Backpackers and day hikers need to know the conditions of Trinity Alps Wilderness trails and trailhead access roads before they begin their explorations of this beautiful and remote region in Northern California. I discuss the main sources for trail and road information below.
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.
2018 Trinity Alps Trail Conditions Update
It looks like the highly detailed Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Condition Report that had long been updated weekly during the hiking season is on hiatus, perhaps permanently. It had been run by Jim Holmes of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, but he recently retired.
Fortunately, there are three other ways to get Trinity Alps trail conditions:
1. Like the Trinity Alps Wilderness – 30th Anniversary Celebration page on Facebook. In addition to trail updates, it also has lots of other good info and discussion. This is currently the best resource for trail conditions.
2. There is also a report from the Weaverville Ranger Station that comes out far less frequently and with less information than the old report. Find it here. The more general Shasta-Trinity National Forest page with links to forest recreation reports is here.
3. Call the Weaverville Ranger Station at 530-623-2121 and then press “1.” You’ll get an automated message with the updates. However, this message may not be updated frequently; in 2018, it just gives the web link mentioned above.
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.
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.
Wildfires are a common reason for trail closures. I have a detailed post about how to find out about current California wildfires and smoke conditions. And also make sure you don’t start a fire yourself; make sure you get a California campfire permit before your backpacking trip. (And see this post what to do to survive a wildfire)
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 maps, like USGS topo maps and the Trinity Alps Wilderness map produced by the USFS. You can often buy these at ranger stations. Note that USGS topo maps can be decades out of date and may show trails that basically no longer exist, and they may not include newer trails.
Trinity Alps Wilderness Trail Map
The United States Forest Service publishes the excellent map Trinity Alps Wilderness: Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, and Six Rivers National Forests. The Weaverville Ranger Station usually stocks it, and other nearby ranger stations may also have it. You can also try to order it on Amazon, but it’s not always available there.
Missing Trail Signs
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. The Smith Lake route from Alpine Lake is one of the most challenging and rewarding cross-country routes.
Remember, get the latest trail and trailhead conditions at the Trinity Alps Wilderness – 30th Anniversary Celebration page and by calling 530-623-2121 and then pressing “1.” That number is also the place to call if you want wilderness permit information or you want to talk to a live person about your trip.
My Posts on the Trinity Alps Hiking Trails
My Hiking Guidebooks Cover Trinity Alps Trails
100 Classic Hikes: Northern California, fourth edition, covers these trails as overnight or longer backpacking trips:
- Big Bear Lake
- Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes
- Horseshoe and Ward Lakes
- Granite Lake and Seven Up Gap
- Four Lakes Loop
- Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes
My new book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions has the following 11 destinations, and all of them can be short backpacking trips:
- Canyon Creek Lakes
- Long Canyon to Deer Creek Pass
- Granite Lake
- Parker Meadow and Mumford Meadow
- Boulder Lakes
- Big Bear Lake
- PCT Southwest From Scott Mountain Summit
- East Boulder and Upper Boulder Lakes
- Fox Creek Lake
- Hidden Lake
- South Fork Lakes
- Trail Gulch and Long Gulch Lakes
Both books came out in 2018 and are available at major bookstores, many outdoor stores, and at online outlets like Amazon. I chose these trails for their scenic beauty, but also because the trails are in good shape and the forest roads leading to the trailheads are usually in good shape, even for passenger cars.
Any advice to add? Let us know in the comments below!