One positive aspect of this strangely dry winter is the fact that Gold Lake Highway is still open and hiking is still abundant. With a couple hours available before a late afternoon shift at work I was feeling the urge to get out and explore before forecasted rains start up again tomorrow. With recent rain and very cold overnight temperatures I was concerned about encountering icy trails at high elevations. I hadn’t been on the Graeagle Creek trail for awhile so I thought I’d take that route to the Smith Lake trailhead. It would all be fairly low elevation so shouldn’t be icy.
Entering the woods from the parking area just off Gold Lake Highway is like entering a totally new world. The ground is softly carpeted with beautiful red pine needles, florescent green moss adorns the north facing side of the trees and the rush of Graeagle Creek is an alluring siren.
Just a quarter mile from the road lies the beautiful Graeagle Creek crossing. I was struck by the beauty of the frost-encased exposed tree roots that looked like multi-media pieces of art. The rails of the bridge were still frosty yet I lingered to take in the dynamic energy of the coursing creek. The colors of the rocks seemed so vibrant with the overcast sky and clear, clear water. It’s really a glorious spot.
After crossing the creek I stayed on the path to the Smith Lake trailhead, but a short distance up the trail I encountered a new option. The very new sign indicated the Smith Creek Trail was a mile away off to the right. I’d never been on this stretch of trail before, so off I went to explore.
The trail is beautiful, opening onto land I’d never experienced. Initially the trail heads north and slightly west with views to the east of endless pines and towering Beckwourth Peak in the distance. Continuing on, the trail crests the ridgeline and crosses it to head more westward and slightly south offering breathtaking views of Eureka Peak in the foreground and the towering white boulder that is Mt. Lassen in the distance.
After crossing the ridgeline, the trail begins to descend and the wide open expanse gives way to the forest. Initially, the forest feels spacious but as the trail continues to descend, the density of the trees made it increasingly dark and a bit foreboding. It will be a great, cool hike in the heat of the summer. Since I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to let out and a looming deadline to make it to work, I decided to head back to civilization without reaching the end of the trail. I suspect it ends in the Smith Creek subdivision somewhere. I didn’t track time or distance, but my guess is that the turn onto this trail is about a half mile from the Graeagle Creek Trailhead, and walked about a mile or a little more before turning back.
I’ll definitely explore this surprising new trail when I have more time. It’s a great elevation for early and late season hiking.