I hiked the Trail Gulch Lake/Long Gulch Lake loop on July 8, 2022. Here’s my report of trail conditions, lake conditions, and how the two drainages and other nearby Trinity Alps regions fared in the 2021 River Complex Fire.
Overall, this is still a fantastic hike. The River Complex Fire did burn substantial parts of the two valleys holding the lakes, and also the southern ridge that connects the two, but there is still a lot of unburned portions, and the two lakes are both in fairly good shape. And of crucial importance, the trail is still easy to follow, although you’ll have to pay extra attention in a few spots.
Trail Gulch Lake/Long Gulch Lake Loop Key Data
Distance: 9.8-mile loop; you can also do shorter hikes directly to either of the lakes, with Trail Gulch Lake the easiest
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous for the entire loop
Type: longer day hike, or an excellent one- to two-night relatively easy backpacking trip
Elevation gain: 2100 feet
High point: 7400 feet
Season: mid-June to mid-October, depending on snow
Contact: Klamath National Forest, Salmon/Scott River Ranger District
Maps: USFS Trinity Alps Wilderness,
Permits: required only for overnight trips
Notes: Dogs allowed. Wilderness permit required for overnight stays: contact the Salmon/Scott River Ranger District for details. Cattle may be present, especially later in summer
This Hike Is Featured in One of My Books…
Best Day Hiking Trails in Upper California
- Mount Shasta and nearby
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains
- Redding area
- Whiskeytown and Shasta Lakes
Includes trailhead directions and detailed maps and trail descriptions
Long Gulch Lake Trailhead Directions
Reach Callahan on Highway 3. Callahan is 39.2 miles from the junction of Highway 3 and I-5 in Yreka, 61.8 miles from Weaverville, and 26.7 miles from Gazelle near I-5 via Gazelle-Callahan Road. Reach Carter Summit (actually a saddle) at 12.0 miles and then turn left at 12.7 miles onto dirt Forest Road 39N08 signed for Carter Meadows. At 2.0 miles see the Trail Gulch Lake trailhead on the left, and then proceed 0.8 mile farther to the Lung Gulch Lake trailhead, the start of the loop.
Starting on Forest Road 39N08
I do this hike as a clockwise loop. I started at the Long Gulch Lake trailhead and got the 0.8 mile and 300 feet elevation gain on Forest Road 39N08 out of the way immediately. The River Complex Fire frequently burned right to the south edge of Forest Road 39N08, but burned very little beyond.
The Hike to Trail Gulch Lake
From the Trail Gulch Lake trailhead it’s 2.1 miles and 875 feet of elevation gain to the lake.
Above the meadow, the trail climbs more steeply up to the junction with the side trail that leads to the Trail Gulch Lake. There’s a beautiful northward view down the drainage, with the Russian Wilderness beyond.
Trail Gulch Lake
There is some River Complex Fire damage along the north shore and east shore of Trail Gulch Lake, but overall this is still a fantastic destination and one of the easiest backpacking trips in the Trinity Alps.
Lots of River Complex Fire Damage…
is evident upon returning to the trail junction and then doing the steep hike through the red fir forest up to the ridge.
After the steep climb, I was happy to reach the ridge, close to the high point of the loop hike.
River Complex Fire Damage on the South Side the Ridge Connecting the Trail Gulch Lake and Long Gulch Lake Valleys
The trail runs west by southwest, primarily through a red fir forest, to gently climb to a ridge overlooking Long Gulch Lake. Gaps in the trees allow good southerly views of the extensive Coffee Creek drainage.
At the beginning of this stretch are two trail forks within about 30 feet of each other: North Fork Coffee Creek Trail (sign burned), and the Steveale Trail (sign intact). I’ve never hiked either of these, but the River Complex Fire burned substantial portions of their routes.
Long Gulch Lake
Long Gulch Lake and its valley fared a bit better than the Trail Gulch Lake drainage, although I did see substantial wildfire burn evidence on the hike from the lake to the Long Gulch Lake trailhead.
My Youtube Video of the Trail Gulch Lake/Long Gulch Lake Loop Hike…
Shot at the same time I took all the pictures above. From my Northern California Hiking Trails Youtube channel:
Lots of Great Dispersed Camping Sites in/near Carter Meadows
Camp for Free in California National Forests
California’s national forests and BLM lands have thousands of miles of dirt roads with lots of spots for dispersed camping (boondocking). My book provides all the info you need to get started (but is not a guide to specific sites):
- Researching the best locations
- Finding the best camping spots
- Backcountry safety and ethics
- What to take