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Towhead Lake Spur Trail

 4.0 (1)

A short hike from the Pacific Crest Trail to Towhead Lake in the Red Buttes Wilderness.

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Point to Point

5,914' 1,803 m


5,411' 1,649 m


34' 10 m


502' 153 m



Avg Grade (6°)


Max Grade (16°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Fall Colors · Lake · Swimming · Views

You won't find this local use trail on any official map and no signage where it leaves the PCT. The gate is the best "sign" for its start.

This trail is enters the Red Buttes Wilderness and the usual federal wilderness area regulations and restrictions apply here; practice Leave No Trace (LNT) backcountry skills and ethics, camp 100 feet from fragile areas, bury human waste at least 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites. This trail is usually closed by snow between November and May.


Lakes are rare along the Siskiyou Crest and many of those that do exist are not particularly accessible. An exception is beautiful little Towhead Lake, which is situated in the southeast corner of the Red Buttes Wilderness less than one mile northwest of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It's an ideal goal for a day hike along the PCT from Cook and Green Pass, a short detour on a longer hike, an overnight backpacking destination, or a place to take a break when hiking the PCT.

The well-defined use trail to the lake leaves the PCT just northwest of Lily Pad Lake, reaches an old road and gate set in a low stone wall. Go through the gate and continue northwest on this old road as it crosses the divide and starts down into Hello Canyon.

This old road was built in the late 1930s or early 1940s to access a chromite mine in Hello Canyon. The mine failed in about 1942 but the road lives on. Whether to maintain or decommission this road has been a point of controversy for over 50 years. The gate marks the boundary between the Klamath National Forest (where grazing is allowed) to the south and the Red Buttes Wilderness (where grazing is restricted) to the north. Towhead Lake is in the wilderness; Lily Pad Lake is not.

Past the gate, the old mine road is much diminished but still obvious, as is the solid use trail running along it. Stay on the use trail along the road as it descends into Upper Hello Canyon. The use trail leaves the old mining road (which continues on around the head of the canyon) shortly before you reach the bottom of the drainage and goes directly down canyon to the lake. After passing a small fore-lake, it arrives Towhead Lake itself.

The lake, set in a rocky bench in Hello Canyon, is absolutely charming. Clear and blue and deep, it is an ideal swim spot if you hike this make on a hot summer's day. It offers a heart-warming view of high-clarity emerald, turquoise, amber, and aquamarine waters —truly one of the gem-quality lakes in this wilderness! There aren't any campsites near the lake (not a good idea anyway) but you can find some a good ones in the forest about 100 feet up-canyon from the lake.


Shared By:

Bruce Hope

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in California


10 Views Last Month
1,480 Since Jan 15, 2018



Towhead Lake
Jan 9, 2022 near Happy Camp, CA
Mount Shasta from the start of the Towhead Lake Spur Trail
Jan 15, 2018 near Happy Camp, CA
Towhead Lake
Jan 15, 2018 near Happy Camp, CA
The gate at the start of the use trail to Towhead Lake
Jan 15, 2018 near Happy Camp, CA
Towhead Lake
Jan 15, 2018 near Happy Camp, CA
The beach at Towhead Lake
Jan 15, 2018 near Happy Camp, CA



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Oct 6, 2016
Bruce Hope