CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Bear Lakes Trailhead

My goal was to find Wee Bear and Little Bear Lakes on this my third trip on the Bear Creek Trail. These are both off-trail lakes requiring navigation and bouldering skills.

With nearby wildfires, smoke had been problematic. I’d saved a few shorter distance trails for times when I could exit quickly if conditions changed. After a week of horrific air quality, we had a couple days with improvement and indications wind would be in my favor. Checking Purple Air and Air Now sites have become a morning routine during fire season.

Big Bear Lake

In this summer of 2020, the Trinity Alps saw unprecedented visitation levels. I was concerned and had several alternative plans if I found a full trailhead. Thankfully on this day, luck was on my side. No cars and I only met two day hikers on my first day of this three day trip.

This has become my summer of swimming. I had plenty of time to indulge after this 4.5 mile 2,800′ elevation gain hike especially since I had the lake to myself for the afternoon and evening. Lucky me! Little Bear Lake can be accessed via the gap shown in the below photo, but it’s not the recommended way. I wandered part way around the lake and quickly found myself blocked by brush that I wasn’t willing to fight my way through.

There are plenty of places to wander around and above the lake. In fact the granite benches host the majority of campsites, including views of Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy. It was a great place to watch sunset and sunrise. Catching alpenglow is one of my favorite reasons to camp.

Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy visible from the benches above Big Bear Lake. The granite mountain to the right is the scramble to Wee and Little Bear Lakes.

Wee and Little Bear Lakes

The trail shown in the below photo is from Big Bear Lake and provides one starting point to the off-trail lakes. There is also a cairn on the main trail below Big Bear Lake. Basically you want to angle your way up this rock face. You’ll find cairns marking a variety of routes. There is no right way, as I say, “pick your poison.” One of my resource guidebooks says “the goal is to bisect the top of the ridge at approximately the midpoint near some dead trees.”

There are a few campsites near the junction with water available from the Big Bear Lake outflow creek. The books indicate this is an EASY scramble. For some it might be, I found it fairly challenging.

This is the mountain you’re traversing. I’ll take granite boulders and slabs over scree any day. While you’ll find cairns dropping you down lower you want to avoid the brush. I stayed high on my way to the lakes and a little lower on my exit. I found the high route much more forgiving as the lower you go the steeper the slabs.

This photo shows the notch you want to reach and why you want to find the mid sweet point so you don’t waste energy going too high or too low.

This is an example of the steep slabs best to avoid, which can be easily done if you stay higher.

On the way back I followed cairns which dropped me lower. I found myself working a lot harder on this mid route.

Wee Bear Lake is more a pond than a lake but it’s very photogenic.

Little Bear Lake is a much superior swimming lake to Big Bear with slabs for diving platforms and debris free exit.

It took me about an hour to reach Little Bear Lake from Big Bear. After a few hours of swimming and relaxing I was inspired to see if I could ascend the ridge separating the lakes.

Although there is a trail traversing the lake, once again I quickly got stopped by thick brush so I backtracked and found another way which included this view of Wee Bear Lake, Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy.

These ramps made for a gentle ascent.

Success! There’s 28-acre Big Bear Lake, depth 73 feet.

Looking down at Little Bear Lake.

The lower ridge in this photo is the unnamed peak you traverse around between Big and Little Bear Lakes.

First kiss of sun on the peaks surrounding Little Bear Lake.

Morning reflections on Little Bear Lake.

The jagged spires surrounding the Bear Lakes are a recognizable sight in much of the Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness areas. It was so nice to see blue sky after a couple weeks of smoky skies.

Bear Creek signals the return to the main hiking trail.

I enjoyed a few late blooms along the trail like this fire weed.

Possibly Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris).

Red Columbine

There was indication summer was ending and soon fall would take center stage.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 31 – September 2, 2020

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • This can be a busy trail. If the trailhead is full you might want to consider other options especially if you want to camp.
  • In late August, nights were pretty warm. I was glad I’d brought my new summer quilt (link).
  • Always pack first-aid supplies. This was a bleeder. It wasn’t very deep but it bled for 3-4 days.
  • Do your part and pack out what others may have left behind. I walked past this hat several times before I noticed it. I also carried out a bag of used toilet paper, two fishing rod tips, a GSI cooking pot lid, and one sandal plus some micro trash. It’s the right thing to do!
  • I was glad to have my headnet as there were face flies at lower elevation. I met some hikers on their way in as I was exiting and they were very jealous.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.

2 thoughts on “CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Bear Lakes Trailhead

  1. Such a nice post Jan! And, as always, I love the flower photos. I’m glad you were able to find some smoke-free hiking locations that haven’t been impacted by the fires. My heart breaks for the people, forests, and animals in the west. The hazy smokey skies here in the east have been daily reminders of the ongoing tragedy. I hope you can continue to get outside and find places to hike that are safe.

    • It’s crazy to think how far smoke blows. I’m grateful that the Trinities haven’t been as unpacked as previous years although we have two fires currently, one human caused. We had a couple weeks of dismal air quality but we are now enjoying a break from toxic to unhealthy or moderate AQI.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Broken Links? I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s