Hikers: Maria G., Steve W.
Note: there are several “Boulder” Lakes in the Trinity Alps. Upper and East Boulder Lakes are closer to Callahan — those and other trails (including section of PCT) were closed due to the recent Coffee Fire. However, our Boulder Lake (aka “Big Boulder” Lake, past Little Boulder Lake) was about 5 miles south of Coffee Creek Road (the southern edge of the 90%-contained wildfire), and fortunately smoke-free due to prevailing winds.
As originally planned, this was to be a grand, 7-day counterclockwise loop from Boulder Lake TH, to Foster Lake, to Landers Lake, and back via Poison Canyon to Boulder Lake TH. Due to elevation gains, less available time and fewer companions, we decided this was overly ambitious, and opted for a shorter trip: basecamping at Boulder Lake, with two day hikes.
According to our guidebook: “Depending on your point of view, Boulder Lake is either one of the best or one of the worst destinations in the Trinity Alps. If you like maximum scenery for minimum effort, this is your spot. If, on the other hand, you cherish solitude, keep on walking.”
Boulder Lake is 1.9 mi. (!) from the trailhead. We had originally planned to skip it entirely to avoid crowds; a full parking lot at the Trailhead on Sunday morning seemed to confirm those concerns. However, when we arrived at the lake, the only party there was heading out, so we ended up having the entire lake to ourselves — a somewhat eerie experience. Perhaps other backpackers had fire concerns; most likely the parked cars/trucks belonged to those at a CCC (Calif. Conservation Corps) camp further down the trail.
After setting up camp on Sunday, we hiked cross-country along and over a ridge to view Tapie, Lost and Found Lakes. Total: ~2 mi. RT; ~1000′ elev. gain; ~3 hrs. The iPad’s built-in GPS and compass were handy for navigating beyond the 3-4 initial cairns.
On Monday, we explored part of our originally planned route:
- from Boulder Lake along Tracy Trail
- up to the junction with Poison Canyon/Thumb Rock Trails (“though it’s just one ridge away from Boulder Lake one of the most popular day hiking destinations in the Trinity Alps, Poison Canyon exists in its own quiet solitude; …hidden backcountry corner”)
- around Thumb Rock, up to a junction with Union Creek Trail (to Parker Creek and Landers Lake)
- another trail junction (to Shimmy Lake, Deer Flat)
- along Lilypad Lake Trail under Ycatapom Peak, down past several small ponds and then Lilypad Lake (“the trail leads down across hanging terraces of emerald green grass, sparkling snowmelt tarns, and view upon vista upon overlook. Amazingly, you could probably spend a week here in the middle of summer and not see a soul.”)
- before rejoining the Poison Canyon Trail and back up to Tracy Trail and Boulder Lake.
Total: ~8.6 miles; ~2300′ elevation gain in ~7 hours. Although there were trail signs at the major junctions, these were easy to miss; a few of the trails were infrequently traveled and faint, with few cairns. Wildflowers were past their peak, but we did see a few less common ones: pitcher plants and gentians.
While we were fortunate to have two, beautiful, smoke-free days, when we got back to Boulder Lake, smoke was noticeable. Since it was only 3:30pm, we had done both hikes we’d planned on, and we were less than an hour from the trailhead, we decided to head home early. We enjoyed dinner at a different Etna dining spot: Bob’s Ranch House (for some variety, plus Etna Brewing was closed on Mon).