Access Special Backpacker.com Features, Register Now!

Our Backyard: Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA

Follow trail-savvy locals to nine sweet spot in the Trinity Alps Wilderness.
trinity alps

California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness

1. BEST FAMILY CAMPING
Tucked into a small, forested basin, Hidden Lake may be more modest than higher-elevation hikes, but it’s a great spot to introduce kids to backpacking, says Anthony Alpert (below). “You’ll find wildlife, fishing, and off-trail adventures less than a mile from the trailhead.” From the Pacific Crest Trail-Carter Meadows Summit trailhead, the 20-minute hike climbs gently to the lake’s north shore.

2. FAVORITE LAKE
Caribou Lake—the largest in the Alps at 72 acres—is a favorite getaway for good reason. “There are few things as stunning as the granite ridges reflected in this deep-blue lake,” says Jane Hedve Brenenstahl (below). From Big Flat Campground, the 10-mile trail (one-way) passes through fir and mountain hemlock (see signs of a 2008 wildfire) and under 7,000-foot peaks. Camp on the granite benches that border the lake.

3. PREMIER CAMPSITE
This spot along Canyon Creek isn’t named on maps. But it should be called “paradise,” says Alpert. Nestled in thick pine and fir forest and guarded by enormous boulders, the site overlooks the meandering stream. To get there, follow Canyon Creek Trail roughly four miles upstream to the grassy flats flanking the left side of the trail.

4. FAVORITE SUMMIT
Trinity views don’t get any better than from the top of 8,162-foot Siligo Peak, says Brenenstahl. Hike it via 12-mile Long Canyon Trail (prettiest) or 17-mile Stoney Ridge Trail (most solitude) for views of 8,886-foot Sawtooth Peak and the emerald hues of Diamond, Luella, Summit, and Deer Lakes.

5. BEST OVERNIGHT 
For high rewards and low effort, head to Granite Lake, in a sheer-walled basin that delivers on the lake’s name. The 10-mile out-and-back passes a series of waterfalls, including multitiered Granite Creek Falls. And you’ll see scores of azaleas in June and July. The best part? Easy does not equal crowded.

6. BEST WEEKEND
For guaranteed solitude—even on weekends—spend the night at Horseshoe Lake, tucked in a cliff-ringed cirque at the headwaters of Swift Creek. The 16-mile round-trip climbs gradually along Swift Creek and through broad meadows, then gains nearly 900 feet in a series of exposed switchbacks in the last mile.

7. BEST WILDLIFE
Morris Meadows, along popular Stuart Fork Trail, has black bears galore, says Alpert. “But unlike the notorious camp-raiders in Yosemite, bears in Trinity don’t equate backpackers with food.” Extend your stay: Hike roughly five miles past the meadows to campsites at Emerald and Sapphire Lakes.

8. TOP FISHING
Local anglers cast the riffles of North Fork Coffee Creek, a crystal-clear stream that begins high in the 525,477-acre wilderness. For some of the area’s finest trout fishing, pack a lightweight fly rod, size 14 Royal Wulffs, Adams, and Yellow Humpies, and go late in the season. “These fish know winter is coming and they’ll gobble up any fly that’s put near them,” says Alpert.

9. MOST DIVERSE FOREST
The Big Bear Lake Trail tracks through one of the world’s most diverse temperate coniferous forests. Start at Bear Creek trailhead and head west on an eight-mile out-and-back that runs through massive and fragrant incense cedar, towering Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, as well as white fir, western white pine, and knobcone pine.

Weaverville, California, resident Anthony Alpert, 44, has taken advantage of his hometown’s prime access to the Trinities for a dozen years. Summer conditions can come late here, he warns. Before heading out, check the national forest’s trail reports for info on downed trees, the current snowline, and whether or not the creeks are passable. “Sometimes I’m at my favorite lake by May,” Alpert says, “and sometimes I have to wait until mid-July.”

Jane Hedve Brenenstahl, 53, of Shasta Lake, California, has hiked the Trinity Alps for nearly two decades. Be observant, she says. “There are fossils of sea creatures embedded in rocks, and relics left by Native Americans, trappers, and miners scattered throughout the Trinities.”

Leave a Reply