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.
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.
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.
- August 31 – September 2, 2020
- 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.
- USFS – Shasta Trinity National Forest, Trinity Alps
- Map – USFS Trinity Alps Wilderness
- Trinity Alps & Vicinity: Including Whiskeytown, Russian Wilderness, and Castle Crags Areas: A Hiking and Backpacking Guide by Mike White
- Hiking California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness: A Guide To The Area’s Greatest Hiking Adventures by Dennis Lewon
- Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps by Ken DeCamp, Julie Kierstead Nelson, Julie Knorr