My First Backpacking Experience…Blue Canyon Lake, CA

Oops, so sorry guys! I really suck at updating this blog. I had a few rough drafts for some of the trips I have been on earlier this year but it’s so hard to write about a trip months later since I forget a lot of the details. So for this trip, I told myself I will definitely need to write about it asap!

Five years ago, I moved to the Bay Area and became “outdoorsy” (haha). My first hike was here in the Bay. You guessed it right, it’s Mission Peak of course! Besides doing the popular hikes, I realized I want to explore the less-trafficked areas. I want to discover and see more of what’s out here in California. My strategy is literally just zooming in and out of Google Maps and picking a random place and Googlin’ it!

Over the weekend, I decided to visit Stanislaus National Forest which is just north of Yosemite National Park. I did the usual research on finding a nice trail but seems like most of them are “normal” looking lakes. I finally stumbled upon two sources (Outbound and AllTrails) about BLUE CANYON LAKE. The pictures look amazing! It’s so turquoise and it’s supposedly rank as beginner level and should only take an hour to reach the lake. Here’s how the lake was supposed to look like according to Google images. I understand this picture was probably taken in the summer time but when I went this past weekend, the conditions are DEFINITELY A LOT crazier!


I called Mi-Wuk Ranger Station  to ask about the trail and to get the wilderness permit. BTW, you should call them ahead of time to get the wilderness permit and have them leave it outside for you if you’re going to get there at after-hours. The ranger I spoke to was super nice. He did the trail himself and said it’s very difficult to find since the trail is not marked. He said it’s 2.7 miles one way and suggested me to not hike this at night (uh..ya…). He also said there will be snow there. He wasn’t lying…there were times I would step into snow that’s knee-deep.

~All these pictures were taken the next morning. We did the hike the previous night. ~

How to get there: Put in these coordinates for the trailhead: 38º 19’08.46″N 119º39’49.26″W or just type in “Blue Canyon Lake, CA” in Google Maps (There is absolutely no reception once you’re an hour away from Stanislaus so keep your Google Maps on). You will know you’re there if you see roadside parking that allows about 3-4 cars. Park there and the “trail” begins on the right once you cross the creek.

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Do not do what we did and try to hike this at night unless you’ve done this before. This was our first time. We started around 6PM (already dark but there was a full moon). It was so dark that we didn’t see anything that could resemble a trail besides a small trail you see once you cross the creek. After that, however, you will no longer see anything that could be a trail …at least not in the dark. Unfortunately, we started hiking towards the left which is WRONG! See that second red circle on top? We intelligently thought the lake would be over this big mountain so we started CLIMBING up here. Yes, I was on my fours and slipping down as it was very rocky but slippery!


After 2ish 3 hours of scrambling, we finally had pieces of our brains back and realized this can’t be the right way. We decided to go towards the right and followed the creek towards the snowy mountains. FOLLOW THE CREEK ON THE RIGHT! After about another hour, we finally saw footprints on the snow! There was more and more snow as we reached higher elevation and of course that means it got colder and colder.

The footprints definitely helped a lot but there were times we would reach a dead end and noticed footprints backtracking. After 4ish hours of hiking in the dark with our pack in the cold/windy 20s degree weather, we decided to stop at about 9500 FT and camp there. This was also not the best idea because it got SUPER WINDY for the rest of the night up until the sun rose. Since there were rocks everywhere, we could not stake our tent. We quickly boiled the dehydrated food (make sure you get a campfire permit) and ate it so we can go hide in the tent. By now, it’s 10ish PM. According to the ranger, this hike was supposed to only take 1 hour and it’s 2.7 miles one way. Different sites have different mileage because the trail is not marked so it could take shorter/longer for each person. It took us 4ish hours just to reach 9500 FT. With no marked trail and no map to guide us, we only knew that the lake sits at about 10,050 FT. We knew we weren’t too far away from the lake but our toes were frozen and we were getting hungry. Also, if you look at the picture below, you can see footprints on the right. That actually leads to cliff so we were thinking we may need to backtrack and cross the creek to get there. I decided we should finish our expedition the next morning. We tried to sleep but it was so cold and windy. It got so windy that I really thought we were going to be blown away. I was freezing so we basically only slept for an hour or two. Oh ya, I also had to pee a million times throughout the hike so I just popped a squat (make sure you’re 200FT away from water source/creek).


The sun finally rose around 6ishAM and the wind finally stopped. It was still very cold but at least there was no wind noise. Honestly, I had to poo but I didn’t want to poo in the wilderness 😦 I was hungry but didn’t want to poo or get lazy from eating. I used that to push myself to finish this hike lol We did scramble down past these footprints. After about another hour of hiking and moaning/complaining, we finally reached 10,080 FT and CAN SEE THE LAKE!! was frozen. I guess I anticipated it but I didn’t think the ENTIRE lake would be frozen.


We heard a echoing ping sound…like a whistling sound but very harmonic. At first, we thought it was a bird but it was actually the sound the frozen lake was making! I have never ever experienced this so it was amazing and out of this world!

Here are some pictures from finally reaching Blue Canyon Lake! It was definitely not the turquoise colored lake I was hoping to see but hearing the frozen lake echoes was an amazing experience. This was also my highest elevation hike so far sitting at 10,080 FT.


We wanted to find the “trail” to get back to the road so we followed footprints and what may look like a trail. Even though it is now bright out, it was still very difficult to hike. Some sources mark this trail as “easy” which could be true in the summer but I would rank this hike as “difficult/strenuous” when done in the winter and at night haha. You do have to scramble and hike in the snow. It can get very slippery as I did fall on my butt and hands many times. Overall, I had an amazing and crazy experience. I am looking forward to backpacking some more!

Trailhead: 38º 19’08.46″N 119º39’49.26″W or just type in “Blue Canyon Lake, CA” in Google Maps 8700~FT elevation

Parking: Roadside (3-4 cars)

Trail end: 38º 17.892″N 119º39.869″W 10,050-10,080 FT Elevation

Conditions: There were lots of snow and the lake was frozen. We got lost and did this hike at night (temperature 20-30s degrees). Our tent is for 3 seasons so not meant for the winter. It took us about 6 hours roundtrip since we spent 3-4 hours getting lost. I highly suggest anyone to not do this hike at night. Again, there is no trail. Big tip: follow the creek on the right. It will lead you right to Blue Canyon Lake but you will have to scramble and slip! Enjoy! I will need to come back here in the summer!


Love my poncho hehe.


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