Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

July 11, 2011

Lyons Creek Trail Fun & Hazards in Early Spring

17 photos are included. If you click on one, the photos can be viewed enlarged.
For a report done June 2014 see Lyons Creek Trail.
Elevation: we began at 6721 feet, and Sylvia Lake was 8200
feet, still frozen and surrounded by snow.
Distance: It is reported as 4.6 miles each way, but be reminded you'll
go a bit further trying to route yourself around dangerous snow banks. 
Notes:  Parking is available, but no bathrooms or porta-potties.
The road up was clear of snow to the Lyon Creek TH free parking. The Pacific Ranger Station, off of Highway 50 on the way to the Wrights Lake and Ice House Road, provides backpacking
wilderness permits and some excellent assistance planning your hike.
Driving Directions: 

Take Wrights (Lake) Road north off of Highway 50 at Kyburz.  The Wrights Lake Road will be between tract 36 and tract 39 along Highway 50.

Follow the signs to Lyons Creek Trailhead. If you reach the Bloodsucker Trail parking, you have gone too far.
 The actual Lyons Creek Trail is not visible at this time, and most people hiked following footprints in the snow and intermittently, the muck (sticky, boggy ground).  My boots would sink in those areas and had to be Pulled Out!  Waterproof boots are better, safer, more functional, than all the tennis shoes and sandals I saw people leave the parking lot wearing.  It is hard not to walk in and through streams of runoff, freezing your toes!  Honestly, one hiker came back from Lake Sylvia with signs of hypothermia: tingling, redness and numbing of their toes. The snow softens during the day with this nice weather so your feet will be ankle deep in the cold.

 The weather is as perfect as heaven would have it.  The views are excellent.

Here are some of the photos of my hike from the parking:
The trail teases one in with solid ground and a regular hiking tread mix of rock, dirt, and some vegetation sprouting.

The views of the mountain tops sprinkled with snow were barely visible through the trees.  On the down side, these wet and boggy areas are swarming with tiny black bugs who get in your nose and mouth and maybe more!  Breath with your mouth closed!

Groupings of many types of wildflowers were scattered along the way.  Honestly, with my backpack, I only stopped for a few since they were so low to the ground and my pack felt pretty heavy!

Much of the trail had become gutters for the runoff, streams to walk in, and this spot was a small dilemma....which creek was the path?  I crossed straight ahead from this view and it turned out to be the right creek to follow!  As I said, be ready to get your feet wet!

My excitement grew while the mountains became more visible through the trees.  The trail is about a 10 mile round trip, more or less depending on how much detouring you have to find, and if you visit more than one lake.
My boulder-hopping-self felt like a child just before a party!  Anticipation!

I stopped for a rest beside the creek because I could hear the rushing sound of the current pushing its way through the narrow places.

Does ears were breaking ground anywhere not blanketed in snow or rushing with streams of runoff.  Grasses and wildflowers were in abundance, and while you might think it a great place for a picnic, if you walked there it was just a muddy mess full of bugs. 

This is one of the sections of "trail" developed by the numbers of people out that day.  The parking lot had been full, mostly for day hikers.  We only saw two sets of backpackers.  With packs, the soft snow was similar to our previous snow hike, like walking in dry sand with a backpack.  Barefoot. It is a workout!

Lyons Creek was rushing and I personally would not cross it.  The water flow was unbelievable, especially in narrow areas.

 The trail was often lined with various sizes of smaller rocks.  I enjoyed that but if you have feet and/or ankle problems, it may wear on you.  Take your support gear and be prepared.  Again, hiking poles can help your knees and ankles, along with good boots made for this type of ground.

The elevation we began at was 6721, and Sylvia Lake was 8200 
feet and still frozen and surrounded by snow. It is reported 
as 4.6 miles each way, but be reminded you'll 
go a bit further trying to route yourself around dangerous snow 
banks.  Parking is available, but no bathrooms or porta-potties.  
The road up was clear of snow to the Lyon Creek TH free 
parking.  The Pacific Ranger Station, off of Highway 50 on the 
way to the Wrights Lake and Ice House Road, provides backpacking
wilderness permits and some excellent assistance planning your hike.

The Fine Print: Information about safe snow hiking:
I have enough concerns about the hike to caution hikers about the snow and trail conditions before anything. The photos above illustrate what "under-melt" hazards really are. The snow, especially around rocks and trees, is melting faster than the exposed surfaces. The water runoff from melting snow all around is running in streams, some obvious and rushing, others just large flat areas of wet water flowing over the saturated ground surface. It is also melting the snow where isn't visible. Pockets, even caverns, of air and water are created under the mounds and blankets of snow being used as "the trail".
One adult male, with a fully loaded backpack, fell into the snow hip deep due to the caverns of air that are not visible under drifts that look deep and stable. He also had one instance when he fell through and could not touch ground. He had to figure out how to get out of that predicament and did not want to lose his backpack (although he admitted considering it after several of these cave ins!). He ended up working to throw his body weight downhill (backwards) to leverage the weight of the backpack in his own favor and pull him out of the hollow. Fortunately for him, that worked!
Another male day hiker had the same problems with cave ins of snow, especially as the snow got deeper in higher elevation. Another male hiker had to turn back because the soft snow and rocky trail were hard on an old knee injury. Sometimes I saw the remnants of cave ins, one RIGHT next to all the footprints, which suggested to me that people were ignoring the hazards and still walking over the thin areas.
Another thing to look out for are tree falls under the snow. The branches themselves created air hollows where the snow could not pack in as heavily, and created a greater likelihood of injuring the hiker who might step there believing they can land on a branch or something so they can keep going rather than reroute, perhaps finding open ground or more stable snow.
I saw more people than I counted, many wore shorts, tank tops, tennis shoes or even sandals.   From personal experience with unpredictable weather and events in mountainous areas, no one should go without first aid and survival basics, particularly appropriate layers of clothing.
My advice and urging are to wear boots, long sleeves and pants, use hiking poles to test the snow, to use to support your weight, and at times assist you if you break through. Watch your steps. and choose your paths carefully. Look for the caverns or hollows under the snow, and avoid rocks and boulders protruding but surrounded by snow, as they have those hollow hazards too from the heat they contain that melts the snow faster than general conditions.
I fell in less than knee deep several times as the snow softened, and as much as possible tried to go around the snow. I loved my waterproof boots, warm hiking socks, and gaiters! Take first aid and snacks, and carry out your trash. Take a camera!
Please use caution and have fun!!!

For more hikes check Peachy's Trails by Location
with mileage and difficulty ratings, and
these Desolation Wilderness Trails:
·         Tahoe Rim Trail
·         Horsetail Falls & Pyramid Creek
Easy to Strenuous and Difficult
 10-18+ RT
Moderate- Strenuous
·         Rockbound Trail to Maude Lake

Happy Trails!