Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit desovw.org for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit Recreation.gov or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

July 19, 2012

Grouse Ridge, Donner Area, updated 5/13/2014


*If you double click on a photo you can view all of the photos enlarged.  At the bottom of this article I am including a map, an elevation profile from my Garmin GPS and a Wikiloc link.  Some of my hike to the lakes and ponds shown is off trail.

Sunset my first night there.

Distance: can be as little as one mile (to Milk Lake) and can go for many miles over many days.
Difficulty:  Easy to difficult, according to your choice.  I would be comfortable taking an outdoorsy child who can hike at least 1/2 mile in and then out. They would enjoy the lakes. It really is not too steep for any length of time.  There were some tree falls to climb over and strollers are out of the question.
Driving Directions:  Get onto Highway 20 West from Highway 80 west of Donner.  Turn right onto Bowman Lake Road, cross the South Fork Yuba River and keep going until you see the sign for Grouse Ridge.  Turn right on the forest road that turns to a dirt and gravel road immediately The road had some work done on it so should be in good condition for a dirt road, accessible by car.  6 miles but worth it!
You'll arrive at a fork that points to the right for camping with a well kept vault toilet in an actual structure or the fork to the left that leads to a parking area for the trailhead.  No running water is available.  You can hike a half mile to Downey or Milk Lake or just bring bottled water for camping.
Notes:  The area is being renovated so by the time you read this and get there the road will be in better condition.  The campground has picnic tables, fire pits, and some nice flat tent areas. Check on hunting season dates before you go.  (Deer hunting in the fall).

Amusing.  Not much better than the road.

 At the top of this 1/2 mile road, closed to vehicles,  is the Grouse Ridge Lookout.  It is a shady and pleasant climb to the fading structure.  The road is shown on the map below.

Although it is weathered and boarded up you can still climb the stairs and look inside the empty space that used to be manned by staff.  I braved the stairs for the spectacular views but the wind was pushing me off balance enough to scare me from venturing around to the other side.  It's pretty rickety and you go at your own risk.


The outhouse was hard to capture since it virtually hangs over air!  Doesn't that add a whole new meaning to "outhouse"?

If you didn't have to "go" before you got to this outhouse you would have to go once inside. And can you imagine having to go in a violent storm?  But you can appreciate the views!  I had to kneel down for photos because of jarring wind gusts.  It was frightening to be so close to nothing but air space to fall into and I doubt one would walk away from a mishap like that.  When do you ever hear me so unnerved by such wonders? There is a hand rail for good reason.  My son and I laughed about having to wear rappelling gear to use the restroom!

I am barely standing on another precipice in threatening wind gusts to get his view for you from under the lookout deck.  It's worth the hike.  Every direction is something different geologically.  Beautiful and fascinating.

 An ancient dead tree (nicknamed a widow maker) stands in stark contrast to sections of forest untouched by the ravages of fire.

But never park, camp, stand, or sit within the reaches of widow makers.  Some hiker came back tired and ready to go, I'm sure.  Their truck met up with a widow maker!  Beware.  This is the best cautionary evidence I've photographed yet!

The following photos were taken along the path heading east along Glacier Lake Trail.  Within a short distance there are lakes, ponds, meadows, pine forest, willows, and granite bowls and outcroppings.  I enjoyed plenty of shade and the trail is in good condition.  Off trail you bushwhack but get to see a variety of landscapes and enjoy a true wilderness experience. 


The size of a pencil eraser, one of countless flowers in bloom right now.


The cattle eyed me suspiciously and began calling to each other and clanging their bells!




 Not sure of possible bacteria, I did purify water from these sources.







From the Grouse Ridge Trailhead, you can also head northwest toward Crooked Lakes Trail on Round Lake Trail, or north toward Shotgun and other basin lakes.  The area is one of my favorites and worth a dusty, difficult drive.  The trails are actually pretty easy and in a short distance you can day hike or backpack camp. You'll encounter few if any groups, or occasional hikers even if you see quite a few vehicles parked at the trailheads into the area. Once I did happen back there when some travel company was taking tourists backpacking.  Weekenders will find more people than those who can go on weekdays. There are so many directions to go and so many places to hang out.
GPS link, click here.


Carr Feeley Trailhead and Backpackers Camp will give you more information about the area and another map of trails northwest of the Grouse Ridge. From there you use the Twin Lakes Trail or Round Lake Trail.
Crooked Lakes Trail Survivor Night describes an unexpected storm, hiking hazards and solutions. A true account with a happy ending.

Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents
Thank you for stopping by and Happy Trails!
Road conditions updated 5-13-2014