Back to index Thornburg Canyon (Full)

Trip Date:  09/13/2019

: 8.5 Miles

Vertical Gain: 3000'

Group Size: 7

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
Thornburg Canyon Route
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Thornburg Canyon Full Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 38 40.037
W 119 48.941
    End Coordinates:   N 38 38.427
W 119 54.957
Car Shuttle Req'd:   Yes
Parking Directions:   For the start of the hike: Take Highway 89 to the town of Markleeville.  Turn west on Hot Spring Rd, than turn left to follow Pleasant Valley road.  This will turn into Sawmill Road, and then turn onto Forest Service road 71 and follow this High Vechicle clearance (or 4WD) required dirt road to the parking area where the signed start of the trail can be found.  Note that there are a couple crossings of Spratt Creek on this section of road and it may not be passable during times when the water is high.
For the end of the hike: Take Highway 88 to the Blue Lakes Road turn south, just to the west of Pickett's Junction.  Go south on Blue Lakes road 10 miles to the parking area listed at the GPS coordinates.  There is a small pull-out on the west side of the road that can accomodate 4-5 vehicles at this location.  As of 2019 a new kiosk for the start of the canyon hike has been added near the start of this trail.
Hazards of Note:   Bears, ticks, rattlesnakes, steep

Crowd Factor:   Minimal.  Until 2019, the Thornburg Canyon trail had not been maintained to any degree in more than a decade, so traffic on the trail is going to be low until word gets out about this newly restored trail between Markleeville and Blue Lakes Road.
General Notes:
From the parking area, pass by the trailhead sign and head across and open area which will soon offer some impressive views of Raymond Peak to the southwest.  Continue up the trail above the canyon to your right and a couple of times you will find viewpoints down into gorgeous Pleasant Valley to the left.  This is a private valley that is not accessible, but offers impressive scenery along the way.  As you bend a sharp turn and head into a forested section, you will enter into the Mokelumne Wilderness, which was signed at one time but on this date the only thing left was a splintered post in the ground.  
This entire trail from the east to the west is mostly uphill, except for a short section of somewhat level trail about 3 miles in.  There are impressive rock formations towering above this section on the north side of the trail, and eventually you will see Thornburg Peak on the south side as you head up the canyon.
About 5 miles into the hike you will climb out of the forest and initially have impressive views of Jeff Davis Peak to the left and Markleeville Peak to the right.  As you continue to climb, you will come up over a rise which will offer views from south of Highway 4 all the way to Waterhouse Peak to your north.

The parking area at the east end of the Thornburg Canyon trail is a big open area with room for 8 to 10 vehicles to park easily.
Parking area

It seems pretty remote but there is actually a signed trailhead at the south end of the parking area.
Trailhead sign 

Starting off on the trek, following the freshly restored trail.
Starting off on the trail 
Within the first 1/2 mile there is a great view of Raymond Peak to the west.
Raymond Peak to the West 

Just off the trail is a view of Pleasant Valley and 11K foot Highland Peak south of Highway 4 in the distance.
Pleasant Valley 

Another look across Pleasant Valley to the east.  Mountains in Nevada are visible in the distance.
Pleasant Valley 

A log across an early water crossing has been added to the trail, and this made for a good spot to filter some ice cold water for the climb up the canyon.
Crossing the stream

Just on the other side of the creek crossing is evidence of an old foundation, as well as some metal which might be from an old wagon of some type.

This rock outcropping was especially prominent and reminded us of a castle turret.
More rock

There was one section of about 500' in the middle we hadn't done before from either end, and it included this interesting section of climb along the rocks.
 Connector section

A couple miles before the western end the views open up and the prominent Jeff Davis Peak is visible from a unique angle.
Jeff Davis Peak

Not much further up the Nipple Peak above Blue Lakes makes and appearance to the northwest.
The Nipple

The trail passes by and then has a nice look back at Jeff Davis Peak and Raymond Peak in the distance, now looking at the west flank of it.
Jeff Davis & Raymond

Almost to the crest of the hike, nearly 3000' of elevation gain over where we started, Round Top mountain and Elephant's Back peaks near Carson Pass become visible in the distance.
Round Top and Elephants Back
Our group headed up the trail.  Most of the way is about this level of elevation gain.
Our group on the trail
A look at the new signboard at the trailhead on the western end of the hike, just off of Blue Lakes Road.  
New west trailhead

The GPS track of the hike, from right to left heading up the canyon. GPS Track of Hike