Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

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July 22, 2012

Loch Leven Lakes- Donner / Tahoe Area, CA

*  If you double click on a photo below you'll be able to view each of the photos enlarged.  At the bottom of the article will be a map, an elevation profile, and a Wikiloc link for GPS tracks.

On this beautiful hike of 7.2 miles, we passed 6 lakes and ponds, each one inviting and remote.  

Difficulty:  Moderate.  Distance is flexible but also farther than beginners usually want to tackle for a day hike.  For backpacking though you do half of that each day, then 3+ miles is an easier distance.  Be prepared for rocks and tree falls though.
Elevation changes:  Ascent 1218; Descent: 1198, no section steep as you will see on the graph below.
Driving Directions:
  • Take 160 toward Yuba Gap.  
  • In .2 mi. turn right onto Lake Valley Road.  It turns slightly left and becomes Crystal Lake Road. 
  • In .2 miles make a slight right toward Lake Valley Road.  Continue for 1 mile.  
  • Make a slight left onto Forest Route 19 and drive for 3 miles. 
  • Continue onto Power Line for .8 miles.  
  • Continue onto Forest Route 19 for .2 miles.  
  • Turn left and drive for 1 mile. 
The TH is after Huysinks.  The last 4 miles are dirt and the road conditions change, but on this trip in July 2012 I could have gotten my car there but there are some deep tire ruts and a lot of washboard or potholes. 

Notes:  If you are a backpacker, I highly recommend this popular trail and the lakes.  There is plenty of room and many campsites along the way.  Sure, there are people at the first lake but the further you go, the fewer you'll be likely to see.  For me the last lake was most beautiful and enjoyable.  The first Loch Leven Lake is large and groups were there of young people swimming.  Various backpackers were solo and had separate camps with privacy enough. 

WILDFLOWERS, for those who stop by to see what's blooming in the wilds:

This time of year is full of color and variety.  I love the macro shots like this first one.  Enlarged, you'll see the little residents and scavengers that may appear to be dirt or debris in the field!

We were also treated to a section of trail covered with these beauties.

Our hike started in the shade of brush and willows, when we suddenly stepped out into this sublime meadow.  I'm happy to report we didn't have to break out bug spray to fight off the biters that commonly stalk hikers along moist areas.

Quickly the trail reentered the woods and there were several larger fallen trees to climb over, or in the case above, through.

For the most part the trail is in good condition and easy to follow. but of course, GPS helped us along the Salmon Lake area.  We did some granite crossing and boulder scrambling in that area, all fun and nothing treacherous!

This unnamed grassy lake hid a treasure for me:  my first chance to photograph what I believe was a great blue heron.  You'll have to enlarge this to find it because I zoomed my lens as far as possible taking the photo, and still can barely see the giant bird in the tree (below).

It caught me off guard and flew down into the grasses where I thought I had missed my opportunity but at home on the laptop, there it is hiding.  Another one to enlarge or zoom in on.

So play a little "Where's Waldo?" and find the bird in the above photos.  Help me if you know for sure what type it is.  Good luck.

A bit of adventure struck us here because somehow, talking too much I guess, we lost the trail but took our time on the granite resting and snacking, taking pictures of Salmon Lake and wondering if we needed to go all the way down to the lake or not.  We opted for a bit of cross country in the compass direction of Loch Leven and with a little bushwhacking we were able to reconnect with the official trail. 

As we srolled along and greeted hikers and dogs, Loch Levens first lake presented herself in full color and beauty.  As you can see, a breeze was steady but it sure didn't slow down all the young people swimming!  They were across the lake between islands squealing, laughing, and splashing.  It did nothing to dampen my enjoyment.

 Neither did the various camps set up along the trail.  Our ambition was to get to Upper Loch Leven though so our stay was shorter here at the largest of the lakes.

My vision of what it might be like was good as gold.  No one was there but us, no splashing or tents.  We picnicked and took off our boots for a wade in the pleasantly warm shallow water.  This was a fantastic destination!

Our chosen spot was here at the southwest side of the lake where we found some boulders and a long shallow area perfect for soaking our tired dogs.  Lily had a blast splashing and digging up mud between snacking and finding sticks to be thrown.

Sunset was on our way out, but worth stopping for this shot. This was a fun moderate hike and might be a good start for a new backpacker.  Our 7.2 miles could be shortened and was a round trip total.  No bathrooms. For the day, take a water purifying means, food, sunscreen and bug spray (and your swim trunks)!

Wikiloc  for GPS.  Other tracks are available.

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Happy Trails!