Northern California's Most Spectacular Mountain Wilderness
The 517,000-acre Trinity Alps Wilderness
is the second largest designated wilderness in California and spans
three national forest boundaries. Laced with trails, rivers, forests,
and peaks, this is one wilderness where you can travel for weeks and
never exhaust all the possible
A climb on the higher peaks with a sprawling sea of forested ridges
and valleys gives this wildlands a sense of vastness not possible
anywhere else in northwest California, except perhaps in the Marbles.
Elevations range from 1,360 feet along the Trinity River to just
over 9,000 feet at Thompson Peak. The trails up Canyon and Coffee
Creeks lead into the heart of the Trinity Alps, the highest and
most spectacular peaks. Because of their beauty, the Trinity Alps
are heavily trafficked by hikers and are best avoided by those seeking
fewer encounters with other people. Most of the trails leading off
Highway 3 on the eastern edge of the wilderness are more heavily
used, while trailheads accessing the western part of the wilderness
offer tremendous opportunities for solitude.
Some divide the wilderness into the Green, Red, and White Trinities.
The differently colored strata represent different geological rock
layers that were welded on to each other to form the diverse geology
of the Klamath Mountains region.
The Green Trinities make up the
western margin, a heavily timbered, low
elevation area. This is the least visited region, and one where
you're sure to find solitude on most trails.
In the east, rising above Trinity Lake, are the Red Trinities.
Numerous excellent peaks over
8,000 feet as well as an enviable number
of lake basins are found in the Red Trinities.
This is the most complex part of the Trinity Alps. The "Red" appellation
comes from the red serpentine and peridotite
rock. This is perhaps most evident when
standing on Stonewall
Pass and the red hued peaks stretch out to the north. It is
important to note that there are still
significant intrusions of other kinds
of rock. Siligo and Gibson Peaks are
the largest of these, followed by the
unnamed granite "Tangle
Blue" peaks and Granite Peak. Sandstone also occurs in the
Echo Lake area. The Red Trinities are
not only a melange of diverse rock types,
it is also a grouping of subordinate
mountain ranges. In particular is the
divide between the Trinity River and
Scott River watersheds. The area in the
northeast corner is referred to as the
Scott Mountains and are the headwaters
of the Scott River, which flows through
Scott Valley into the Klamath River.
Numerous Lakes are found in the Scott
Mountains, as is the seemingly out of
place sagebrush. The Pacific Crest Trail
traverses 17 miles of this section
of the Trinity Alps.
Finally, there are
the White Trinities, the best known part
of the wilderness, with granite peaks, meadows, and dozens of lakes.
The Whites are often compared to the Sierra Nevada, with rugged
peaks such as Sawtooth Ridge, and glaciated valleys such as Canyon
Creek. Small glaciers still cling to the higher peaks around the
headwaters of Grizzly and Canyon Creeks.
As might be expected, with
spectacular scenery and lots of lakes,
this region receives the most visitation—avoid it if you prefer
to have fewer encounters with other travelers. An interesting phenomenon
in the Trinities is the capture of the headwaters of Coffee Creek
by the South Fork of the Salmon River. Moraines in Coffee Creek
blocked the stream, while headwater erosion of the South Fork breached
the gap separating the two drainages.
The area was first set aside as part of the 196,420-acre Salmon-Trinity
Alps Primitive Area in 1932, with another
83,840 acres added in 1933. Even though
the Trinities were one of the most spectacular areas in California,
passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act did not see them become a designated
wilderness as might be expected, partly due to their perceived timber
Not until 1984, with the passage of the California Wilderness
Act, did the Trinities finally gain the
status and protection they deserved. There are also two designated
Wild and Scenic Rivers within the wilderness: New River and North
Fork Trinity River. Three other rivers are recommended for Wild and Scenic
River status, including Canyon and Virgin
Creeks and the upper 11.7 miles of the
North Fork Trinity.
Due to the great elevation and soil types,
it's not surprising that the Trinities support a diverse flora as
well. Typical species of the region include Douglas fir, ponderosa
pine, red fir, white fir, black oak, canyon live oak, California madrone,
bigleaf maple, California buckeye, incense cedar, and Jeffrey pine.
California's northernmost stand of digger pine is found here along
the South Fork of the Salmon River.
Salmon and steelhead runs occur in a number of rivers whose headwaters
lie in the wilderness, including the Stuart Fork River, South Fork
of the Salmon River, North Fork Trinity River, and New River. Other
wildlife includes black bear, fisher, marten, pileated woodpecker,
northern flying squirrel, spotted owl, band-tailed pigeon, and goshawk.
The Trinity Alps are currently being considered for restoration
of Roosevelt elk, a native species, and would be one of the better
areas in northern California for the re-establishment of wolves.