Backcountry Camp in the Canyon Creek Drainage

Rate this Adventure Canyon Creek Lakes Trailhead

Travel off trail into the heart of the Trinity Alps, where you can sleep beneath towering jagged peaks, polished granite cirques, thunderous waterfalls, and crystalline alpine lakes.

The first half of the Canyon Creek Drainage is one of the most popular destinations within the Trinity Alps, but the second half goes largely unexplored and uninhabited by sojourners. Four peaks – Thompson Peak, Wedding Cake, Mt. Hilton, and Sawtooth Peak – surround the basin and offer adventurers some spicy off-trail scrambling. The drainage opens into three lake basins, including the always-popular and accessible Canyon Creek Lakes, which is where this adventure begins.

Follow the route description for the Canyon Creek Lakes, where you’ll follow an easy, undulating 8-mile trail. Most people opt to camp in the upper canyon near the two lakes described in this adventure, which leaves the rest of the basin open for explorers willing to travel off the beaten path.

From the main Canyon Creek trail, your backcountry camping options are limitless, but I’d recommend searching the following areas to start.

McKay Camp

2.5 miles from the trailhead, follow a short spur to the west (on your left) that leads you to a small island in Canyon Creek named McKay Camp. Cross a log bridge to access this first good campsite along the main trail.

The Sinks

Follow directions to McKay Camp and travel a short distance upstream to a rockslide area covering the creek. In late season when the water is low, Canyon Creek may disappear completely under The Sinks. Throw up your tarp or sleep under the stars, weather depending.

El Lake and Kalmia Lakes

After traveling the 8 miles to the Upper Canyon Creek Lake, you’ll reach the upper part of the drainage that is seldom explored. Continue around the east side of the lake where the trail ends and head northeast to find El Lake, and further on, Kalmia Lake. Set up camp along their shores and soak up the solitude.

Upper Canyon Creek Falls

There is some discrepancy between the naming of each of Canyon Creek’s distinctive cataracts, of which it’s so well-known and well-traveled for. In any case, if you travel about a mile north of the Upper Canyon Creek Lake further into the drainage, you’ll find a truly stunning waterfall that drops into a very swimmable alpine pool. There are some great trees for hanging a hammock here, and plenty of flat spots to pitch a tent as well.

Rest assured that just outside of this crowded trail, you’ll be able to find solitude and wilderness within the greater Canyon Creek Drainage. 

Pack List

  • Wilderness permit (obtained from Ranger Station)
  • Topo map, compass, GPS device
  • Bear canister
  • Shelter of choice: Tent, tarp, hammock, bivy, or sleep out under the stars with a pad and bag.
  • Stove, fuel, and plenty of food
  • Sun protection, weather and wind protection
  • Water filter
  • Trekking poles if desired
Show More
RT Distance 9 Miles
Elevation Gain 2600 Feet
Activities Camping, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Family Friendly
Forest
Groups
Lake
River
Romantic
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole

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