Do you enjoy a challenge? Do you love beautiful scenery that seems to go on forever? If so, then the Canyon Creek Lakes Trail is for you. This trail is located in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The trailhead is just outside of Junction City, CA. The beginning of this trail is a little deceiving. You start by gradually hiking along a level to slightly downward sloping trail. After about a half a mile of this easy walk you must cross a small creek. If you are low on water, this is a great place to filter and fill up. There will not be another water source for some distance after this. Here is where the fun begins. Once across the creek you immediately start a pretty steep uphill climb. This first section is roughly a quarter of a mile in length and then levels out at the top of the ridge. From this point forward (nearly the next 8 miles) you will be slowly climbing up towards the Canyon Creek Lakes. Certain areas of the trail are nearly flat and you can pick up some speed. Other sections are quite steep and require climbing granite steps up the trail. You’ll be able to hear and occasionally see Canyon Creek some distance below the trail, although you won’t be able to access it until about mile 5. This area is known as The Lower Meadow, and there are several beautiful campsites along the shore of the creek.
If you are making this an overnight trip, I highly recommend camping in the lower or upper meadow area. There is direct access to water, flat land for tents, and easy access to the main trail. My girlfriend and I have hiked and camped along this trail twice in the last year. We were not able to make it to the actual lakes either time, unfortunately. The first trip we simply did not have enough time to make the hike the rest of the way up. This most recent time we were unable to make the final creek crossing at the base of the first lake. The summer heat had forced the snow melt into overdrive and crossing the creek was just too dangerous while we were there. Even though we were unsuccessful in reaching the lakes we still had an amazing time. The giant rock spires and jagged mountains that are visible the entire length of the trail make it less than boring. And the icy, crystal clear creek brings sore feet some welcome relief.
Not only do the mountains and creek offer beautiful sights, but there are numerous large waterfalls along the trail as well. Lower and Upper Canyon Creek Falls are both massive and were absolutely gushing when we were there last month. Standing next to these falls gives you an idea of just how small we really are. Laura and I spent a good hour at the lower falls taking pictures, refilling our water supply, and just taking in the sights. There are a couple of fantastic campsites right on the edge of these falls. The sites are probably the neatest campsites I’ve seen to date. The view of the waterfall when you wake up in the morning there must be mind-blowing!
If you are doing a multi-day trip I highly advise you to try and camp near one of the falls for a night if possible. The last couple of miles up to the lakes are pretty darn steep. There is a set of carved granite steps that take you the last quarter of a mile from the forest up onto a huge rocky plateau. This is where you can view the upper falls and look back down the long valley you’ve been hiking up the entire time. A short distance beyond this point is the creek crossing that will take you to the final climb up to Lower Canyon Creek Lake. Sadly, we have not made it past this point yet. This trail has defeated us twice, but I’m confident the third attempt will be successful!