Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Conditions

by John Soares on July 13, 2015

I get a lot of emails and blog comments from backpackers and day hikers asking me about the conditions of specific trails in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. I answer when I know and when I have the time, but there are over 550 miles of trails in over 500,000 acres: There’s no way I can know everything about the Alps.

Little Bear Lake in the Trinity Alps.

Little Bear Lake in the Trinity Alps. Great swimming and big fish!

Fortunately, there is a great resource that’s updated on a near-weekly basis throughout the summer hiking season: the Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report created by Jim Holmes, a Wilderness Program Manager for Shasta-Trinity National Forest who is very dedicated to keeping the paths open and educating people about where to go, what to expect, and how to treat wild lands with respect.

So Why Do Trail Conditions Change?

Trail conditions can change for several reasons.

Snow is often the biggest factor.

If the path disappears under a foot of snow, you’re going to have a difficult time following it. Of course, snow levels vary with the total amount of snow that fell over the winter, the time of season you want to hike, the elevation you’ll be hiking at, and geographical factors such as the tendency of snow to linger on the north sides of slopes.

Fallen trees.

Winter storms and strong summer thunderstorms knock down trees. Usually, hikers and backpackers can scramble over or around fallen trees, but if there are fifty of them across your route, you might wish you’d chosen another itinerary.


Heavy rains can create big gullies in trails and in access roads.

Mass movements of rock and earth.

Occasionally heavy rains can cause hillsides to give away and slide or slump across trails and roads. In addition, rocks large and small fall from heights.

Also Pay Attention to Trailhead Access

The same factors just mentioned also affect driving to the trailhead. Make sure you can get to the trailhead and that the route is suitable for your vehicle. Road maintenance can be particularly expensive, and erosion can turn what was once a road accessible to passenger cars with moderate clearance into a road accessible only to SUVs and trucks with high clearance.

So Why Doesn’t the USFS Maintain All the Trails and Roads?

Three words: lack of money. As a hiking guidebook author, I have frequent contact with people like Jim Holmes who manage the trail systems on our federal and state lands. They and their colleagues are all hard-working people who do the best they can, but they have very limited resources. By necessity, they must make difficult choices about where to put scarce dollars and scarce human resources. There just isn’t enough money to pay for maintenance of access roads and trails.

Want to help? Let your United States senators and your local House of Representative members know that you want more money spent on hiking and backpacking trails on United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Hone Your Route-Finding Skills

Many of the trails in the Trinity Alps can be faint at times, or even disappear for a short or long distance. You need to have good maps, like USGS topo maps and the Trinity Alps Wilderness map produced by the USFS. You can often buy these at ranger stations.

Also, some trail signs are missing. Anticipate all junctions well before they appear and be very vigilant about searching for them. Many of the signs are attached to trees, often above eye level, so if you aren’t paying attention, you won’t see them. They can be particularly difficult to see if you are walking in the direction that is less common, since the sign may be on the opposite side of a tree.

In addition, it’s important to be ready to hike cross country should you need to. This requires being in shape, knowing where you want to go, and picking the best cross-country route to get there.

Be Informed

Remember, get the latest trail and trailhead conditions in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report. The link could change from year to year. I’ll update it in this post, but you can also find it by searching online by title. You can also call the specific ranger district for updated info on trail conditions and how and where to get permits for overnight trips.

My Posts on the Trinity Alps

Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes in the Trinity Alps

Hiking Big Bear Lake in the Trinity Alps

My Trinity Alps Backpacking Trip — Caribou Lake, Sawtooth Ridge, Emerald Lake, Morris Meadows

Your Take

Any advice to add? Let us know in the comments below!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan July 14, 2015 at 6:19 am

I noticed in the high sierra signage stipulating “this is an unmaintained trail.” Sure would be nice to see these in the Trinity Alps.


John Soares July 14, 2015 at 7:53 am

I agree, Jan. However, I think it’s a matter of resources again. It costs money to make a sign and then have someone put it up.

Some of the trails on the USFS Trinity Alps topo map are marked as unmaintained.


Gin Wenslaff August 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Backpackers may be interested to know they can get a fire permit online now:

You watch a video on the rules and verify that you did so, and you can then just print off a permit!


John Soares August 8, 2015 at 6:01 am

Thanks for sharing the info about getting a fire permit. I used it to get mine earlier this year, even though I almost never have a campfire.

FYI: usually by midsummer campfires are forbidden.


ricardo l johnson January 7, 2017 at 5:43 pm

you seem to be the man in the know. Were planning a memorial day trip in the area. hoping to go to Granite lakes but if snow is a problem Canyon Lakes trip might be an alternative. What do you think my probabilities are for either trip. I am hoping to miss the crowds on such a early time but obviosly we need to have fairly snow free conditions, Any thoughts or other suggested trips would be appreciated. Its a 10 hour drive for us. darn but we have some fine areas here to.


John Soares January 8, 2017 at 8:28 am

No clue in early January, but typically both still have substantial snow on Memorial Day. Call the relevant ranger station a few days before you want to go to get the latest snow and trail conditions.


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