Hike 53: Red Cap Lake & Salmon Mountain
This is the first hike we have highlighted in detail on our website. We have included a sample of the map and a description of the hike’s ecology. Keep in mind that as of the time this post was published, Salmon Mountain is covered in snow!
Hiking Humboldt Volume 1 (Backcountry Press 2016) by Kenneth Burton with maps by Jason Barnes highlights 55 day hikes over 5 miles in length across the county. The 55 hikes are grouped into six regions: Redwood National and State Parks, Trinidad, the Urban Corridor, King Range, Southern Redwoods, and Inland Mountains. What follows is a description of the hike to Salmon Mountain, of my favorite in the county and one which I also included in my first book Conifer Country (Backcountry Press 2012).
The inland mountains of Humboldt County offer a blend of two geologic provinces just an hour’s drive from the coast. In this region, the Coast Range and Klamath Mountains collide along South Fork Mountain—as seen at Berry Summit on 299—and present a jigsaw puzzle of ridges and valleys created by perpetual offshore tectonic activity. Topping out at nearly 7,000 feet, the hike to Humboldt County’s high point—Salmon Mountain—is a world away from the coastal bluffs and redwood forest for which the county is renowned. Salmon Mountain is within the Klamath Mountain Province—a relatively unknown mountain range with a rich natural history.
The hike to Salmon Mountain highlights the unique ecology and geology of the Klamath Mountain region. The complex interactions of living and nonliving factors can be witnessed in the diversity of life, particularly that of the vascular plants. Over 3,000 types of plants have been documented in the Klamath Mountain region, making it one of the most biodiverse temperate mountain ranges in the world. Much of this biodiversity is now preserved, by thoughtful conservationist, as wilderness.
Trinity Alps Wilderness, which holds Salmon Mountain within its boundaries, was first designated a wilderness area in 1964 with the passing of the famed Wilderness Act. 26,510 acres were added in 2006 when the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act was signed. The Trinity Alps now contain 525,477 acres—making it one of the largest wilderness areas in the state and twice as large as any other wilderness in northwest California. Because the wilderness is so large, it can be thought of as containing three distinct regions.
These regions are ecologically and geologically based on climate and rock type. The western half—known as the Green Alps—sees up to twice as much precipitation as the eastern half and is composed of much gentler mountains blanketed in evergreen conifer forests. The central granitic batholith defines the White Alps (ever hiked Canyon Creek in Trinity County?), a land of spires and glacially carved valleys with hanging lakes as a result. The eastern-most section is called the Red Alps because serpentine soils are common. Salmon Mountain is in the Green Trinities which hold hidden lakes, marvelous meadows, and grand vistas.
The Green Trinities have seen multiple high-intensity wildfires in recent years. In many places, these fires have obliterated trails, while falling snags and regenerating brush add to the trail-maintenance issues. The Six Rivers National Forest has even abandoned some trails due to the lack of resources available for managing such an effort. However, the hike to Salmon Mountain has not yet been subjected to any of these high-intensity fires, at least in recent history, and thus showcases intact conifer forests with massive old-growth specimens of Shasta fir, white fir, incense-cedar, Douglas-fir, and western white pine.
Salmon Mountain, and nearby Red Cap Lake, are two of Humboldt’s premier high-country destinations and either makes a fine day hike on its own. It may be possible to do them as a loop but the connecting trail is currently too overgrown to recommend, though an intrepid hiker might still be able to follow the route. Forest openings and the mountain summit provide spectacular views extending east to Mt. Shasta and west to the Pacific.
Getting there: Take US 101 north 9.4 miles. Take Exit 716A (SR-299/Weaverville/Redding/Blue Lake/Willow Creek) and follow SR-299 east 37.8 miles. Turn left onto CA 96 and go another 37.8 miles (yes, that’s right). Turn right onto Red Cap Road immediately after crossing the Klamath River on the far side of Orleans; this road becomes FR 10N01. Go 18.8 miles to the Salmon Summit Trailhead on the left. Approximate driving time, 2 hours 32 minutes from Old Town Eureka.
Thanks to Kenneth Burton and Jason Barnes for contributing information to this article.