Pacific Crest Trail: Carter Meadows trailhead access

Recently I hiked a few sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) as back-to-back day hikes.  A highlight of the trip was the opportunity to be dropped off each morning at our starting trailhead and then picked up at the end of the day, at a predesignated time, at our finishing trailhead.  One of the trailheads we used was the Carter Meadows trailhead, which is located in Lassen National Forest several miles from the nearest paved roads, which are CA-89/36 and CA-32 in Tehama County near the Plumas County line.  This area is about 14 miles west of Lake Almanor, west and south of Chester.

This brief post provides information about finding the trailhead.  The reason I’m writing it is because our volunteer/designated driver had a rather difficult time finding it for our afternoon pickup, in spite of having a car GPS unit and some written instructions.  It turns out that – I surmise – some of the logging-type roads in the area have been changed since the GPS maps were generated.  As a result, most of the drive displayed on the GPS unit as no road at all, leading to the description “driving in space.”  I suppose that most people do not experience this phenomenon, unless they like to drive on lower-grade roads in the back country.  Our driver didn’t.  I hope this post can help someone else avoid confusion and dismay associated with driving to this trailhead.

An unintended consequence of the difficulty in finding the trailhead is that we hikers had begun to prepare ourselves for the potential prospect of needing to hike out toward, or even to, the nearest main road.  This would have been a several-mile walk at the end of a 14-mile hike, resulting in a hike completion well after sunset.  We had had cell phone contact with our driver at a point when he believed he was lost.  Fortunately everything worked out ok – he arrived at the trailhead just a few minutes before we did – but avoiding such angst would have been preferred.

The trailhead itself is adequately marked, as shown here.

photo of Carter Meadows trailhead sign

Carter Meadows trailhead sign

During the drive out I realized that it might be useful to have a record of the route, and in any case I wanted to be able to compare it with the maps on my laptop that are associated with my hiking GPS unit.  So I turned my GPS back on after we had driven about 2 miles and recorded the remainder of the drive out to the paved road as well as along the paved road.  Then I inverted the track so that it displays as a drive in toward the trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track of most of the drive to Carter Meadows trailhead

Near the town of Chester CA-89 meets CA-36 and they are the same road proceeding west for 11 miles to a junction with CA-32.  This is where the track begins.  After driving southwest about 3.1 miles on CA-32 there is a dirt/gravel side road to the left, not far from Elam Campground; I think the campground is actually past the side road.  The interesting part of the track begins at the dirt/gravel road, beginning at 3.1 miles.  On the elevation profile this is the lowest elevation at just over 4400 feet.  The Carter Meadows trailhead is a light grey mini-track near the blue square marked Carter Creek Trail.  It is about 6300 feet elevation.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile of most of the drive to Carter Meadows trailhead

Barely 0.1 mile up the dirt/gravel road it makes a sharp turn to the right (south) where something that looks like an abandoned road is blocked off.  This is where the car GPS unit showed the car leaving the road and beginning to drive in space.  About 0.5 mile later there is a fork, where the correct road makes a sharp left turn to the northeast and uphill.  I believe the road is now Forest Rd 28N12, though signage is somewhat spotty.  The road goes northeast for about 0.3 mile, then south again for 0.9 mile and northeast for another 1.2 miles before curving to the right, mostly climbing but with a small dip (see the elevation profile at about 6 miles).

The road then follows Elam Creek for about 3.4 miles, though I don’t recall if the creek is visible from the road.  About 6.4 miles from CA-32 the road curves left (east) for about 0.4 mile and then to the left (northeast) again for about 1.5 miles and finally south for the final mile to the trailhead.  At the final turn to the south there is a junction with another dirt/gravel road, but there are signs indicating the way to the Carter Meadows trailhead – and I believe the car GPS finally recognized the existence of the road past this junction.

Although there are actually not many other options for the route, i.e., junctions, I think that nearly 90% of the roughly 10 miles on Forest Rd 28N12 showed on the car GPS as driving in space.  If you don’t know that it’s the correct route, it requires an extraordinary act of faith to drive that far.  We were really glad our driver made it!

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2 Responses to Pacific Crest Trail: Carter Meadows trailhead access

  1. Pingback: Pacific Crest Trail: Humbug Summit to Carter Meadows Trail | trailhiker

  2. Pingback: Pacific Crest Trail: Carter Meadows Trail to Hwy 36 | trailhiker

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