Backpacking to Canyon Creek Lakes in the Trinity Alps Wilderness is about 15 miles. This trail gains roughly 2,956 ft of elevation and is rated as a hard trail with lots of foot traffic. This is a out and back trail that follows the Canyon Creek river nearly the entire trail.
There is also a trail that goes up a bit further past the second lake, to “L” lake. This trail is slightly longer then backpacking to Canyon Creek Lakes, at 16.9 miles with a total elevation gain of 3,753 ft. Once you get to the second lake, you’ll have a last push to L lake, as well as a river crossing. You can find it here on Alltrails.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in the Trinity Alps, but are extremely easy to get!
To backpack to Canyon Creek Lakes, you will need to visit the Weaverville Ranger Station on your drive in, about an hour from the trailhead, to register for a free permit. The kiosk outside the ranger station has all the information and forms you will need, including trail maps for the Canyon Creek Lakes trail, and campfire permits.
↟ Campfires are not allowed at the lakes, but are allowed a bit further down the trail before you get to the junction to Beaver Creek Lakes.
↟ Beware of bears! No, for real. They have signs everywhere at the trailhead about these “thieving bears”. We talked to a ranger on the phone on our drive up and she let us know that just a week prior to our trip, she saw a bear on top of a car at the trailhead. I’d suggest bringing a bear can instead of a bear bag for this trail. At the lakes, we saw a couple of past bear hangs that looked like a bear had actually got to them.
↟ Choose a campsite at least 100 feet away from lakes, streams, or trails. It is very important to do this in order to protect fragile ecosystems. There was a group camping on the shores of the second lake on the grass. Please don’t do this, it causes harm and sets places like this up to be “no camping zones” in the future.
↟ Check the weather conditions, and be prepared. Once the sun went down, it got pretty windy and there was a fair amount of snow on the mountain tops.
↟ Recreate Responsibly, and Leave No Trace. Stay on trail, don’t cut switchbacks, pack out your TP and trash, and be a good nature-loving individual.
Trip Dates: May 21st-22nd, 2022
Total Mileage: 15.4
Trail Type: Out and Back
Trailhead: Canyon Creek Lakes
We drove to the Trinity Alps on Friday afternoon, stopping for food at Safeway and a permit at the Weaverville Ranger Station on our way. After dark, we made it to Ripstein Campground, a first-come-first-served campground only a few miles from the trailhead. Every campsite was full, except for the very last one. We parked the trucked, popped open the Go Fast, and settled for some sleep before the hike.
Around 6am, I could hear the neighboring campsites packing up to hit the road. At first, I thought the sounds could have been a bear looking for some stray food around the tents and cars. When we woke up again a few hours later and got out of the camper, I noticed very quickly that, apart from our next-door camping neighbors, the entire campground was vacant. I quickly realized that the majority of them we’re likely also backpacking to Canyon Creek Lakes, and had left promptly to secure one of the few parking spots. We packed up a bit, threw everything in the back of the truck, and drove off to the trail- securing one of three spots left.
In the parking lot, we made some tea and oatmeal while packing our bags and getting our gear together. A couple minutes later, cars had already filled the vacant spots and backpackers and day-hikers we’re filling into the entrance of the Canyon Creek Lakes trailhead. We waved at a couple of groups heading up with their dog, and another group chatted with us a bit before giving us an orange on their way up the trail.
We secured the locks on the camper, I said a silent prayer for no bears climbing the car, and we head up the trail. Signs we’re posted all around warning hikers of the dangerous “thieving bears”, who will slyly snatch your backpacks and food if you leave it for more than a moment.
We head up the trail starting at 10:20, and within a few hours we had passed our orange-gifting friends, who were planning on camping near the junction so that they could have a campfire. The trail was a moderate climb, and gently followed the river for miles and miles.
Reid and I hardly said a word to each other. My mind drifted as I walked. Being in the mountains after so long feel like seeing an old friend. Every few moments my mind would go in an out of reality, from the rocks on the trail to my thoughts. I welcomed the peace. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
A few hours later and about halfway up the climb, we stopped at an opening in the trees next to a river to eat some food. Our normal trail meals, consisting of tortillas, avocado, cheese, and tuna packets filled our bear can in Reid’s pack. We snacked on the orange a fellow backpaker had given us at the trailhead- and it was one of the best damned oranges I’ve ever had. He had told us he grew it himself and I was sure that was the primary reason it tasted so good, not just the backpacker hanger.
The water was frigid, and turned my feet numb within a few minutes. A group came up behind us to rest at the same spot and one of the guys jumped into the river, seemingly unfazed by the 40-some degree water. Reid jumped in a few minutes later, and laid on the rocks baking in the sun to warm up before we continued.
The miles backpacking to Canyon Creek Lakes we’re much slower after lunch. The elevation got steeper, and the trees started thinning out on our climb. It was extremely hot, much more than I had anticipated. But as we climbed and climbed, I could feel how close we were to the lakes. Sure enough, around the last switchback of bare rocks and hot sun, the first lake came into view. A few colorful tent fly’s we’re strewn across the left side of the lake. We made our way up and around to the second lake, avoiding some stray patches of snow clinging to the shadows.
When we found a spot to set up camp, we sat down by the lake for a few hours, watching fly fisherman come up to the edge of the water to try their hand at catching trout. We made dinner shortly after 6, and I savored the broth of my instant noodle packet before grabbing my camera to shoot some photos before the light left the canyon.
Not even an hour had passed and Reid had seen me climbing up on some rocks overlooking the lake. He waved me over and had exclaimed how he had been trying to find me for 30 minutes. There was a black bear in the meadow across from us, and he didn’t want me to miss it.
The two of us, and a few other groups who we’re camping out at the second lake, sat atop a little rock pile, watching a fair sized black bear roaming the meadows opposite the lake. He was walking towards our side of the lake, with a small patch of lake, a steep cliff and a precariously placed group camp between us. When the bear got closer to the group, their dogs barked and scared the bear back into the brush of the meadow. It was clear he could sense food of some sort, and began to hatch a thieving plan to get it.
We sat watching the bear with the group of backpackers for nearly an hour. The group campsite, who we’re camped too close to the waters edge, was clearly the target of the black bear. He climbed the left side of the cliff, above the campers who stood at the waters edge clanging pots and pans to try and scare the bear off. He paid little attention.
By dusk, the bear had made it completely around the cliff and sat within 100 or so yards of the group campsite, sheltered by some brush that he hid in. The group was still unsettled by the visitor, but couldn’t tell how close or far the bear was. The last time we saw the bear was just before dark, still sheltered in the thick brush- no doubt planning to wait until nightfall to start his thieving.
We went back to the campsite and climbed into the tent. I had walked out bear can a decent ways away from our site, and wedged it between two rocks to keep thieves from rolling it away. Several groups had also gone back to their small sites, many of them cowboy camping under the stars. As I laid down for the night I wondered if they felt uneasy camping without a tent with our visitor so near. I was sure glad to have the protection of a few millimeters of fabric.
I set my alarm for 5:20, and got out of the tent to a bit of sun on the distant mountain tops. Walking around in the morning, it was cold but much more comfortable than the sunset wind. There we’re only a few people up, including one of the groups that had cowboy camped during the night. By 5:40, their site was packed, and they headed down the trail- pup in tow.
The group camp on the shore seemed undisturbed, and their dog was sitting outside the tent, watching over his human pack. I walked around for a while, taking photos of the calm lake and campers before heading back towards where I stashed the bear can. It was undisturbed as well, still nestled between the rocks.
I made tea and heated water for my oatmeal, stealing the sleeping bag liner to sit on the rocks overlooking the water. When the sun finally made its way high enough to fill the canyon, campers started stirring, making their meals, and packing up camp- we did the same.
We made our way back down the trail, not stopping until we hit our lunch-spot from the day prior. Reid jumped in again.
The long trail back to the car felt much longer than the way up. I surely had blacked out in thought on the way up, because next to none of it looked familiar. Reid had not stopped talking about Dutch Bros, and getting a frozen coffee on our drive out. It no doubt made the trail feel that much longer.
But as we saw the wilderness sign come into view, and eventually the untouched truck, we finished the contents of our bear can before sliding out of our dirt-dusted socks and into our Chacos. Driving away from the trail, right to the closest Dutch Bros.
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