The Pacific Crest Trail travels through the rugged Trinity Alps Wilderness from Scott Mountain Summit to Carter Meadows Summit. This post provides section hikers/backpackers all the details of lakes, campsites, connecting trails – and the most beautiful sights.
And it’s based on an excerpt of Philip Kramer’s beautiful all-color Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California Section Hiking from Tuolumne Meadows to Donomore Pass just released by Mountaineers Books (also the publisher of my hiking guidebooks). I’m grateful to Philip for allowing me to use it.
Trinity Alps Pacific Crest Trail Section Hike: Key Data
DISTANCE 19.7 miles
ELEVATION GAIN/LOSS +4640/–3860 feet
HIGH POINT 7440 feet
CONNECTING TRAILS AND ROADS CA 3, Forest Road 39N25Y, Forest Road 40N63, East Boulder Lake Trail #08W02/5575, Middle Boulder Lake Trail #5577, Telephone Lake Trail #08W25/5576, Bloody Run Trail #08W04, Wolford Cabin Trail #08W03, Fox Creek Ridge Trail #5581, East Fork Saloon Creek Trail #09W03, South Fork Ridge Trail #5586, South Fork Lake Trail #5587, Hidden Lake Trail #5504, Carter Meadows Trail #5513, CR 1C02 (Forest Road 93)
Scott Mountain Campground spur to Camp 8 . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3
Camp 8 to Camp 9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3.3
Camp 9 to Camp 10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . …1.3
Camp 10 to Upper Boulder Lake Camp spur . . . . . . . . . . . … .2.0
Upper Boulder Lake Camp spur to Camp 11 . . . . . . . . . . …. ..0.7
Camp 11 to Camp 12 spur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . 1.3
Camp 12 spur to Engle Mine Camp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . ….. .1.1
Engle Mine Camp to Camp 13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . …. ..1.1
Camp 13 to Wolford Cabin Trail Camp . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .. …. . 1.5
Wolford Cabin Trail Camp to Camp 14 . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . …. ..2.9
Camp 14 to Camp 15 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . … . . … .. 0.6
Camp 15 to Carter Meadows Summit ……………….. . . . . … . . . .2.6
Trinity Alps Pacific Crest Trail Section: Scott Mountain Summit to Carter Meadows Summit
Hiking westbound from Scott Mountain Summit, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) makes a 1400-foot ascent through a mash-up of towering firs, logging operations, and forest roads. Don’t worry; there’s a reward at the end of the scarred climb—the Trinity Alps! Depart the trailhead along CA Highway 3, cross Forest Road 39N25Y and a jeep road 0.1 mile apart, and begin climbing. After gaining 550 feet of elevation, reach a forested saddle with sites for two tents (Camp 8) in 1.1 miles from the jeep road. Keep climbing, rising steadily to the border of a logging operation, cross a jeep road, and enter the Trinity Alps Wilderness 2.6 miles from CA 3.
Parallel above FR 40N63 and meet it at a saddle in 1.1 miles from the wilderness boundary. A handful of tent sites offer mediocre camping for desperate hikers but better options, with water, are nearby. Now on a descent, continue below FR 40N63 while enjoying southern views of the Trinity Alps, and reach the first of several seasonal springs in 0.7 mile. Find a second spring 170 feet beyond, followed in 0.2 mile by a camp for two tents (Camp 9) near a meadow. Yet another set of springs trickles out of the meadow and across the Pacific Crest Trail just 0.1 mile beyond. With decent snowpack, water remains in at least one of these four springs well into August, perhaps even September. Drop another 0.9 mile, cross the private continuation of FR 40N63, and cross a seasonal stream 300 feet past the road. If this is dry, reliable water is 0.1 mile ahead at Mosquito Lake Creek , 5.8 miles from Scott Mountain Summit. A small camp (Camp 10) is 0.1 mile beyond the creek.
Mosquito Lake, Big and Little Marshy Lakes
Begin climbing from the creek, traversing west above Big and Little Marshy lakes, and pass an easy-to-miss use trail at 0.5 mile. The use trail climbs up to a summer camp at Mosquito Lake and down to the Marshy lakes. As you continue to climb, the forest thins and the views of the surrounding peaks make the 2 miles to the East Boulder Lake Trail #08W02/5575 junction fly by. The junction boasts an impressive sign collection spread across two trees, one of which is an impressively wide Jeffrey pine. The side trails drop east to the Marshy lakes and west to East Boulder Lake. For hikers with a penchant for alpine lakes, exploration opportunities abound; head west for the quickest reward.
The views only improve from here; make a scenic, winding ascent southeast through an explosion of wildflowers to a dramatic rock overlook at 0.7 mile. Early-season hikers take note—snow often lingers in this section until July. From the overlook, wander out to the point for a massive panorama and give your heart fully to the Trinity Alps. If you can’t bear to leave and have a small tent, a few tiny sites will work for an overnight (Camp 11). Climb southwest from here, enjoying a constant onslaught of views and plenty of boulders, and gain the section’s high point of 7440 feet at a barren junction with the Middle Boulder Lake Trail #5577, 9.8 miles from the leg’s start.
East Boulder Lake Basin Trail
Below the trail are two shallow lakes, with part of Middle Boulder Lake visible beyond them. A campsite (Camp 12) sits near the northwestern shore of the lake nearest the side trail, 0.4 mile from and 360 feet below the PCT.
To explore, camp, or frolic around the many lakes in the East Boulder Lake basin, follow the East Boulder Lake Trail west from the Pacific Crest Trail up to a small saddle. From here, descend 0.4 mile and 290 feet via two switchbacks to reach Upper Boulder Lake and two unnamed lakelets. Several nice campsites (Upper Boulder Lake Camp) can be found in the trees, with more sites 0.3 mile north on the eastern shore of much larger East Boulder Lake. The lake basin is barren and gorgeous, dotted with tarns and lakes, scattered with stunted trees—it’s a great spot to spend time, whether a night or a week, and you can also take the short hike north and downhill to Middle Boulder Lake.
Telephone Lake Trail and Bloody Run Trail
Back on the Pacific Crest Trail, descend 0.6 mile to a meadow with a small, seasonal spring. A few steps beyond, find a junction with the Telephone Lake Trail #08W25/5576 leading 1 mile northwest to, you guessed it, Telephone Lake. Next up in 0.5 mile: two seasonal springs and a small camp for one, maybe two, tents (Engle Mine Camp) next to the rusty remains of equipment from nearby Engle Mine. A third spring—this one piped —is 0.1 mile beyond, and a junction with the Bloody Run Trail #08W04 is 0.2 mile farther, 11.2 miles into the leg. Not the prettiest trail name, but it leads many places; 100 yards down it, trails at a three-way junction lead west to Wolford Cabin (not accessible to hikers), south to Bloody Run Creek, and east to nearby Eagle Creek, far below in the drainage you just traversed above.
Fox Creek Ridge Trail: Mavis Lake and Fox Creek Lake
Now that you’ve contoured around the southern mass of Eagle Peak, climb 0.7 mile to reach a narrow saddle on the Scott Mountain divide. A few steps down the ridge, scattered tent sites easily accommodate 4 or 5 tents (Camp 13). Continue into a thick fir forest, passing a seasonal stream in 0.8 mile, and arrive 0.7 mile beyond at a junction with the Wolford Cabin Trail #08W03 and Fox Creek Ridge Trail #5581. The Fox Creek Ridge Trail drops north to camping options at both Mavis Lake in 0.7 mile and larger Fox Creek Lake at 1.4 miles. To the south, the Wolford Cabin Trail descends 1 mile to the Wolford Cabin. A few steps past the junction, find a small camp along the PCT (Wolford Cabin Trail Camp).
East Fork Saloon Creek Trail/South Fork Ridge Trail
The PCT climbs a short ways southwest from the junction, then traverses northwest, passing a seasonal creek in 1.6 miles, and continues to a camp (Camp 14) for three or so tents in a saddle in another 1.3 miles. From the campsites, climb into a second saddle and pass a junction with the East Fork Saloon Creek Trail #09W03 in 500 feet. The side trail descends 0.1 mile south to another junction, where an eastbound spur trail traverses 0.1 mile to a spring, while the main trail continues steeply south to Saloon Creek. On the PCT, an unsigned second junction, this with the northbound South Fork Ridge Trail #5586, is 0.2 mile farther.
South Fork Lakes Trail
Say goodbye to Shasta-Trinity National Forest, hello to Klamath National Forest, and let the descent begin! With 3.2 miles left in the leg and 1400 feet of elevation to lose, the PCT gets down to business. Start the steep descent along a high, dry, boulder-strewn ridge. Pass a small treed camp (Camp 15) at 0.5 mile, pump your brakes on a sharp switchback, and cross an alder-lined stream at 1.3 miles, well down the mountain. The descent doesn’t relent; wind down a steep-sided peak, dropping 570 feet in 0.7 mile, to a junction with the South Fork Lakes Trail #5587. The South Fork Lakes – Lower South Fork Lake and Upper South Fork Lake — are a steep 1000 feet of elevation gain over 1.3 miles, but they are attractive and you’ll likely have them to yourself. Look for good campsites at the upper lake.
Carter Meadows Summit: Hidden Lake Trail and Carter Meadows Trail
In 0.2 mile, cross the South Fork Scott River (a potential ford in early season), and begin the final push, now upward, to Carter Meadows Summit. Cross a seasonal stream in 0.5 mile, and arrive at a mega junction with the Hidden Lake Trail #5504, Carter Meadows Trail #5513, the southbound and northbound PCT, and a short spur trail to the trailhead parking lot. The Hidden Lake Trail leads immediately left (south) to tiny but scenic Hidden Lake, and the Carter Meadows Trail, the next left, heads 0.7 mile west to Hidden Horse Campground (with water and pit toilets).
The northbound PCT is next, making a beeline 0.1 mile northwest to County Road 1C02 (FR 93) and then beyond to the Russian Wilderness. Lastly, the short spur to your right (north) deposits you at the Carter Meadows Summit Trailhead parking lot, just below a helipad. Need an airlift?
About Author and Photographer Philip Kramer
Philip Kramer is Washington-based outdoor photographer and writer. Philip is represented by Getty Images and his clients include Lonely Planet, BBC, National Geographic, and Sunset Magazine. Find his writing and photography website here, his Instagram account here, and the website for all four Mountaineers Books PCT Section Hiking books here.
Your Take: Trinity Alps Section of the Pacific Crest Trail
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