. I’d only attempt a crossing if you are very experienced with doing so as safely as possible.

Not sure about crampons needed for the cross-country routes to Mirror Lake and Smith Lake, but I strongly recommend you bring them, along with ice axes. You’re high up in an area where hardly anyone goes, so you need to be as prepared as possible.

If you park at Canyon Creek Lakes trailhead, you won’t need to go to Alpine Lake/Stuart Fork at all. The trail report says there’s lots of brush on trails around Alpine Lake.

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David Sheridan September 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Thanks for the advice John. We ended up taking it a bit easier after getting input from you and others on our original itenerary.

We had a great time at Canyon Creek Lakes, El Lake and Boulder Creek Lakes.

Next time, we might try some of the more difficult passes. I really want to see Smith and Morris lakes.

We also met some people that I would liek to contact again. An older man (77 yrs) and his hiking partners a coupel in there 70′s. They were super nice and enjoyed Boulder Creek Lakes a lot. skinny-dippers.

Do they sound familiar to anyone (been hiking there for 35 yrs they said)

D

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John Soares September 14, 2010 at 7:02 am

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

David, I’m glad you had such a great time. I love Canyon Creek Lakes and the Boulder Lakes. Sometimes backpacking trips are more enjoyable when we scale them back a bit.

I don’t know that couple, but I hope I’m still backpacking to Boulder Creek lakes in my late 70s — and skinny dipping.

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Steve M. September 15, 2010 at 9:53 am

I’m curious – thinking about going up to Trinity the last week of Sept. – likely up Canyon Creek. I don’t usually head out this late in the season, and I’m wondering if anyone has had problems backpacking this time of year in Trinity given the overlap with hunting season.

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Dean Martin June 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

Enjoyed reading through your logs, curious to know if you have any info on conditions this year. I am planning on a trip of 8 the last week in june and am curious to know what conditions are we this late snow/rain we have had this season.

Again, thanks for this websight – what a great idea

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John Soares June 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

Hello Dean. See this link here for 2011 conditions: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5154861.pdf.

Also look at the blog post just below about middle-elevation hikes. I’d be very wary of backpacking in late June in the Trinity Alps this year (2011) unless you are very experienced and are willing to deal with snow.

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Hunter July 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm

John, I’ve never been in the Alps before but have planned a horse pack trip for July 28th-August 3rd. I’m trying to learn as much about the Trinity Alps as i can before setting foot there. I’m looking for an area my wife will enjoy as this will be her first pack trip. My stock are pretty solid, spending lots of time in rugged terrain every year and my wife is an average rider. My secondary interest is to look for areas where we can hunt this September. Any suggsetions would be appreciated.

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John Soares July 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

Twitter: @TheJohnSoares

I’d plan a trip that stays primarily below 6000-6500 feet so you don’t have to deal with much snow. Check the Trinity Alps trail conditions link referenced in the post, and also the post linked to just below this comment.

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Kelly Connelly August 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

Labor Day is already here. Would love to find a short-mileage, 3-day backpack trip with some healthy elderly friends. And within 5 hours of San Francisco. No coast please! Too much fog this summer. Trinity Alps? Lassen? I don’t know those areas but they look beautiful. Lakes or streams would be great. I have your books!

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