Beginnings are always awkward. They are full of anxiety and missteps and interruption and awkward silence. Recall the last time you were in a group setting. Remember the moment everyone went to the bathroom except Karen and yourself? We all know Karen, but we don't know her. And it's a little weird because we start talking about the weather, her bedroom fetishes, and then athlete's foot. It's a lot for our first conversation and a train wreck in the making. However, I buckle in because she's quite peculiar and I'm intrigued.
That's where I feel we're at in our relationship, but in this case I'm Karen and you're me. I've never considered myself a writer and I almost sure you've never read this before. There will be WTF moments and questionable images. I can safely predict a myriad typos and unevolving storylines. At the end of the day, I can't guarantee the gold standard in literature or entertainment, but I can promise you imperfection and a cheap thrill.
So here we are, two newbies doing new things together. How neat is that?
CANYON CREEK LAKES TRAIL
DATES HIKED: August 27-30
LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Northern Wintu & Tsnungwe
MILES: AllTrails says 16.7, but I logged 22
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,969 ft.
TRAIL TYPE: Out & back
PERMIT: Wilderness permit required, but easy to procure at Ranger Station
DOG FRIENDLY: Yes
By this point in my journey with Queen Mother Nature I've learned that there's always more to learn. It doesn't matter your experience, the lessons learned while sleeping under the stars are vast and plentiful.
Click here for my complete outdoor gear guide
This probably comes as a shocker, but the Canyon Creek Lakes Trail is wise beyond its years and was offering up a master class in outdoor preparation. Before I dive into my struggles, I must confess it was my first time hiking in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and I was happy as a clam. Mind you this was August 2020 and the world seemed to be imploding every other day. Wildfires. Coronavirus. Racial injustices [injustices being a severe understatement]. Oh and don't forget Chadwick Boseman died. Obvi a little outdoor therapy was desperately needed. I was tickled pink to be headed into the trees again, but was I thinking straight? Absolutely not!
Early Arrivals & McCloud Falls
It was supposed to be easy. The plan was to arrive a day early, collect our wilderness permits, and get an early start on the trail the following morning. Actually, I was off to a great start. I arrived early enough to take a quick nap at the hotel before leaving to grab the wilderness permits. The weather was just about perfect. My car windows were rolled down and the intoxicating sweet scent of the Sierras was slapping me in the face. Before I knew it I was on a mission to the absolutely majestic McCloud Falls.
The falls are remarkably stunning. Breathtaking even. There are three falls in total: upper, middle, and lower falls. It's recommended that you start at the lower falls and make your way to the middle falls, a relatively flat 0.7 miles away. Locating the trailhead and the McCloud River couldn't have been easier. Its commanding roar could be felt in your bones. Massive tree trunks were tossed around and splintered like cheap matches. Like a chiseled specimen on the beach, evidence of the McCloud River's power was abundant and I was mesmerized. Unfortunately, time wasn't on my side and the sun had begun to set. It was time to return to the hotel and rest up for the main event: Canyon Creek Lakes.
Dot the I's & Cross the T's
But before we get there, I have something to confess. In most circumstances, I consider myself a good planner and generally prepared for my outdoor endeavors. My packing routine involves making a list and checking it twice. I study the weather forecast and satellite images to ensure I'm prepared. The entire performance is a thorough exercise of dotting the I's and crossing the T's. Except for this time.
I goofed. The Canyon Creek Lakes trailhead is near Junction City, CA. The hotel I booked was in Mt. Shasta, CA. Door to trailhead it's about a 2.5-hour drive in the opposite direction. It was a little unnecessary. There were plenty of hotel options within a short radius of the trail. I simply wasn't paying attention. So much for arriving early to be closer to the trailhead.
Moral of the story: the delay did me no favors. After all, it was August and the afternoon temperatures had a reputation for being unforgiving. This particular day was no exception. The Canyon Creek Lakes Trail offers hikers almost 3,000 ft. of elevation gain that proved to be challenging due to a combination of screaming thighs and the relentless sun. It hurt, but a good hurt.
It was all uphill from there, literally. From the parking lot to the first waterfall, to the initial false peak, and finally to the lower lake, the views along the Canyon Creek Lakes trail were breathtaking. The trail can be completed as a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip. Frankly, I would recommend the latter if you don't like being rushed or want to avoid hiking at night. We made two nights out of the trip and enjoyed basking in the tranquil wilderness.
Like the namesake, the trail runs parallel to Canyon Creek. This makes it incredibly convenient to fill up your water whenever you need. We made several stops along the way for refills since it temperature got pretty warm. One of those stops was at the Canyon Creek Waterfall. If you have the time, this is a must! At just a little over 4 miles from the trailhead, the waterfall makes for a great spot to stop for a bite. The water is refreshingly crisp, stunningly clear, and overall inviting. We stripped down to our skivvies and dove right in!
We would occasionally pass other people, but for the most part, the trail was empty. AllTrails considers the trail heavily traffic, but personally I'd give it a 6.5/10 on the traffic spectrum. Although that could be due to our timing. We began our ascent later in the day, but our timing rounded out the tail end of an early string of wildfires across the state. The area was safe, but is was a skosh smokey. Luckily, the little bit of residue nastiness quickly lifted and shifted higher than the ceiling up on out of there and we had blue skies in no time.
After a many false summits, we reached the lower Canyon Creek Lake. Surrounded by the jaw dropping granite slabs of Wedding Cake and Sawtooth Mountains, I knew in that moment I was in the exact place I was supposed to be! The peaks' reflection danced on the surface of the lake as if it was hypnotized by the hum of the wind or an occasional fish. It was a privilege to call this home for the next two nights.
The next day started slower than the first. In part due to sore body parts and a foggy brain, but also because the nearby falls played the perfect melody for a good read and cozy nap. The weather was prime and Apollo took advantage of all his chances to get in the water. I also took m, personally I found it a bit chilly.
We spent the afternoon exploring the upper lake. The trail continues behind the second lake and further into the wilderness. Unfortunately, we were unable to find an easy route and ultimately forced to turn back midway. Nonetheless, just when you thought the views couldn't get any better Queen Mother Nature upped the ante.
We managed our way back to camp just before sundown. As the day said its goodbyes the full moon rose above saw tooth mountain to the east and I wondered, "is this real life." Sure enough it was and I needed to pump some water to start some dinner. For most occasions I stick with freeze dried meals when backpacking. They're lightweight, easy to make, and surprisingly delicious. Also, don't forget to pack a lightweight jacket. The temperatures in the high Sierras can drastically drop after the sun sets and I hate being cold.
Wrap It Up
This hike isn't for the faint of heart, man or man's best friend. It's a grueling ascent, but each step brought me closer to leveling up and accessing limitless rewards. I'm not talking about a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but rather a stillness that calms the soul centers the mind, and cleanses the heart. A stillness in which each breath is felt a little bit deeper than the one before.
At the end of this trail, I was radiant and felt nearly unstoppable. I couldn't be more proud of myself! Realistically my micro accomplishment of traversing the Canyon Creek Lakes Trail isn't groundbreaking. However it is a small reminder that by showing up, embracing the unexpected, and consistently putting my best foot forward there's nothing I can't do!
Favorite gear for this trip