Canyon Creek & Boulder Creek in the Trinity Alps

Who: Just me!
What: Backpacking
When: 5/9/14-5/11/14
Where: Trinity Alps Wilderness
Mileage: 23 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +3650ft/-3650ft
More photos: here

My very first solo backpacking trip—I was both a little nervous and quite excited as I bumped SWV and Justin Timberlake in the car on the drive up from Oakland. Free reign of the stereo? Check. I planned to visit the popular Canyon Creek drainage in the Trinity Alps Wilderness west of Mount Shasta, hoping that the early dates would cut down on the crowds of people who swarm this area in the summer. On my way in on Friday morning, the only people I saw were a part of a trail crew rolling heavy boulders around just below where the trail crosses Canyon Creek, but on Saturday it’d be a different story! The canyon was crawling with day hikers as I made my way down from Upper Canyon Creek Lake. Turning off onto the Boulder Creek trail cured this, though, and from Saturday afternoon into Sunday, I had the entire Boulder Creek drainage to myself—bliss!

Day 1
Canyon Creek Trailhead to Upper Canyon Creek Lake
9 miles, +2700ft/-0ft 

The first few miles of the Canyon Creek Trail are shady and pleasant as the trail meanders through a deciduous forest with mossy rocks strewn about.

Canyon Creek Trail

The weather was cloudy across the west side of the canyon, while the trail follows the east side of the canyon. Western slopes of Canyon Creek

As the trail gains elevation, the forest transitions to more evergreens and the views start to open up to the granite walls of the canyon. At one point, you look out to the junction of the Boulder Creek (behind the sloping granite in the foreground) drainage with Canyon Creek’s drainage.

Looking out to the west

After a brief stretch of exposed trail with views, it’s back to the woods again. The forest is pretty and you get peeks at the walls of the canyon, but for me this type of trail is a bit boring. At least it makes for pleasant hiking, though!

Walking through the forest

Ah, finally I get a view back down the canyon I’ve been hiking up!

Fist look back

And at this point Canyon Creek cascades nicely over wide slabs of granite. Soon after these falls, I’d encounter the first people of the day—a trail crew of about 8 people rolling big boulders around. It’s so wonderful that people volunteer their time to do this hard labor so we can have access to the backcountry. Support your local wilderness organizations!

Canyon Creek

After 2.5 hours of hiking, I had lunch at 1pm at Upper Canyon Creek falls.

Upper Canyon Creek Falls

My pace would slow a lot now since I kept wanting to turn around and take photos and admire the grander and grander views of the canyon, including some time with this Seussian tree.

The best tree

I reached Upper Canyon Creek Lake at 3pm and set up camp. Pretty much all of the established campsites are within 100 feet of water due to the steeply sloping sides of the basin.

Upper Canyon Creek Lake Camp

I had a nice view over to the little basin where L Lake lives and I planned to dayhike there the next day. Mother nature had other plans, however. I spent the night listening to sleet and hail fall on my tent as winds whipped by. I woke up to a thick whiteout with strong winds and a mix of frozen precipitation that didn’t stick to much besides my tent.

Wintery Mix

So I spent most of the morning huddled inside my bag, napping on and off. When I took this trip, the only tent I had was a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 (great tent, by the way), so I had plenty of room to spread out, my very own wilderness palace.

Tent Life

Day 2
Upper Canyon Creek Lake to Boulder Creek Lake
6 miles, +900ft/-1000ft

As I thought the storm was clearing, I packed up my gear inside the tent ready to make a break for it if it cleared enough. Finally, around 11am, I got my chance.

Lower Canyon Creek Lake

I headed back down the trail, thinking I’d either leave or visit Boulder Creek if the weather was nice when I got to the junction. It looked promising at first!

Canyon Creek

And then it started to hail (?) some tiny frozen pellets that looked like teensy styrofoam balls.

Looks like styrofoam

And then suddenly, five minutes later, it was completely clear and sunny again. I guess I’d be heading up Boulder Creek after all! I continued down the trail until the junction for Boulder Creek, about three miles down from the upper Canyon Creek Lake. The trail heads west across the canyon and requires a ford of Canyon Creek where the water can be ankle to knee deep, depending on the season. As I headed up the steeper sections of the Boulder Creek Trail, the views began to open up.

Boulder Creek drainage

It’s a wonderful trail, though it is not for novice hikers. It’s very steep and rocky as it climbs out of the drainage and the route across the basin down to the Boulder Creek Lake is ambiguous at times. Soon I arrived at the surreal, Tolkien-esque basin in which Boulder Creek Lake lives.

Surreal ponds in the Boulder Creek Lake basin

The basin is chock full of waterfalls and little ponds. Incredibly beautiful when I was there, but I imagine the mosquitos are horrendous at times. I set up camp near Boulder Creek Lake at the first spot I saw and then I began to explore the basin.

Boulder Creek Lake

I wished I had poked around a bit more before setting up camp. My spot was beautiful, but I could have had a spot closer to the edge of the basin where Boulder Creek shoots straight off a vertical cliff in a gorgeous waterfall. This area also has great views down Boulder Creek’s canyon and across to Sawtooth. Next time!

Boulder Creek Lake outlet waterfall

Day 3
Boulder Creek Lake to Canyon Creek Trailhead
9 miles, +50ft/-2650ft

I got up early the next morning for some beautiful sunrise alpenglow reflections on the pools around the basin. This is one of my favorite things about being in the wilderness and it’s what makes backpacking so much more special than day hiking.

Alpenglow on Boulder Creek Lake basin

The lakes and pools were incredibly still and reflecting the glowing mountains.

Surreal ponds and reflections

I said goodbye to the basin around 8:30am and headed back down to my car. I got a little off track leaving the basin and ended up bushwhacking through a ton of manzanita and over lots of little creeks. Oops.

Boulder Creek Lake

But I found my way soon enough and was quickly retracing my steps through the woods.

Headed back down through the forest

My first solo trip ended and I wasn’t even dead! Achievement unlocked.

And I even took a better photo with the sign this time!

Want to do this trip yourself? Check out the Trinity Alps Trail Condition Report and download USGS Mount Hilton quad. Pick up your permit at the Weaverville Ranger Station (self-registration after hours is ok) and head to the Canyon Creek Trailhead.

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