Tangle Blue Lake Trail

At A Glance

An fairly short and easy trail along a swift moving creek and through lush meadows to a lovely lake in a gorgeous granite bowl.

Total Length: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,150 feet
Season: Summer, Fall

Entrancing Tangle Blue

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Early spring at Tangle Blue Lake.

Tucked into a handsome basin in the northeastern corner of the Trinity Alps, Tangle Blue Lake combines many of the range’s best qualities into one attractive package. A large lake, swaths of lush meadow, a rollicking creek and tall granite peaks soaring overhead are what to expect from a trip into this area. Though not as grand in scale as some of the destinations at the heart of the Trinity Alps, Tangle Blue Lake has all of these qualities arranged in the proper proportion necessary to make the scene one that is satisfying and refreshing. One of the easternmost and northernmost lakes in the Trinities, Tangle Blue Lake is located on the north side of the massive granite bulge that is occupied by the Bear Lakes Basin. This results in an appearance that stands in dramatic opposition to the lake basins just to north, which are in the red peridotite veins of the Scott Mountains. Even though it is far from the granite heart of the Trinity Alps Tangle Blue Lake is, along with its near neighbor Bear Lake, a classic of the range.

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Tangle Blue Creek.

The Tangle Blue Lake Trail is one of the easiest trails in all of the Trinity Alps. It is only about 3 miles from the trailhead to the lake and gains only about 1,150 feet over the course of the journey to the lake. Not only is the grade very moderate and its distance short, the Tangle Blue Lake Trail follows Tangle Blue Creek the entire distance to the lake, meaning there is never a shortage of water. Moreover, the creek livens up a trail that would otherwise just be a walk in the woods. The sound of the creek also adds lots of ambience as well. In addition to the creek, a couple of peaceful meadows breakup the monotony of the woods, adding just enough variety to make the trail seem fresh all the way to the lake. Like all really good trails, the route to Tangle Blue Lake also has the option to hike to other destinations. Side trails leading up to Big Marshy Lake and the Grand National Mine mean those camping at the lake have good options for some day hikes.

The Trail

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Tangle Blue Creek near the trailhead.

Though there are no boundary markers the Tangle Blue Lake Trail begins at the boundary of a privately owned section of land. It may not seem important but this fact of landownership dictates the nature of the trail for the next mile. In particular, it means that the trail is in fact an old road as it crosses the section. From the parking area, head downhill toward Tangle Blue Creek, passing a gate almost immediately. Cross the creek on a bridge built of thick steel plates mounted on telephone poles stretching across the water. Beyond the bridge the trail makes a sharp turn to the left and begins the steepest climb of the entire trail, which switchbacks after 0.1 miles and again follows the creek, this time higher up. The road continues all the way to the boundary of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, a little over a mile from the trailhead.

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A small meadow alongside the Tangle Blue Lake Trail.

Just prior to the wilderness boundary the trail deviates from the old road for the first time. The road continues but the trail turns to the right, crossing an earthen mound the blocks access to vehicles. Though it is not obvious here, this route was also at one time a dirt road but nature has been chipping away at it long enough that it looks like normal single-track at the this point. The creek, still off to the right of the trail, is accessible via easy scrambles down a 10 foot embankment. Shortly after finally becoming a regular trail, the route enters a small but scenic meadow, though the trail skirts the northern edge of the grassy area rather than crossing through it. After crossing a few small, spring-fed streams and reaching the far end of the meadow, the trail makes a very short descent down to Tangle Blue Creek, where it is necessary to ford the water. Unless water is very high, it is easy to hop across the creek on rocks. Just prior to crossing an extremely faint trail branches off to the left and climbs up to the ruins of the Grand National Mine. This route is no longer maintained.

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Tangle Blue Meadow, near the Messner Cabin site.

On the far side of the creek the trail turns back to the east briefly before making a sharp turn back to the west and begins to climb. This section was obviously a road at one time, though it is extremely rocky and would have made for a bumpy climb. Almost 0.5 miles after crossing the creek, the trail reaches Marshy Creek, which originates in Big Marshy Lake, about 1,000 feet higher the side of the canyon. When water is high the creek may actually have two channels. The first one encountered by the trail is often dry later in the summer and cairns mark the route across the rocky creek bed. Once across Marshy Creek the trail passes a few more springs and then again follows the old road on a moderate ascent. A little further up the trail, signs mark a trail junction. To the right the old road continues to climb up to Big Marshy Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail. From the PCT well established trails lead over the crest of the Scott Mountains into the lush basin of East Boulder Lake. Staying to the left, the Tangle Blue Lake Trail passes between some enormous cedar trees before breaking out into a large, lovely meadow. Tangle Blue Creek marks the eastern perimeter of the meadow. To the south, the granite spires above Tangle Blue Lake become visible for the first time, indicating that the trail is nearing its end.

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The east tower above Tangle Blue Lake.

While passing through the meadow, the trail moves closer to the creek and then makes a short drop down to its banks. After another ford, the trail enters thick woods again. The map marks this area as the site of the Messner Cabin. Nothing remains now except a heavy duty old oven. Still, it comes as a bit of a surprise this far out in the wilderness. Beyond the cabin site, the trail begins its final ascent up to Tangle Blue Lake. The climb is about 0.5 miles. Although it is mostly in the shade, it does at times have direct sunlight on it and may get hot later in the day. Fortunately there is a cure for that just a short distance away. Finally, the trail emerges from the trees and enters another lovely meadow as the path levels off. The lake and the massive granite headwall are now visible, though they are partially obscured by a thin band of trees right by the lake. The left, a second granite peak marks the eastern edge of Tangle Blue Lake’s basin. Though not quite as impressive, the eastern peak is 15 feet taller than the one at the south end of the lake.

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Summer at Tangle Blue Lake.

By no means the grandest lake in the Trinity Alps, Tangle Blue Lake is nonetheless a fine specimen of an alpine lake. Given the thick ring of meadow that surrounds the lake, it comes as no surprise that the water is not deep. Still, it is warm and inviting to swim in, especially at the south end where some large slabs of granite make great places to enjoy the sun. A use-trail surrounds the lake, providing good access for hikers and anglers. The massive tower at the south end is an impressive backdrop and offers good scrambling, as does the peak on the east side. A cross-country trip up the gap between the two peaks reveals a large meadow on the far side that has excellent views of the towering granite walls of the Bear Lake Basin. Campsite are abundant. The ones around the outlet are particularly notable, where old Forest Service oven/firepits are constructed. The iron plate griddles have been removed recently but the old rock and concrete structures remain. All in all, it is a great place to camp.

Tangle Blue Lake Trail


From Mount Shasta City, drive north on Interstate 5, through the town of Weed. Exit at the Edgewood/Stewart Springs exit. Turn left and drive under the freeway, then turn right onto Old Stage/ Old 99. Continue north for a couple hundred yards and then turn left onto Stewart Springs Road. After 4 miles, Forest Service Road 17 splits off to the right. Continue on this road for 22.7 miles, passing PCT Parks Creek trailhead and descending down the canyon of the Trinity River. At the intersection with Highway 3, turn right and proceed for 1.1 miles, climbing all the way. At 1.1 miles the highway makes a hairpin turn to the right. Turn left onto the dirt road at the turn. A yellow sign with a black arrow marks the spot and 39N20 (the name of the dirt road) has been hand-written has been written on it. Follow the dirt road 3.5 miles to the trailhead.

11 comments on “Tangle Blue Lake Trail

  1. Pingback: Trinities In Proximity: Two Trinity Alps Trails With Easy Access From Mount Shasta | Hike Mt. Shasta

  2. What an excellent, detailed description of the Tangle Blue Lake Trail! Having just discovered “hikemtshasta.com” I am impressed about this Web Site and it’s creator. From now on I will consult it prior to any of my future backpacking outings.
    Thank you Bubbasuess,

    Karl Tiefert

  3. Thank you for such a great web site! I have been planning weekend hikes using your site and dragging 4-5 teenage boys with me every weekend. Thanks again.

  4. A word of warning, I’ve been in there close to a dozen times over 25 years and seen bear each time. It was home range to a large sow for most of that time. She always had multiple cubs.

    I haven’t been back in there in close to ten years, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of her daughters had inherited the range from her.

    Stay safe, keep clean, hang all food. Keep ’em wild folks and try not to fall victim to a protective mother bear.

  5. Bears I can handle. They still running cattle there? That meadow at one end was ankle deep cow pies the last time I was there, 10-12 years ago.

  6. No bears, no cattle, just Bigfoot standing on the spire in the middle of the lake naked and screaming and pounding his chest. However I do recommend swimming out and standing on the spire. It is rather exilarating experience.

  7. Thank you for the description of this trail. I was just there this weekend: my first venture into the Trinity Alps – or any – Wilderness. I found it sufficiently challenging for me (even loosing the trail a few times; no idea how I did that), and having the lake all to myself was a great reward.

    One “correction”. You wrote: “Cross the creek on a bridge built of thick steel plates …” There are some nice pools in the creek beneath this bridge that I soaked in (it was very hot this weekend) and from beneath, it’s obvious that this bridge is actually a repurposed flatbed rail car. Very cool application of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

    To update other commenters, there were definitely cows (with bells) and cow pies along much of the trail and around the lake. Yuck!

    I didn’t see any bears, but I heard something growl in the middle of the night (a hiker I met on the way out suggested it was probably just a Sasquatch), but I was following bear protocol and made a huge “bear-muda triangle” since I had the whole place to myself. Maybe the bear was growling in frustration at how inaccessible I had made my smellables bag? Hey, that’s probably it. 🙂

    I was dismayed at the amount of micro-trash I found in the camping areas, including used toilet paper under a rock. Come on, people, LNT! I packed out as much of the micro-trash as I could find and was compensated by the universe for my effort with a dime someone left behind!

    One last thing to note: The dirt road to the trailhead is very bumpy and rutted. My Outback had no trouble with it, but I wouldn’t take a low-clearance passenger car. Maybe all TH roads in the Alps are like this, but this was my first one and I was a little surprised at how “rough” it was.


  8. Pingback: Gumboot And Parks Creek Passes Open | Hike Mt. Shasta

  9. Pingback: Looking For Relief From Smoke? Trinity Alps Might Offer A Chance | Hike Mt. Shasta

  10. Did this walk this past Sunday 11/11/18. Beautiful day beautiful hike. There is a downed tree 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead parking area so plan accordingly. Thanks for a fantastic website.

  11. The bridge is a repurposed railroad flat car sitting on concrete abutments. Old telephone poles are attached to the sides as curbs. .
    Yes, the cattle allotment is still active, a romantic western legacy that persists to benefit a privileged few.

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