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The Canyon Creek Trail has the Best of the Alps!

The Canyon Creek Trail has the best of the Trinity Alps Wilderness in California: splendid vistas, exquisite scenery, rugged granite peaks flanked by permanent snowfields, wildflowers, dramatic waterfalls, tumbling creeks, and sapphire blue lakes!

The Trinity Alps Wilderness In California!
The Trinity Alps Wilderness In California!, canyon creek trail

For the rest of your life, what if you could hike only in one mountain range, which would it be? The Trinity Alps! Few other mountain regions possess the wide range of diversity found in the Trinities, from glaciated granite peaks to low elevation, dense coastal forests and everything in between. Perhaps also is the best sampling of what makes this area so unique and so spectacular, but this is a popular trail by Trinity Alps standards, with good reason.

The Trinity Alps
The Trinity Alps, canyon creek trail

The Canyon Creek Trail is your best choice, if you can take only one trip into the Trinity Alps. It makes the Trinity Alps such a marvelous and unique place that provides at least a sample of most of the activities and sights. In the upper basin, Thompson Peak, highest of the Alps, soars in snow tipped splendor above the blue, deep waters of Canyon Creek Lakes.

Canyon Creek Lakes
Canyon Creek Lakes, canyon creek trail

Contorted little El Lake reflects permanent snowbanks on the north side of Sawtooth Mountain, higher up, in a side pocket of granite. Despite relatively low elevations (6,529 feet at El Lake to 5,606 feet at Lower Canyon Creek Lake), a relatively cold microclimate contributes an almost subalpine character to the basin and its lakes. Foxtail pines and weeping spruces appear here at lower altitudes.

Lower Canyon Creek Lake
Lower Canyon Creek Lake, canyon creek trail

You pass three notable sets of waterfalls and dozens of lesser ones, on the way up the easy Canyon Creek trail. Sugar pines, Jeffrey pines, red firs and white firs higher up give way to big leaf maples, dogwoods, madrones and oaks in the lower forests. Deer are most prevalent in the lush meadows and forests at about the midpoint, but you are apt to see them anywhere in the canyon.

Deer, canyon creek trail

Although they are not as plentiful here as in other parts of the Alps, you just might see a black bear on the trail too. A wide variety of wildflowers and birds greet you along the trail. Supports an excellent population of native rainbow trout, the lower reaches of Canyon Creek.

Black Bear
Black Bear, canyon creek trail

It is too idyllic to be true. As Yosemite Valley is to Yosemite National Park, Canyon Creek is to the Trinity Alps and has many of the same problems. Loving it to death are people. Camping around the lakes should be eliminated and access probably should be limited.

Try to keep your impact as light as possible and please camp below the lakes, when you make this trip, which you should, just as you should see Yosemite Valley at least once. You should purify all water and carry a stove, because of the heavy use. You won't see the midsummer wildflower displays but then the crowds thin out after Labor Day.

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley, canyon creek trail

Its lakes and Canyon Creek are still breathtakingly beautiful. Please don't wear out your welcome but don't miss them!

How to Get to Canyon Creek Trail

Eight miles west of Weaverville California and one mile east of the Canyon Creek bridge, Canyon Creek road turns north off Highway 299 in Junction City. The road is unsigned but paved.

The Canyon Creek Bridge
The Canyon Creek Bridge, canyon creek trail

A shortcut road forks left three miles west of Junction City before you get to the Junction City BLM campground, if you are traveling east on Highway 299 from Eureka/Arcata. Two and a half miles above Junction City, this paved unsigned road snakes over a ridge to intercept Canyon Creek road on the east side of the canyon.

Overlooking a number of rustic miners' shacks clinging precariously to the rocks below, sometimes steep and narrow pavement continues up the east side of the rugged canyon from this intersection. At Fisher Gulch 7.9 miles from Junction City, you cross to the west side of the creek and at a fork 1.4 miles farther up keep to the right.

Where the town of Dedrick once stood, a one lane bridge soon takes you back to the east bank and up to an open flat. After being abandoned during World War II, the land reverted to the federal government and little remains today to show where Dedrick was located primarily because none of its mining claims were patented.

You see where the 1987 fire burned on the hillside east of the road, just beyond Dedrick townsite. Burned only on the ground and has recovered very rapidly, most of the burn area you drive through between Dedrick and the end of the road. It will be hard to tell where the fire burned within a few years.

12.3 miles from Junction City, very pleasant and small undeveloped Ripstein campground is between Canyon Creek and the road. Untouched by the fire was the campground. At 13.8 miles the road ends in a turn around loop at the trailhead and pavement ends less than a mile beyond the campground.

Along the sides of the loop is ample parking. A sign, points east to little used Bear Creek trail and north to wide well used Canyon Creek trail, near a pit toilet off the northeast side of the loop.

Canyon Creek Trail to El Lake

There is a route marked by ducks and orange painted blazes but no real trail leads up the steep granite slopes between Upper Canyon Creek Lake and little El Lake in its secluded cirque. To where vertical granite blocks your way, walk north along the strip of grass and beach on the east side of Upper Canyon Creek Lake to find the route.

Upper Canyon Creek Lake
Upper Canyon Creek Lake, canyon creek trail

Behind a very poor campsite that should not be used, climb up a gully, turn northeast across the top of the first granite knob and marking the route south of some cliffs you should soon pick up ducks and orange blazes.

A poor, small campsite in the rocks where you first reach the shoreline of El Lake should not be used and is too close to the lake. Below the lake, look for better sites along the edge of the meadows.

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