Here’s all the info you need to hike or backpack the trails to the Caldwell Lakes, including Lower Caldwell Lake and the Upper Caldwell Lakes in the Parks Creek drainage in the Eddy Range west of Mount Shasta. This is Hike 58 in my new guidebook Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions.
(And also see my description and photos of Lower, Middle, and Upper West Parks Lakes; they are only a mile away.)
Caldwell Lakes Trail Key Information
Length: 4.4 miles round trip
High Point: 7115 feet at the two upper lakes
Elevation Gain: 1400 feet
When to Hike: early July to mid-October, as snow permits
Controlling Agency: Mount Shasta Ranger Station, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, 204 West Alma, Mount Shasta, CA 96067. (530) 926-4511.
Special Features: West Parks Creek and its meadows and wildflowers; swimming in the lakes, especially Upper Caldwell Lake; great views of Mount Shasta, Mount Eddy, and the Eddy Range
Caldwell Lakes Trailhead Directions
Directions to the Trailhead: Take the Edgewood exit off I-5 (Exit 751) to the west side of the freeway and turn right. Go 0.3 mile and turn left onto Stewart Springs Road. Drive 4.0 miles to a major fork. You head right up paved Road 17 (Parks Creek Road) for another 5.4 miles to where Road 41N74 branches off perpendicular on the right, just before a creek crossing. Follow 41N74 for 300 yards to the parking area, which is just before the road makes a sharp right turn to become Road 41N74Y. Note: if you have a passenger vehicle, you may want to park near the paved road. GPS: N 41° 22.802′ W 122° 32.224.
Caldwell Lakes Trail Description
Yes, you’ll visit three lakes. And yes, they are attractive, as all lakes are. But when you’re done with the hike, you’ll almost certainly say what you liked most was the broad vista of Mount Eddy and Mount Shasta. Or the lush meadows sprinkled along the route. Or the abundance of wildflowers. Most people either don’t know about the Caldwell Lakes trail, or they pass it by on the way to the more famous trails to the Deadfall Lakes and Mount Eddy. You owe it to yourself to explore this basin: you’ll be very glad you did.
Parks Creek tumbles audibly on the left for the first few minutes of the route. Your views encompass red metamorphic ridges on both sides, although you’ll soon note that the metamorphic rocks switch to a gray color, matching China Mountain, the highest peak in surrounding the basin at 8,551 feet.
You climb through an open forest of western white pines, ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, Douglas firs, and incense cedars, passing a small meadow, to reach a perennial stream at 0.5 mile. You’ll see beautiful flowers, including leopard lilies and Indian paintbrush, but what’s most interesting is the large expanse of California pitcher plant on the spring-fed slope on the far side of the creek. This plant species typically grows in wet areas with nutrient-poor ultramafic (metamorphic) soils, and its famous (or infamous) for trapping insects and digesting them.
As you continue up the valley, be sure to turn around for the steadily improving easterly and southerly views. By 1.0 mile you’ll see Mount Eddy and its entourage rising above a nearer ridge, and soon thereafter you’ll spy the top of Mount Shasta. At 1.3 miles you’ll cross another sizable stream and then continue uphill, paralleling a meadow that encompasses the stream you just crossed.
Lower Caldwell Lake
Ascend briskly through more flowers and an extensive expanse of bracken fern to run level through a boulder field that brings you just above the west shore of Lower Caldwell Lake at 1.5 miles. A faint path runs down to the shore of the very shallow lake (too shallow for swimming) and continues along the southeast side to a campsite.
Getting to Upper Caldwell Lakes
The prettier bodies of water await above. You soon start a stiff ascent on the main route that brings you to the best views of the hike. Mount Eddy and its surrounding ridges glow pale orange, while Mount Shasta gleams white further to the east, where it rises above the southern reaches of the Shasta Valley.
You then do the final push to the upper lakes near a meadow and the outlet stream, arriving at the final destination at 2.1 miles. Both lakes are very shallow. A faint trail leads along the north edge of the lower of the two upper lakes, soon reaching the topmost lake. (The two are almost connected, with the higher bragging only a couple of feet of extra elevation.) You can follow the trail all the way to the south side of the topmost lake where you’ll find a campsite near a meadow and the best opportunity for a dip in the shallow waters.
You can do cross-country exploration in the basin, as long as you respect your limits. If you’re really good at scrambling up steep slopes, consider climbing to the 8,551 foot-high summit of China Mountain for world-class views that include the Caldwell Lakes, West Park Lakes, and Crater Lake.
Photos of the Caldwell Lakes…
Your Take on the Caldwell Lakes Trail
Done the hike? What did you think? Questions?