Backpack to Grizzly Lake
California › China Gulch Trailhead
Added by TJ Orton
Backpacking to Grizzly Lake will take you to an absolutely jaw-dropping waterfall. Keep in mind that the scramble to the lake is challenging and the first two miles of the hike are pretty steep. The best season to hike this is June through October.
Grizzly Lake is in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The lake is know for its brilliant waterfall flowing from the lake's surface straight off the side of a cliff and roughly 600 feet down to the meadow below. Grizzly lake is located in some of America's most amazing and remote alpine wilderness, including Thompson Peak, the highest peak in the Trinity Alps, which hoovers above Grizzly lake.
From Oregon heading south: China Gulch trailhead is accessed from Hwy 3, which connects Yrecka and the I-5 to Weaverville and Hwy 299. From Yreka, head south for an hour and pass through Fort Jones and Etna. Past the town of Calahan, turn right on the road that goes to Cecilville. About 30 minutes later, just as you're entering Cecilville, turn left on a paved road to China Gulch. About three miles later the paved road turns to gravel and is marked as road 37N07. Follow this road another six miles to the China Gulch Trailhead. There is plenty of parking.
The newer, and now more common, route to Grizzly Lake involves a nearly seven-mile stretch on a steep trail through thick pines and beautiful alpine meadows. The trail often runs alongside the gin-clear Grizzly Creek, a haven for small brook trout.
About 5.7 miles into the hike, there is a nice meadow you can camp at before making the rocky climb, often called the Grizzly Scramble, to the lake. This saves the trouble of hauling a lot of gear up the epic scramble you're about to tackle. Enjoy a day of fly fishing at the incredible lake, then return to the meadow before dark. If you're feeling brave, it's amazing to camp at the lake on the side of the ledge over looking the entire valley down below. The view of the stars is amazing from up there.
The crystal-clear lake is loaded with colorful brook trout. Cast small woolly bugger flies for them. They can't resist!
Make sure to bring warm clothes since it gets chilly at night. Tie up your food in a tree while you sleep, since there are a lot of bears around. Be careful making the scramble to the top of the lake. You'll want to veer left as you get higher up and the trail disappears—it's less steep this way.
- Backpack (the lighter the better for this hike)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Fly Rod (and a California licensed required to fish)
- Good Hiking shoes
- Rope to tie up your food
- Lighter (fires are allowed here)
- Small towel (if you decide to go for a swim)
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Backpacking, Fishing, Hiking, Photography
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ReviewsLeave a Review
Can't beat a 14 mile roundtrip run with a 600 foot rock climb to a glacial lake!
Thanks for posting this, I just went last Monday! The trail's in great shape for being so remote, I don't know how all these people are getting lost. The climb up to the lake's a little scary, though just I climbed up the rocks adjacent to the waterfall. I'd recommend most people start cutting up over the left wall of the valley way back in the meadow to make it safe. The whole trip doesn't take very long at all if you're in great shape; the steepest part besides the near vertical climb is right at the beginning/end. Can't wait to go back next spring when the waterfall is raging!
Epic hike...but needs some trail work.
I just did this hike as an overnighter on 7/10-11, and it was as epic as this article describes. However, like Jenice Ray mentions, the trail needs quite a bit of TLC from the trailhead to the junction with the Hobo Gulch trail. This stretch of trail runs through a nasty old burn scar, and as a result, there are quite a few downed trees to climb and overgrown brush to fight through. The worst trouble spots I encountered were within 200-300 yards of the top of Hunters Camp summit heading down the south side of the ridge. Here there is a particularly tricky spot where the correct path veers slightly to the right and is obscured, but there is a false trail straight ahead that leads to nowhere. Lots of people have mistakenly taken this route, as evidenced by the footprints. Luckily I realized my mistake quickly and backtracked, but another group I ran into wasn't so lucky and bushwhacked the entire way down the 1000 foot ridge. This was the only spot that I really had any trouble navigating, and I put a couple cairns there that will hopefully help. Another spot farther down the hill, two large trees fell along the length of the trail, and there is a wide path around it that hikers have worn in. As long as you make your way back to the end of the tree trunk you'll find the original trail again. Once you get to the bottom of the valley it's smooth sailing, aside from the scramble.
Trail needs much work
Before you take this trip know that the trail is pretty bad. It looks like it hasn't been maintained since the day it was established. There are fallen trees every 10 yards it feels like. Right pass Hunter's Camp the trail is horrible. It's clear that many couldn't tell where the trail was so now there are several "trails". Many do not meet up with the actual trail. We made a grave mistake and became lost within a short time after Hunter's Camp. We turned around but it was too late. We took one of the non trails. We couldn't find the trail or any signs of it. We started to descend thinking we could easily find the switch backs below. We were wrong and paid for it being utterly lost in the Alps for 24 hours. After staying the night near a creek and bushwhacking for miles we spotted a huge pile of trees that looked like an old loggers pile. We bushwhacked to it and miraculously there was an over grown loggers road that led us back to a main road. It's easy to get lost in the Alps. For more then 12 hours we couldn't find a peak to find our bearings. It's a very thick forest, with bushes way taller then us. Please be aware of how fast things can go wrong, bring a gps and have several bearing points on your compass. Sorry for the one star. It's not meant for the original article or author but for the "keep on the trail" where there is little trail to follow in most spots. Stay alive mates. And be careful out there.
Grueling trip, but definitely worth it.
We had a fantastic trip up to Grizzly Lake and Falls. A couple things to know before you go... Make sure to check the Trinity Alps Wilderness trail report. About 2.5 miles before the trailhead the road was blocked from a slide and some cars w/o 4-wheel drive had to hike into the trailhead. The trail is overgrown just as you leave Hunter's camp on the way in. Make sure you look for the trail off to the right. It's well-trod, but hidden. If you're climbing over more than a tree or two, you've probably gone the wrong way. On the scramble up to the lake, just after you pass the series of tall cairns, hang a left and wrap around rather than going up the green area a little farther up that's steeper and slipperier. The trip is definitely worth the effort to get there. Make sure you jump in the lake!
Great place to be dropped by packers?
Because of my health I can no longer backpack. I always wanted to go to Grizzly Lake but I can't camp below and make that hike up to the lake day after day. Can any of you suggest a gorgeous, scenic lake that packers in the Coffee Creek area could drop us at. So we can camp close to the lake, view of mountains, some trees, good camp site, not too busy. I'd sure appreciate it!
My most favorite hike in the Trinity Alps. They hike is pretty steep the first couple of miles. A lot of switch backs but well worth it. The views from the lake and waterfall are unbelievable definitely a bucket list backpacking trip.
This is an incredible place. I started at the Hobo Gulch trailhead which made the loop 39.5 miles if you're looking for a longer trip. The track up to the falls was a little intimidating with my full pack on...until an Airedale puppy bounded past me with a backpack on...that made me want to be a little braver haha. Season depending watch out for rattlesnakes-they are present especially near water sources. The lake is insane and large enough to have a private space. Don't think about it just go on this trip!
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