Ironically, the Billys Peak Trail does not climb Billys Peak. Instead, it surmounts the large granite pinnacle known as Billys Peak Lookout. The Lookout is separated from the Billys Peak by a saddle that dips over 1,000 feet below the two summits. The trail was originally built to provide access to the Forest Service lookout that once stood on the summit. Though gone, the lookout still provides the name to the otherwise nameless peak.
The trail climbs steeply up the southern flank of Billys Peak Lookout, gaining just under 3,000 feet in 3 miles. Adding to the difficulty of the grade, the trail has not been maintained in quite a while and though the route is obvious, it is severely overgrown. This is particularly true in the higher portions of the trail where the route is almost entirely obscured. Only the rocky construction of the route gives indication of where to go in these sections. Further evidence of the lack of maintenance is the nearly 4 dozen snags that have fallen over the trail in the first mile. Despite these obstacles, the Billys Peak Trail is an excellent option for those who want climb directly into the Trinity Alps high country from right off of a highway.
The Billy’s Peak Trail begins at a tight switchback of the forest service road. The pathway is narrow but obvious as it makes a couple of broad switchbacks up the slope of the mountain. At this point, downed trees will litter the trail for the first mile of the route. After nearly 0.4 miles the trail crosses over the wilderness boundary into the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Almost immediately thereafter the trail begins a series of tight switchbacks. At the top of the switchbacks one has reached the forested crest of a long ridge that runs northwesterly towards the summit of Billys Peak Lookout. Through the trees, views extend down into the canyon drained by Coffee Creek. From here the trail turns north at continues up the ridge.
After one mile from the trailhead, the trail begins another series of switchbacks. These are a little looser the previous set and briefly bring the trail back into the Trinity River Canyon, with views across the canyon towards Bonanza King. Almost as soon as the trail crossed over the ridge towards the Trinity River, it turns west again, beginning a long, steady traverse of the south face of Billys Peak Lookout. The forest cover begins to fade quickly, which is unfortunate because it is at this point the brush begins to encroach on the trail in earnest. The trail is never hard to follow, since it is no longer a path in the woods but rather a well-constructed rocky trail. Nonetheless, it is a pain to have to fight through such dense vegetation. Views to the south begin to steadily improve as one continues up the traverse.
The long the traverse lasts for almost exactly one mile. It will eventually make one sharp switchback, turning towards the east. At this point there is a brief glimpse of the broad, jagged ridge of Billys Peak proper. The trail continues its long steady climb for another 0.4 miles. The summit block of Billys Peak Lookout now looms high above. Watch for cairns initiating another series of tight switchbacks. A flat rock on the side of the trail is painted with the words “the spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak”. The words are painted on in a dark green paint, a seeming vestige of the days when Forest Service workers would man the lookout tower. From this point to the summit the switchbacks will continue to get tighter as the trail ascends a narrow gully. A small hollow under some boulders indicates the final portion of this climb. With the same green paint, the name “Carlsbad Cavern” is painted above the hollow, a testament to someone’s odd sense of humor and proportion.
Beyond the hollow the trail nearly disappears completely, erased by a small rockslide. Simply continue up the talus until one either intersects the reconstituted trail or encounters a large rock with the words “this way please” painted on, again in the same green, Forest Service paint. When the trail finally emerges at the top of the gully, view to the north and east open up. The trail continues to the left, up natural stairs to the summit.
The top of Billys Peak Lookout is absent the namesake lookout. All that is left are some foundation piers, pieces of steel cable and anchors and an amazing array of metal cans, which indicates the diet of those that once spent there summers on top of the mountain. One can see the length of the Trinity River nearly from its headwater on Mount Eddy down to Trinity Lake, as well as nearly the full course of Coffee Creek, one of the major watersheds in the Trinity Alps. The Scott Mountains to the north line the horizon and the Trinity Divide dominate the view to the east. In particular, Bonanza King looms high above the Trinity River just opposite the Lookout and Mount Shasta presides majestically over everything in sight.
Billys Peak Trail Map
From Weaverville, travel north on Highway 3 for 42 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 38N34, which is signed for the Billys Peak Trail. Continue up the well conditioned dirt road for 4.5 miles. Park at the obvious wide spot on the road where the road forks. Beyond this point 38N34 degrades quickly. Once having parked, take the road leading up the hill for about 50 feet to where a post marks the beginning of the trail.
From Mount Shasta City, drive north on Interstate 5, through the town of Weed. Exit at the Edgewood/Stewart Springs exit. Turn left and drive under the freeway, then turn right onto Old Stage/ Old 99. Continue north for a couple hundred yards and then turn left onto Stewart Springs Road. After 4 miles, Forest Service Road 17 splits off to the right. Follow this road for 22 miles until it dead ends on Highway 3. Turn left on Highway 3 and continue for 10 miles to the turnoff for Forest Road 38N34.