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Grizzly Lake via China Gulch Trailhead

Forks of Salmon, California

based on 10 reviews



14.6 miles

Elevation Gain

5112 ft

Route Type



Added by TJ Orton

Backpacking to Grizzly Lake via China Gulch Trailhead 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.

Getting There

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 Trail

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.

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Grizzly Lake via China Gulch Trailhead Reviews

Grizzly Lake & the meadow are truly wonderful places! I loved our time there, the views are majestic. I wish I had stayed another night. The actual/factual As previously mentioned this hike is TOUGH! The first 1/4-1/2 mile is deceptively easy. There is a great deal of fire damage, leaving the next 1.7 miles uphill, mostly unshaded and much of the following 2 miles (steep decline) also unshaded. I would advise getting an early start. There are dozens of downed threes in the path, that you’ll either need to climb over or around - because of the steep grade, this can be pretty scary. Another very pertinent point …. If you have bad knees, I would rethink this hike or plan on it being 2days in and 2 days out. It’s not the distance that makes it difficult it’s the steep inclines with little to no break. There is probably less than a mile of “flat or gentle” ground in the entire hike. At the bottom of the hill you’ll turn left to go to Grizzly Lake, this next 2-3 miles is much less difficult & will let you into a wonderful meadow, it was full of beautiful wildflowers & birds, we saw a few bald eagles! It was amazing 😍 I was so exhausted that we camped our first night in the meadow. The hike to that point took us an abnormally long time. We did get turned around and lost for about an hour at a downed tree walk around we lost the path. Some maintenance is sorely overdue. Which brings me to the scramble. Yikes! We were fortunate to have two very experienced members of our group come back to take our packs up! I enjoyed the way up much more than the down (again with the knees). Actually if we ever did it again, I would plan to sleep in the meadow 1-2nights and up at the lake two nights. We still had a great time- I just found it tremendously difficult. For perspective though I’m 30+ lbs overweight and 3 weeks post op from a laparoscopic abdominal surgery. However, even though we are both a little fluffy- my husband and I do use our peloton bike regularly and walk 3-4 miles3x a week so we we’re surprised at the intensity of difficulty. Much of our group were teenage athletes and they were rockstars, two other sets of parents also did a great job, and didn’t have the degree of struggle I did. We were fortunate to have such amazing friends looking out for us. While this hike isn’t for the faint of heart, it will leave your heart full of gratitude and amazement for the beauty around us - if we’re brave enough to find it.

I set up camp by the waterfalls below the Grizzly Creek Meadow - perfect for taking a day bag and scaling the cliffs up the falls to feel footloose upon finally cuddling up to the cirque!

This hike is not for the beginner! Starts out mild for about a 1/4 or so mile but becomes quite tough. Switchback up for a while then down again through brush for a ways then you hit a noticeable trail again. I think the hardest part about this trail for me was the constant up and then constant down. Was murder on my toes. Ended up loosing a few toenails. Ended up buying better shoes because of it. But that being said, Its beautiful country and well worth the hard work. Definitely not a hike to do in a few days. You want to give yourself some time to enjoy all the nature and scenery. I will definitely do this hike again (better shoes) and stay even longer!

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.

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.

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!

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