Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thornburg Canyon Trail southwest of Markleeville, California

The Thornburg Canyon Trail connects Markleeville with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Upper and Lower Blue Lake area in the Mokelumne Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. For an out-and-back day trip, the trail section between the trailhead east of Markleeville (see below) and a scenic saddle about five miles to the west is a good selection. This hike has been classified as moderate [1]. But you may find yourself as the only lonely hiker or group for the day on this not so frequently visited trail. It is easy to get lost, since the trail is nowhere marked and rows of fallen trees can make it difficult to keep track.

Along the trail, you'll find magnificent views down into Pleasant Valley and up towards rock pinnacles and walls with caves. From the saddle, you'll see the characteristic volcanic-plug column of Jeff Davis Peak. With the exception of the saddle area, most sections of the trail go through pine and hemlock forest and a small part cuts through manzanita-covered slopes.

Getting to the Thornburg Canyon trailhead from Markleeville
Drive west on Hot Springs Road and, after about one mile, turn left to follow Pleasant Valley Road to Sawmill Road. Drive to the end of Sawmill Road, take the dirt road FS 071 and follow Spratt Creek. The unpaved road crosses the Creek a few times. Depending on the clearance of your vehicle and the time of the year, you may chose to find a parking spot and continue by walking or to drive all the way to the closed steel gate and the Thornburg Canyon Trail board, where the trail begins for non-motorized traffic and where you'll find a booklet to sign in for a visitor permit.

[1] “Thornburg Canyon” on pages 290 and 291 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.

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