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.

September 12, 2011

Auburn/Cool, CA "Training Hill" and WST

A new article has been written, with updates for 2016.

An excellent training trail for equestrians, runners and hikers, climbing 1052 feet in about a mile.   Located at Highway 49 at Foresthill Road.

"No Hands Bridge"

At the Confluence there is $10 fee now for parking. It isn't alongside 49 yet.

Elevation Profile graph for perspective about the trail's challenge! 
ASRA reports grade at 16%-30% in 1.2 miles. 

Distance: 2.4 or more out and back miles, or you can make it a longer loop but easier, using other trail options.  Training Hill returning by WST is 4.7 miles.  Links for GPS tracks posted just above included maps at the end of this article.
Difficulty: Very strenuous, steep

Ascent: 1052 feet to climb in .9 miles per my GPS; starts at 607 feet elevation.

That doesn't count the beginning of the hike from Gate 150 to the start of the Training Hill itself.  The greatest reward of this hike is the fitness and is used by runners, equestrians, and hikers for conditioning. There are some views, but you can find better ones with less work! There are no bathrooms or water supplies along the way, although the Quarry Trail across the highway has vault toilets.

The American River was especially low that day.

Update: Sept. 8th, 2012 same low water levels.

This is the fork to look for; head toward Cool, to your left, leaving the old road. The trail looks narrow but widens out shortly.  It will traverse to the left until the next fork.
"1.4 miles to the Olmstead Loop".
 The following photos do little justice depicting how steep the trail feels as you ascend the 1,000 feet or so in a .9 mile space!  If you do not turn uphill here, you will be on the Western States Trail also known as Wendell T Robie Trail.  It is a gradual uphill that parallels Highway 49 partway.

It is particularly grueling going up through all this rugged track,

but going down is...just as grueling.  FUN for challenge seekers!

I have met people on the trail who just carry water and are fit enough to barely break a sweat and still converse.  But note there isn't much of any resting place and the ground is covered in those burly stickers and very dusty dirt!  Shady relief comes and goes.  I enjoy the ragged footing and can make use of it like stairs rather than avoiding it for the flatter trail sides

Whenever I have hiked this trail, (September 9th, 2012) I have avoided looking ahead and pushed forward, glancing up only for planning the next few feet of climbing or descending!
If an equestrian comes along, please move aside and let them pass.

As you get to the top, you capture views and it opens out
into a large meadow if you keep going ahead.


There are numerous options for your return. 

  1. You can hike out the way you came. If you return on the Training Hill, you can see some pretty views of the Foresthill Bridge and the river canyon.
  2. Follow the Olmstead Loop to Cool, and back down WST.
  3. Take WST also known as Wendall T Robie Trail to your left and make a longer than Training Hill descent but an easier grade and trail.  It will follow along the highway and you do get some road noise.  In spring you get some pretty mini waterfalls and creeks.

 The trail is sometimes quiter narrow, but always visible.

 This is a memorial to a Tevis Cup Rider of days gone by.

The trail is deeply cut by years of use, especially by equestrians.

 In the spring and winter there are creeks and waterfalls to enjoy on the Western States Trail.

This is the American River near the Confluence as seen through the trees, across Highway 49,

 along the Western States Trail (Wendell T Robie Trail).

Map of Training Hill / Western States Trail Loop Option 3:  4.7 miles

Wikiloc has a posted tracks for GPS users out and back:
or the WST loop option and some great springtime photos.


The Training Hill out and back option map:

Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents including nearby Georgetown and Coloma.
Related Articles:
ASRA ~ Auburn State Recreation District

BLM ~ Bureau of Land Management
Near Auburn, CA
Happy Trails!
updated 9-2012

August 27, 2011

7-2018 updates Grouse, Hemlock & Smith Lakes in Desolation Wilderness

Above is called Chappell Crossing and is located as you approach the trail head. Follow the path to the right before the bridge after filling out your day permit at this trail head and attaching it to your gear. The trail to the Desolation Wilderness lakes starts at the posting board heading into the meadows away from Wrights Lake.

Hike Length: 6+ miles; I inevitably find I have done 7 round trip, out and back trail.
Difficulty and Grade: Strenuous.  (Like doing a stair stepper all day!  Mostly steep and rocky tread, some marshy areas, creek crossing, spaces of regular forest floor.)  You do get a variety of trail tread and shade/sun. Well maintained. Out and back trail.  Steep and boulder scrambling up to Smith Lake. 
Elevation: 6967.4 to 8840.5;  if you bushwhack up to the ridge over Smith, is 2123 feet and with descent totals 4246.
Located: in Desolation Wilderness, so a permit can be filled out at the trail head for day hikes but online or at Pacific Ranger Station for backpacking.  No campfires allowed.  (Day permits are free and are to assist the park with information about park use for funding and grants, knowing how much use areas are getting, and in the rare event someone doesn't make it back, finding information from their permit could be helpful in locating them.)

Take Highway 50  and turn north on Ice House Road.  Follow the signs to Wrights Lake and park at the Twin Lakes Trail head. 
OR  (a better drive if you ask me):

Take the Wrights Lake Road north (between the 36 mile tract and the 39 mile tract) in the vicinity of Kyburz off Highway 50 and follow the signs to Twin Lakes Trail head.  

The trail begins heading through a moist colorful meadow, with a wide fairly flat trail.  Even with strong bug repellent here, you are a target for varieties of black biting flying torpedoes.  Early on you will see a sign at a Y, go to the right.  Later you will come across two more signs to keep you on track.  One is the Desolation Wilderness entry point and the other sign is to Grouse Lake.  At that sign (just an engraved post) keep to the right.
As you can see, the lilies are bright bursts of color amoung the corn lilies and other wildflowers, as tall as eye level, and growing by the acre.  I did not edit the color on this shot!

Grouse Lake Trail ascends very aggressively and is not for the faint of heart!  
It is quite vigorous and requires good footing as well.  
Hiking poles help me climb these sections.
There is a tree fall (in 2018) that you hunch down a bit to get under. 
Take water because you will sweat for this prize!  Please wear reliable shoes and check out these real photos if in doubt that it matters Shoes with Soles.
***I often find people ready to quit with exhaustion and uncertainty at the runoff crossing where the trail veers to your left.  Don't give up here!  You don't have to get your feet wet.  There are stable rocks to step on, and just up around the bend, a very very short jaunt, is the first lake, Grouse Lake.
To get to the granite beside the lake, use the small user path to the right.

Grouse Lake is in a granite bowl and invites swimmers on hot days.  I've seen fishermen who throw back what they catch.  Take your fishing license and check current Desolation regulations.  One side of the lake is rocky with nice boulders to bake on and the other side is marshy and buggy.

As I looked back on my way from Grouse to Hemlock Lakes, this excellent view took me by surprise.  Many more views do the same as you hike higher, believe me!
Here is Hemlock Lake.  It is small but has some 
nice sandy areas and rocks also to 
spread out a picnic.  The grassy side and the shade 
are sometimes offerings for bugs more than humans!  
The trail becomes briefly obscure so GPS can help but  

if you look around you should find the recognized trail using 
other clues without too much trouble. Head toward that peak. *
This was a fun shot of Hemlock because the water is beautifully clear as you can see.  The peak in the background is along toward our next destination, Smith Lake.  
 The trail is nice woodsy track from Hemlock Lake 
until you reach the next big ascent. 

Be prepared to climb. 

This is the trail heading up to Smith Lake.  Most of it is just this way.  I scrambled up the boulders according to my GPS's location of the forest's recognized trail, but found on the way down, there is a mostly clear trail that runs fairly parallel to the runoff from the Smith Lake dam.  It traverses mildly and heads downward more directly, without bushwhacking, and gets you on a more level easy trail pretty quickly.
These were fading and few, but a lovely sight! 
Little gems scattered all around the trails.
This is beyond the icing on the cake. (There is less snow in July 2018, and none was on the trail.) The area this side of the lake has forest and shade, and the footing is easier.  As you can see, across the lake is uninviting for hiking, beautiful even breathtaking!  Snow remains along the granite side but less of it.  It is possible to hike all the way around the lake.
  • I scrambled up the rocks to see over Smith Lake for that previous photo showing the whole basin, but the bonus was the completely unobstructed view of everywhere else!  I enjoy a good boulder scramble and this was dizzying standing on the next highest boulder I could climb for photos.  People also hike to the ridge over Smith and across the saddle over to Lyons Lake and make it a loop with Lyons Creek Trail. Only try it if you are skilled and energetic.  The climb down this way is steep and can be visually intimidating, or even frightening, to some.

    **** I found blog note that explains clearly why it is unwise to follow cairns (rock towers or stacks). From an excellent hiking resource, this account describes just that experience : 
    "...trail led right up to the edge of a creek, and I thought I might need to cross it. But there did seem to be a trail, although not as distinct as the trail leading up to it, heading directly up. I went that way, and encountered a difficult climb with no clear trail, but cairns set out all over the place that made me think I was going the right way." 
    and later, 
    "There are cairns every which way. In 2006, I started climbing too quickly straight up to the west, rather than making a more gradual ascent to the southwest. Following cairns that shouldn't have been left there, I often found myself backing up to find an easier route--which followed other cairns. When I made my return, I added more cairns to the easier route, and knocked away some that had led me to dead ends." 
    taken from NorCal Explorer blog.  
    My daughter and I had that same experience looking for Enchanted Pools and worried a little and wasted time following cairns.  Use of a compass and map would have served us much better.  The cairns died out and we bushwhacked to cross the creek we knew we had to cross to get to our destination.

    Cairns are not set up by the forestry, but hikers who are finding their  way back to stashed gear, or goofing off.  They are not reliable, and may intentionally get a person completely lost.  

    *If you lose sight of the trail:

    • Use clues by looking ahead, from a higher point if possible.  
    • Look for fallen trees cut away from the trail, and rocks and branches that are blocking what looks like a possible trail.  
    • Keep looking in the general direction the trail should go.  
    • The forestry tries to keep the vegetation off of the trail to keep it visible on recognized trails.
    • Use your map to locate peaks or visible landmarks and identify the compass direction you should be headed.  
    • Look for the place you are and how to intercept the trail (like heading to a certain side of a lake).  

    For similar hikes:
    Desolation Wilderness
    10+ miles
    30 miles
    Moderate to Strenuous/Difficult
    18 miles
    12+ miles
    Moderate to Strenuous
    13+ miles
    Moderate to Strenuous
    Umpa Lake and; Enchanted Pools
    8+ miles
    Cross country ~ Moderate
    Horsetail Falls via Pyramid Creek TH
    Aprox.  10 miles to lakes at the top of the falls
    "Difficult, and potentially dangerous" miles
    10 miles
    8 miles
    Lyons Lake via Lyons Creek Trail
    10+ miles
    9.2 miles
    6+ miles
    Lyons Creek Trail with melting snow
    9+ miles

    2010-09 We hiked 12 days.
    167 total
    Moderate to Strenuous

    Peachyhiker's Table of Contents

    Happy Trails!
    Updated links 06-2016
    Updated trail conditions, made grammar and spelling corrections, changed a font, added signage details 07-2018

    August 19, 2011

    Trinity Alps Coffee Creek Loop

    For Amazing Views,

    a challenging backpacking trip, and to experience wild back country, this is the place.  Photo bugs will be snap happy here!

    We took Monday - Friday to hike this loop.  Including vistas, hikes around the lakes we visited, and just touring interesting areas, we figure we totaled almost 40 miles.  The degree of ascents and descents went from 99% to pretty level.  Yes, really, 99%, but not for long!   Topo map included at bottom of page and a graph of the elevation changes. For GPS tracks click here.

    The trail starts at Coffee Creek Road and the follows North Fork Coffee Creek up the canyon, winding, hard packed dirt and was far better maintained than last year.  With a few very short exceptions the trail is fairly easy for about the first five miles or so.  There are a couple of solid bridges along this section, and then a couple of creek crossings that were manageable, this trip, without getting water in my boots (using gaiters).

    At one crossing you'll see a campsite straight ahead or the crossing at a 90 degree right turn.  We read there was an enticing flat spot between the creeks ahead, so we opted to go for it.  We didn't find any wide level spot as described so CJ snd I hunted out a small exotic feeling place with a mini-waterfall and large ferns, with easy water supply access.
    The next day we headed out for South Fork Lakes.  This sign is at a fork where you head to the right.

    Here is where you find the first challenge of any length.  This section follows a narrow creek bed very steeply uphill through an expansive meadow into the woods.  In the forested area, the trail traverses but it's still a steep challenge.  The bright side is that it is wide and you can rest as frequently as you need to catch your breath.

    Once you get over the ridge, there is the excellent vista on the right, shown below, with CJ, our graduate!

    We caught a glimpse of a lake so we knew we were getting close!  Traverse downward to make it to the first lake with campsites available.

    There were grass and willows growing around the edges, and it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes and little black flies that bit!

    We chose to hike over to the lower lake (shown above) and what a beauty!  This lake gets few visitors and supposedly has good fishing too.  The campsite we chose was back from the lake which sits in a nice granite bowl.  Directly across from us was a waterfall the full length from the crest to the lake, and snow still was hanging along the sides of the deeply carved crevice the water flowed down.  We couldn't walk all the way around this lake, but had a great time swimming and resting here.  At a glance it looked as though is was just thickly covered with bloodthirsty mosquitoes, but they turned out to be some friendly damselflies, non-biting "fish bait" larger than mosquitoes and smaller than typical dragonflies that hung out in grassier areas around the lake. Firewood was reported to be depleted but we found plenty.

    To return to the trail we had to go back to the first lake and wind around the western side. Leaving the South Fork Lakes we went through too great a variety of terrain and trail types to list, but one wonder was going through wet acres of cornflowers almost as tall as ourselves!  Amazingly beautiful!  In places like this the guys would holler out "GO Away Bear!" as if they were boy scouts practicing a drill. 
    We hiked toward Wolford Cabin, which we had read was open for use of hikers, and hiked another section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Across the ridge that lead to the Mavis Lake, PCT, Wolford junction, we enjoyed wide opened views across both sides (photo below).

    CJ was in a hurry to get further for some reason, so we abandoned our planned stop at Mavis and went south for the Wolford Cabin. The trail going down to Wolford Cabin was horrendous:

    Wood debris was laid thickly and randomly over the ground with difficult and unsafe footing.  At first it was barely visible and damaged from water runoff.  NO real trail left for some distance although we saw equine prints and boot prints here and there.  The trail, as it were, followed the creek down roughly to the meadow the cabin sat romantically situated in.  Well, no more open cabin.  It has gotten too dilapidated for safe use and is locked like a bank vault. There is a campsite set up near the creek, but we opted to move on. Quite a disappointment but remains a real postcard gem!

    Wolford Cabin
    There are two trails that exit that area.  Our tracks leave uphill at N41 11.748 W122 49.685, starting away from the creek and the other trail is guided beside the creek.  We were moving on to Granite Lake that night and Doe Lake the next day. 

    If you  think about side trips to additional lakes, I put waypoints marked as Mavis, Fox Creek Lakes, and Stoddard Lakes.

    Onward to Granite Lake for a 12 mile day.

    Night fell and we finally made it to Granite Lake but couldn't see much of anything.  Thirsty, tired and hungry, even nauseous, a camper showed us the closest camp...haha.  The photo below shows a widow maker had fallen right over the firepit! (Widow Makers are dead trees that could fall on you and your camp...potentially lethal, really!) Seriously always look for those standing dangerously close before you set up camp! 

    Below is the rest area for us that night, Granite Lake:

    We found the water mossy.  Our water was obtained with great effort from a slow flowing spring with silty debris, but it was pure.  We could hardly wait to get out by going south then curving west in a giant u-turn which then took us east to Doe Lake.  This was one of the hardest sections we climbed.  The hike was short between the lakes but narrow, washed out, loose surface, and very steep with a drop off down the mountain in the event of a false step. Not for the faint of heart or inexperienced.

    Once over the worst, there was still an ascent, but wide, better, safer trail which gave beautiful absorbing views and rest areas.

    Above was our favored destination: Doe Lake.  Fish jumped alll over the place.  A fishing rod would have been nice to have!  Snow still lay in blankets on the far side of the large granite bowl, slowly melting into the lake.  But the sun over rode the chill and it was swimmingly refreshing!  Good blocks of sunning rocks for drying out lined one side of the lake.  Camp was far enough away that the mosquitoes were less annoying, but anywhere near the water in the early evening and morning was war!  Several campsites are hidden in the woods, but we escaped having company and got it all to our quiet selves.  Plenty of firewood, practically cut to fit our fire pit!  Pretty wildflowers were abundant this year with all of the melting snow still running off; it made bogs and meadows fresh and colorful.

    We hiked out through meadows and manzanita.  From Doe Lake you can take a side trip to Stoddard Lake for a camp or rest, but we again opted for more of a wilderness experience.  Stoddard is accessible by road to boaters and picnickers, is larger, and more populated. The trail we took, East Fork Coffee Creek Trail, becomes rocky and narrow and at times, steep downhills. A few tree fall crossings and creek crossings along with some seeps, through some bogs and meadows, but overall, enjoyable.

    Then it opens into an old mining road that lead us down to Coffee Creek Road. From there we hiked up a mile along the dirt road to get to our vehicle. We had an ice chest with cool drinks waiting, rested our weary dogs and congratulated CJ for carrying a heavy backpack, hiking the miles with blisters, and never complaining!!!  He is now initiated into the world of backpacking!  Glad to have shared our passion for the woods with him. 

    Hike Difficulty and grades: Strenuous (STEEP areas,see graph, higher elevations harder for "flatlanders", length, technical backpacking skills required over some sections, steep washed out sections, heavy debris sections). Range was up to a 99% grade upward around the 6.6 miles area. Much ranged in the 20%s.
    Distance Hiked: 32.98+ miles
    Ascent and Descent: 16,858 feet total, per Garmin Basecamp (only including the tracks per GPS, not side trips).
    Trail Tread Types: Pine needle covered packed soil, old road width to barely single tread, loose rocks on steep narrow sections, wet and dry stream beds, boggy, very tall thick vegetation to navigate through, rocky, some boulders to step around and/or climb.

    For a general idea of this trail location here is a map from Wikiloc to help you locate it and get driving directions to Coffee Creek, CA 96901, from your locale.:

    GPS Tracks

    For other nearby hikes:
    Trinity Alps (near Redding, CA)

    ·         Trinity Alps Coffee Creek Loop
    Strenuous and Difficult
    ·         Trinity Alps (Hobo Gulch)

    Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents

    Trails by Locations

    Happy Trails!
    edited 5-7-2013
    Edited 7-2014