The trail starts out busy, especially within the first few miles. Leaving the trailhead and Vallacito Campground behind, steep switchbacks gain 415 feet towards rocky outcrops at 1.6 miles. Ponderosa, aspen and oak cover these lower altitudes.
Dropping down next to the creek, the trail comes to the first bridge and the canyon narrows. Now on the east side of the creek, the trail pulls higher again. The crowds thin out, and 2.5 miles of dense forest unfolds. At the second bridge, the trail crosses back over to the west side of the creek to follow the water closely for another mile.
Skirting two avalanche chutes, the greatest roadblock comes where a third one wiped out the final bridge in the winter of 2004-2005. A myriad of broken trees in the runout stand tribute to the disaster, and serves as a good reminder about the dangers avalanches pose.You’ll have to ford 40 feet of the river to reach the opposite banks. You might want to bring an extra pair of water shoes or sandals to cross in, and a walking stick or running poles for balance, especially in the springtime snowmelt.
The trail continues on the east side of the creek to the Johnson Creek trail. As one of the entry points for the very popular Chicago Basin, a number of more developed backcountry campsites dot the intersection, but you'll have to cross the bridge to find them.
Beyond Johnson Creek, the views open up. Pulling about 65 feet higher than the creek, the forest envelops the trail in heavy timber and a thick undergrowth. But where the shoreline mellows, the route drops down to hug Vallacito Creek at the foot of the steep hillsides. The trees open briefly at the base of a rockfall to views of Vallacito Mountain, Greylock Mountain, Windom Peak
, Sunlight Peak
, and Peak 7.
The route pulls east. Near Rock Creek, the trail then threads a thin line between a row of small and questionable campsites before crossing the creek without a bridge. Heading straight north into switchbacks, the trail continues at the foot of the hillsides, distancing itself from the creek. The canyon walls narrow, and the forest grows thick with pine. With only 1.5 miles left to go, a large campsite at the foot of the Trinity Lake Route
kicks off into one last batch of switchbacks, these ones clambering up to where the trail ends below treeline at the CDT: Twin Lakes to Beartown (CO Sec. 8)