Canyon Creek Lakes and L Lake (Backpacking)

OutAndBack • 16.5 mi • 4260 ft

A hiking companion posed this question on a recent trip, “What if you could hike only in one mountain range for the rest of your life, which would it be?” After careful thought, I firmly responded, “The Trinity Alps!” From dense, low-elevation coastal forests to glaciated granite peaks and everything in between, few other mountain regions possess the wide range of diversity found in the Trinities. The Canyon Creek Trail takes backpackers into the best of the Alps: sapphire-blue lakes, tumbling creeks, dramatic waterfalls, wildflowers, rugged granite peaks flanked by permanent snowfields, exquisite scenery, and splendid vistas are all here in abundance. Beyond the backpacking, peak-baggers, amateur naturalists, anglers, rock climbers, and cross-country enthusiasts will find diversions aplenty in the heart of the range. This is a popular trail by Trinity Alps standards—with good reason—but perhaps also is the best sampling of what makes this area so spectacular and so unique.
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Activity Type: Hiking
Nearby City: Weaverville
Length: 16.5 total miles
Elevation Gain: 4,260 feet
Trail Type: Out-and-back
Skill Level: Moderately strenuous
Duration: 2 days
Season: Summer through early fall
Local Contacts: Trinity National Forest - permit required
Local Maps: USGS 7.5-min. Mt. Hilton;
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The view was beautiful, but the weather did not cooperate. Too cold in October, but I will go back next summer to enjoy this great hike.


This trip gets 5 stars, but ONLY if you set aside a day to explore the Miter Basin lakes and peaks!!! At the north side of Rock Creek Lake, on the east side of the creek, there is a trail (not on the maps) that intersects the main trail. Take this trail northward. It eventually crosses over to the west side of the creek, past beautiful meadows, through awesome peaks, and into the Miter Basin. With some scrambling, you can venture up to Sky Blue Lake, Primrose Lake, or others. Leave your packs back at camp and spend a full day here! Temps at this time of year were around 100 in Lone Pine, but at the altitude of the trial we had perfect temps in the 60's daytime and frost on the ground at night. Our trip: Day 1 - Planned to hike to High Lake, but only made it to Cottonwood Lake #2 because of a storm. Days 2&3 - up and over New Army Pass and down to camp for 2 days at the Rock Creek Lake and our side trip into Miter Basin. Rock Creek Lake was beautiful, but if I could do it over again, I'd probably try Soldier Lakes instead. Space is limited at Rock Creek and it was crowded. Mosquitos were insane but not a real problem if you're equipped with good repellant. If you do camp down here, be prepared for an extra 1 mile of fairly steep uphill climb to get you back on the main trail. Day 4 - Onward to Chicken Spring Lake where we spent the night. I wasn't impressed with this lake. Evidence of illegal wood fires was everywhere along with trash and limbs hacked off of live trees for firewood - very disappointing! It does provide a place to stop if you want to shorten your hike and spend an extra day out, but don't go here for beauty or solitude. Day 5 - lots of switchbacks down, and a very sandy hike back to horseshoe meadow. The Cottonwood Lakes and New Army Pass were by far the best part of this trip. All-in-all a beautiful trip, but as I said you MUST visit Miter Basin!


Foolish to attempt this in November. No snow, but it was absolutely freezing at 12,000 ft at night. The trail is easygoing to begin with, and we had hoped to bag Langley, but it was just too cold to continue. Best attempt this in summertime (we tried the follow late May and awoke to white out snow storm). Be sure to spend night at trailhead to acclimate to altitude. Still, what we saw halfway through was beautiful and pristine and remote (since no one else in their right mind was backpacking here at these times).


This was my first foray into the High Sierra and a fine one it was! Two huge advantages to this area in August. First, the weather was perfect. Simply magnificent every step of teh way! Second, I didn't use repellant (nor did anyone else in the 4 person group) and I didn't get a single mosquito bite! The trails were immaculate. The lower areas had sand which is a bummer going uphill, but it was very smooth and well maintained. The 2nd 1/2 of this trip isn't nearly as spectacular as the first. Chicken Spring Lake is nice, but isn't even close to the Cottonwood area. Spend a day or more day-hiking. Miter Basin is truly spectacular although nothing is growing there. Highly recommended! Rangers spent a lot of time talking about bears, but I didn't even see any bear sign the entire time. I'm sure they are around, but by August, they may be lower where there is more food. WATCH OUT FOR THE ALTITUDE!!! This can't be stressed enough. Spend a day or two at elevation prior to starting or plan VERY short days until you are used to it. One of the four of us was pretty much debilitated by the altitude. Enjoy! Wayne


Wow! There was 5 of us that did this trip in 3 days. We went backwards on this trail (started Horseshoe Meadow through Cottonwood Pass and ended at Cottonwood Lakes). The first day we pushed hard(~9miles), as we wanted to get as close to New Army Pass as possible. Just a note, when you first started off at Horseshoe Meadow, the first junction, be sure to make a RIGHT. Do NOT walk through the meadow (as we did and later found out we went the wrong direction). Getting past Cottonwood Pass wasn''''t all that hard, and we stopped at Chicken Spring Lake for lunch as well as a much needed rest. After lunch, we continued on the trail and camped near the junction of Siberian Pass Trail and Cottonwood Lake Trail. There was a stream nearby for water, and it was a great campsite! Great solitude on this portion of the trail.. we only saw about 3 other people, and that was near the beginning of the trail! No one else was at the campsite.. We camped here to get ready for New Army Pass. New Army Pass was grueling (for me), but just keep going and you''''ll eventually make it to the top. The views up there are AWESOME! Going up, there was no snow blocking our way and was a "easy" hike up. We rested on top of New Army Pass for a good 30 minutes or so, and started our way down. Going down, there was snow on a small portion, but it was easy enough to get down with trekking poles (a few of our members did not even have trekking poles and made it down with no problems). We made our way through High Lake and decided to rest there for a few minutes. Make sure to stop by, as there are many Golden Trouts swimming at the shallow ends of the lake. We pushed on and camped at Long Lake the second night. The campsite was right off the trail, and there were quite a few people camping there that night. all in all, this was a great trip. everyone who went ranked this trail among their top trails due to the variety of scenery you get to see.


This was an EPIC alpine lake trip in the High Eastern Sierras! We pushed hard, but thoroughly enjoyed it over 3 days and 2 nights. Unlike the book, we did the trail counter-clockwise (start: Horseshoe Meadow, end: Cottonwood Lakes TH) to save the Lakes for the end. DAY 1: Starting from Horseshoe Meadow, gradual ascent up to Cottonwood Pass. We passed Chicken Spring Lake (good campsites) and were now on PCT. The views to the west of the meadows (Big Whitney Meadow, Siberian Outpost) and Kern Canyon area were spectacular! We could see sharp peaks of Sequoia National Park! We pushed on and camped at Soldier Lakes. DAY 2: Packless we scrambled up a steep ravine on north end of the lake to enter Miter Basin – it was unbelievable! To the west was Joe Devel Peak, Mt. Pickering and to the east was Mount Langley, Mount Corcoran, etc. The traverse up the basin through tall grass was fun as we watched Golden Trout in the creek. The final ascent up to Sky Blue Lake (11,924 ft) was a rewarding with great views of all the dramatic peaks. Packed up camp, we headed over the long climb up New Army Pass. It was well worth it at the pass with perfect views of High Lake, Long Lake and South Fork Lakes, along with surrounding cliffs, rock walls, and the back side of Cirque Peak. It was truly a moment we will never forget! We headed down to the lakes region. The walk around Long Lake was nice (great campsite spot), but we continued on pass Lake 2 and camped just along Lake 1. It was very cold (20-30 F) our second night with strong winds kept us up most of the night. DAY 3: We did another scramble, this time we went up and around ‘the’ Cottonwood Lakes. The meadows was enjoyable and we saw several great campsites along long Lake 3. We then hiked up to Lakes 4 and 5, which provided excellent views of the lakes below. We packed up camp and headed down Cottonwood Lake Trail to the parking lot. It was truly an epic trip. And, only 3 hrs from LA and 6 hrs from SF! Enjoy!


This was an EPIC alpine hike - period! Hard to think how you can pack in more in a good 3 day hike. I did this hike with my buddy Rob (see full details below). This hike offered a real diversity of terrain and views and is a good distance for both experienced and not-so experienced backpakers (as myself). You can easily get away with only 8 miles a day with the pack and still do the circuit in 3 days. The elevation gains are not so hard, but the altitutde (up to 12,400 ft) will make you go at a slower than normal pace on up-hills. However every uphill is rewarded with amazing views. Good idea to drive up to Lone Pine and aclimatize before heading out on the hike. Additionally, there are several basins you can jut off into sans pack which makes for great exploring on the side. For those coming from the SF area like myself, it is well worth making the extra effort to drive down to the Eastern Sierras! Enjoy!


This trip is a total winner. I''d definitely recommend taking Army Pass (and not New Army Pass) to tackle Mt Langley - maps don''t show the trail up Army Pass, but it''s an easy-to-find continuation of switchbacks from the head of Lake 4 of Cottonwood Lakes, and the views from the top back over the Lakes are stunning - beware - you may find it so beautiful in the Lakes you''ll want to stay an extra couple of days (another trip we did here later September, it snowed 6 inches overnight - amazing blue skies and winter wonderland views the next day - deer around as well). Mt Langley is well worth the effort (one of CA''s 14,000 footers at 14,026'') as the views from the top are superb, especially of Whitney - not technical - a bit of bouldering about 100 feet below the summit - no main trail, just follow the various scree trails up and over. And the side route to Siberian Pass is well worth the effort - do note that if you do the Siberian Pass loop, there''s no water after Big Whitney Meadow til you reach Rock Creek (streams are marked on maps north of Siberian Pass before you connect with the PCT, but are all dry!). If you''re traveling to Rock Creek between June and end of October, make sure you visit the Ranger''s station (way back in the woods!) and chat with Erica and husband Dave - great couple with a real passion for the region. And when camping at Rock Creek, there''s a bear box further up the trail, which you can miss if you camp at the first clearing by Rock Creek - check out the very high, wide and deep bear scratch marks on some of the trees at the campsite to appreciate the box and your own bear cache. And as you''re just below 10,000'', you can light a fire - do use the existing rock surround at the first clearing. All-in-all, a highly recommended trip!

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