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Long Trails

Sacramento, CA: See the Forest for the Trees (Bigfoot Trail)

Wend beneath sugar pines, Pacific yews, mountain hemlocks, and Shasta firs on this remote section of the Bigfoot Trail in Northern California. BY LAURA LANCASTER

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“We’ll know it when we see it,” my husband tells me after I stop to check the map for the third time. Trail beta for the next water source is particularly enigmatic: The spring is in the middle of a field just past the three-forked tree. I scrutinize the trees—sugar pines, Pacific yews, mountain hemlocks—scattered on the dry ridge, but nothing looks quite right. That seems on-theme for a 360-mile trail named for an elusive beast. Finally, we see it: not Sasquatch, but a massive Shasta fir, with three branches locked in a centuries-old race to reach the sky. It shades a site that’s large enough for a dozen tents, but my husband and I have it to ourselves. We drop our packs as the sun casts a long shadow over the peaks to the south, and find the elusive spring in a field of golden grass. On this trail, seeing is believing.

Trip stats
26.8 miles (out and back)
Time: 3 days

From the Cold Spring trailhead

(1) Take the Bigfoot Trail 2.8 miles south, following signs for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
(2) Stay left to follow an unmarked path to Buckhorn Spring.
(3) Back on the main path, continue 10.2 miles south to the Marble Gap Trail.
(4) Turn left and go .4 mile to the old cabin.
(5) Retrace your steps to your car.

Campsite 1
Buckhorn Spring (mile 2.8)

Take a nero and spend your first night under the big Shasta fir near Buckhorn Spring. The proximity to water is almost as luxurious as the view of the 9,000-foot Klamath Mountains, which stretch into the western horizon.

Campsite 2
Marble Valley Cabin (mile 13.4)

This ranger cabin itself is reserved for Forest Service use, but it’s ideally located near a reliable creek and multiple first-come, first-serve campsites with expansive views of bright-white Marble Mountain and Black Marble Mountain.

Origin story
The 360-mile Bigfoot Trail, a mishmash of already-established trails and Forest Service roads, spans six wildernesses as it meanders from the Yolla Bolly to Redwood National Park on the Pacific coast. Conifer Country author Michael Kauffmann headed its creation in 2009 to establish a route through the most diverse concentration of conifers on the planet. The Bigfoot Trail passes 32 types of the trees, including rare Siskiyou cypresses and weeping spruces.

Buttressed by the granitic Trinity Alps to the south and the Cascades’ dormant volcanoes to the north, the white domes of the Marble Mountains look a little out of place. And they are: These limestone peaks are the remnants of a huge coral reef that dates back to the Triassic era.

Sasquatch sightings
The Bigfoot Trail may have been created to show off the region’s conifers, but it was named for an alleged big, hairy local. More than 50 Sasquatch sightings have been reported in the area. We won’t opine on the legend, but it seems like as good a method as any to drum up local tourism.

DO IT Trailhead 41.696680, -123.246091; 20 miles southeast of Happy Camp on Elk Creek Rd. Season June through October Permit None Custom ($15) Contactbfta.bigfoottrail.orgTrip

Trail Facts

  • State: CA
  • City: Sacramento, CA
  • Distance: 26.8
  • Contact:
  • Land Type: Wilderness Area

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