Trinity Alps

I recently spent a week backpacking in the Trinity Alps. The Trinities are in northwest California, and while not quite as high as the Sierra Nevada -- Mt. Thompson tops out at 9002 feet -- they share the same granite and glaciated valleys as their more famous neighbors. A relatively cold microclimate allows for permanent snow fields and remnant glaciers despite the relatively low elevation.

I headed up Canyon Creek, with plans to explore Boulder Creek and the Forbidden Lakes, along with the Canyon Creek lakes themselves.

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Sawtooth Mountain, Trinity Alps photo

Sawtooth Mountain

Water is everywhere at this time of year. Here's Sawtooth Mountain reflected in a puddle.

Lower Falls, Trinity Alps photo

Lower Falls

The hike up the creek was quite hot, and like many backpackers I found respite in the swimming hole at the base of the Lower Falls. It's a great spot to have lunch and recharge, since it's about halfway up the canyon. The alpine water is extremely cold.

California Mountain Kingsnake, Trinity Alps photo

California Mountain Kingsnake

A California Mountain Kingsnake sunning in the rocks. They are strikingly beautiful, with bold red, white and black cross bands. The red bands are bordered on each side with black.

Camp, Trinity Alps photo


I made camp just across Canyon Creek, about a quarter mile down Boulder Creek trail. Despite being only a quarter mile off the main Canyon Creek trail -- which gets a lot of use -- there are relatively few visitors to the Boulder Creek watershed. Lots of day hikes are possible from here, both up Boulder Creek and to the Canyon Creek Lakes themselves.

Boulder Creek Lakes, Trinity Alps photo

Boulder Creek Lakes

On July 4th I hiked up to Boulder Creek Lakes, which are located in depressions in the granite, scooped out by glaciers. Despite being a holiday, I didn't see a soul all day.

Boulder Creek Lakes, Trinity Alps photo

Boulder Creek Lakes

Boulder Creek Lakes and surrounding area. This shot provides a good feel for the vast sheets of granite typical in the Trinity Alps high country.

Forbidden Lakes, Trinity Alps photo

Forbidden Lakes

Around noon I continued heading up the mountain to the Forbidden Lakes, which are in a cirque at the head of a glacial valley. There isn't a trail up to Forbidden Lakes, but occasional cairns and ducks point the way through the granite fields. The surrounding jagged peaks and gentle breeze combine to make a great lunch spot.

Upper Falls Cascade, Trinity Alps photo

Upper Falls Cascade

On Thursday, I hiked up to the Canyon Creek Lakes, which are set in the head end of Canyon Creek valley. Here's part of the Upper Falls cascade, just below the lower lake.

Lower Lake, Trinity Alps photo

Lower Lake

Lower Lake, looking NW from the outlet.

Thompson Peak, Trinity Alps photo

Thompson Peak

Upper Lake, with Thompson Peak in the center and wedding cake to the left.

Fracture Plane, Trinity Alps photo

Fracture Plane

A fracture plane (other fracture planes visible in the stone) caused this granite peak to cleave in half, spilling huge boulders down the mountainside. Similar faulting created "The Sinks" down canyon, where the creek temporarily disappears under a granite rubble field.

Canyon Creek Lakes, Trinity Alps photo

Canyon Creek Lakes

I took a side trip up to El Lake, which is located above Canyon Creek lakes, in the north shadow of Sawtooth Mountain. Here's the view of the Canyon Creek Lakes from the El Lake trail.

Trinity Alps photo
Outlet of Upper Lake, Trinity Alps photo

Outlet of Upper Lake

Miners built a wood timbered dam here and raised the level of the Upper Lake 6-8 feet. The dam is long gone; however, you can still see the high water "bathtub ring" around the granite bowl of the lake (visible in other photos).

Granite Slot, Trinity Alps photo

Granite Slot

Canyon Creek alternates from wide and lazy runs through forested flats, to fast runs through narrow granite slots.

Middle Falls, Trinity Alps photo

Middle Falls

I was camped at the top of Middle Falls, which is a long series of cascades over massive granite shelves. Overall, it falls about 200 feet in slightly over 1/10 mile.

To understand the scale of the scene, notice that the trees visible in the upper left are probably in the 50 to 70 foot range. The wood scattered in the falls are logs washed downstream during the spring flood.