Looking Back at the Trinity Alps

Title Text: Shelter in the Greatest Place laid over a photo of Rachel standing beside a river among the tall grass on a backpacking trip in the Trinity Alps.

Rachel Leung shares one of her favorite backpacking trips to Lake Shasta. Don't forget to add this to your bucket list for post-shelter-in-place adventures!

When you think of backpacking in California, you automatically conjure those iconic views of Yosemite. If you’ve packed on your back before and seen the sights, then maybe your mind goes further north to Desolation Wilderness. While both are stunning destinations, I’ve already cut them from my plans knowing I probably won’t be visiting either this summer. Due to their outstanding and well-earned popularity, they’ll probably be closed or regulated for some time. 

I’m itchin' to hit the trail and not really eager to wait so I’ve been pondering some smaller, less visited locations with equally grand adventures (with the right attitude). At the end of the day, backpacking isn’t about where you go, it’s about the adventure along the way!

As I think about these ‘overlooked destinations’ I’m brought back to my first trip to the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Nestled between Six Rivers and Shasta National Forest, this patch of wilderness wonderland was the perfect opportunity to change up our regular backpacking destination. Why here, you ask? There are tons of forests, open lands and wilderness-es along the way, but why here? 

The answer is simple - to lay your eyes on the mysterious and potentially active volcano that is Mount Shasta!  At an elevation about 14,000 feet, it’s one of the five highest peaks in California (hey, we see you Mt. Whitney). While perusing the map of California I was brought back to my childhood and the many family trips we took to Lake Shasta. We rented a patio boat, assaulted our cousins with water guns and had the time of our lives! In all the fun and excitement, I never got a chance to see one of the tallest peaks in the state. It was time.

I was determined to see something familiar and yet new. It wasn’t about how hard the trek was, it was about enjoying the experience. We chose a place called Deadfall lakes, an easy hike in but adjacent to a steep and gorgeous day hike to Mount Eddy, the highest peak in the Trinity Alps with the best dang view of Shasta! A little something easy with a little difficulty sprinkled on top, just my style.

When we arrived at the station to grab our permit there was zero wait and a number of dogs! Yay! The rangers told us most people roll through any time of day and are almost guaranteed a permit. No waking up early to be first in line for permits? YES, what an incredible success with no effort. From the station we could already see the frosty white tip of Mount Shasta and inhale the faint smell of burning wood..

Now if you don’t know already, we’re in fire county. Go too late in the summer and unfortunately there’s a chance you’ll be hiking downwind from a local fire. We were debating if we should turn back. Who wants to hike right into the smokey abyss? We caught that little whiff of smoke all the way to the trailhead, but as soon as we got out of the car things changed. The winds shifted, the air cleared and we took our opportunity to get to camp. We were incredibly lucky - we never smelled smoke again. 

We made camp the correct distance from Deadfall Lake (it’s 200 feet) and only saw 1 other group. Almost perfect! Honestly, I was a little worried there wouldn’t be enough to see or do on this trip but we found ourselves constantly enveloped by the wonders of nature; whether it be a softball sized dandelion, the granite sandwiched sediments, lakeside pitcher plants or an old fire pit creating a new home for blue winged baby moths. Not anticipating a ton of breathtaking Yosemite-esque sights, we took our focus to the terrain, the skies, the animals and the plants. Bringing our attention solely to nature transformed the trip into something beyond our expectation. 

A dandelion the size of a softball

Trinity Alps area has such an array of flowers and plants we’d never seen before. We climbed peaks and welcomed new perspectives of our amazing home state, reminding us we have an unprecedented amount of beauty and so many choices to travel within a day’s drive. Yes, we have so much love for Yosemite and Desolation, but the change of location really gave us a chance to appreciate just how grand our California landscape is. We are so lucky to have such biodiversity in our own backyard. Motivated by our first trip to “just go somewhere”, we went back to Trinity Alps the following year. 

If you can only do so many trips in your lifetime, don’t just focus on the biggest sights and the most popular places. Your list will never end. It’ll be exactly the same as everyone else’s, including every backpacking article you’ve ever read. Do the trips that mean the most to you. Start with a place you’ve been to before and branch out from there. No, I didn’t go back to Lake Shasta proper, but the vivid memories stuck with me and it inspired us to adventure on to places we would have never discovered if we never looked back to enjoy the precious moments we’ve already had.

You’ll live even if you don’t get to Yosemite this year. You might even thrive! 

Rachel overlooking a view of Mt. Shasta


  • AB says...

    Yes, I have the same question as David. Have less time to be out these days and would love some ideas on overnighters. Love it!!! Thanks!

    On August 14, 2020
  • David Schwartz says...

    Loved your write-up. Do you have any resources for planning a short backpack in the Trinity Alps?

    On August 14, 2020

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