Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit 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 03, 2014

2018 Crooked Lakes Trail at Grouse Ridge CA

This was my grandson's second backpacking trip to this area.

Crooked Lakes Trail offers trail use for hikers, backpackers, equestrians, mountain cyclists, fishermen, seasonal hunters, and has excellent opportunities for outdoors activities for youngsters.

July 2018 update:  The weather was variable, warm, cold and windy, and rained most of one day.  Check for weather forecasts and go there prepared for unexpected changes that are common in this area.  On this trip there were no pesky flies at any of the many lakes we visited as were noted below.  Mosquitoes were there but not a high number. There were no more of the biting orange beetles mentioned in the article either, thank goodness. The trail to Milk Lake is more adequately marked than on our last trip, and for my 9 year old grandson's first backpacking trip, we camped there. Expect to see some kids as I do on every hike there, making a great family destination.
The forestry link is here.  
Distance: can be as little as one mile 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 or go around, and strollers are out of the question. We always meet people with kids here and it is an excellent place for backpacking with youngsters.
Weather: For forecasts click here.
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 NF-17 which turns to a dirt and gravel road immediately.  When there are offshoots, just follow the road to the right.  It gets quite tricky just before you reach the parking.  There is a parking circle carved out on your right just before the original shaded parking area at the trailheads that will just extend your hike a little bit.  I drove my car successfully in.  The top parking is nice and shady.  
Note:  There are fees to pay at the trail head for using the backpackers campground facilities, but not if you backpack beyond it and camp near other lakes.  There are a countless number of sites throughout the area, but no restrooms beyond Carr-Feeley.  Fire permits are required, although there are currently fire restrictions, so check the Tahoe National Forest link provided at the end of this article before your trip.  Get your permit here: Fire permits
For a pocket map of the area, Right click on the image, Save image it, and choose the location to keep it on your device.  Now you can print it as an 8 1/2" by 11" guide to take along. With all the lakes and trails at this location, it can come in handy.
This time, we arrived during a small heat wave! There were many day hikers and a few backpackers. Our camp site was along the west shore of Island Lake with good water access.  We didn't use our tent's rainfly, and sleeping bags weren't really necessary since the nights were very warm.
We discovered numerous sites along all but a few small unnamed lakes.
This campsite on the north side of the unnamed lake west of Island Lake has some nice flat tent sites nearby, is far enough from the lake, but clearly has a hazardous fire ring setup.  We chose a sunny site thinking it would be nice not to wait for morning dew to dry before packing up camp, but in this hot weather, shade like this might have been best.
There are trout and catfish in Island Lake and some surrounding lakes, although we didn't see anything large.  Only a few fish were observed feeding at sunset.
The local views of the lakes were satisfying at the end of our active days.  
There were some orange beetles (not ladybugs) voraciously biting our lower legs and feet, leaving itchy red bumps to remain for days.  Mosquitoes stayed until breezes kicked in, but the worst offenders were large black flies buzzing around our heads tapping our hair frequently, and I mean persistently.  Hikers we met reported them at other lakes they visited on this journey.  Breezes affected only the mosquito activities.
Our trip was enjoyable with weather perfect for swimming, fishing, and bonuses of viewing two eagles doing their own fishing.

FIRE RESTRICTIONS ARE IN EFFECT for Tahoe National Forest.  Get your permit here: Fire permits to use backpacker stoves and check any new restrictions.

For more tidbits of helpful information from previous trips in various weather conditions check out these posts:

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.

Happy Trails!
July 2014

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