Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

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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 16, 2014

Loch Leven Lakes in Tahoe National Forest

Loch Leven Lakes are popular hiking and backpacking destinations southwest of Donner Lake, 

warm enough to enjoy swimming, and bring your fishing gear!

This map is to give you an idea of what to expect for the drive to the trailhead.  Parking consists of dirt pull outs.  Enlarge it by clicking on it to view details.  (Sorry, ignore the pink which is for another trailhead).

Difficulty:  Moderate.  Distance is flexible but also farther than beginners usually want to tackle for a day hike.  For backpacking though, you do half that distance each day, and 3 miles is an easier distance.  Be prepared for rocks and tree falls though.  This is an excellent beginner's backpacking trip! My 8 year old grandson said "Grammy, you added a whole new meaning to the word 'hiking'!" on this, his first backpacking trip.
Elevation changes:  Round trip, ascent 1218; descent: 1198, no section is too steep or scary.
Driving Directions:

  •      From I-80E take the Yuba Gap Exit.  
  •      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. 
Note: The TH is after you pass Huysinks, which is visible from the road and looks like a large pond. You will follow the road to the right, going around the lake. 
Much of the drive is on dirt roads.  Conditions are fairly good right now with a few tire ruts, but fully negotiable by car.

This map shows the hiking trail.

The trailhead is on the left side of the road, heads into willows, and is posted with a small wooden sign.  Past the willows, it opens into the large meadow with corn flowers (at about knee-thigh height at this time)  For GPS Tracks check Wikiloc.

The walk through here is easy, on hard packed dirt, without obstacles.  When you pass the meadow, hike into the forest where the trail becomes hilly.  

Nothing too steep.  In the woods the trail leads through a beautiful, lush, cooler patch of ferns.

The trail will open into a rocky area, and you will climb a rocky, boulder section, winding your way upward. It sometimes looks like a creek bed.  Good shoes help grip the rocks and protect your ankles from twists. Kids do a lot better in good shoes as well.  I like using hiking poles for balance while moving from rock to rock.

An unnamed pond will be on your left, where we did encounter enough mosquitoes to spray ourselves with bug spray for relief from the biting pests.

From the trail, you can look down into the Salmon Lake bowl.  Since fewer people 
camp here, it is an excellent choice for a more secluded 
camping experience.  It can also be a resting place for your hiking break.
Keep traveling eastward.  There are cairns, tree blazes, rows of rocks placed by the forestry to line the trail on both sides across open granite areas, and, at "use paths" that might lead hikers astray, there are dead wood branches or rocks placed across them to help you recognize the designated trails.  Do not follow cairns exclusively because they can be placed by anyone to any random destination, although in general, when you think you lost the trail they can alert you to it.  Keep looking for additional markers and clues..  My 8 year old grandson was able to choose the correct route on almost every occasion using markers and signs.

High Loch Leven seems to appear out of nowhere!  My grandson wanted to drop everything and get out the fishing pole.  This first lake is large and has numerous campsites around it.  My preference is to avoid camping right beside a trail, which describes many of the sites available.  We traveled on to the sometimes less busy, Middle Loch Leven Lake.

Although we were able to camp off of the trail in this perfect campsite, there were groups 
of people hiking and swimming around the lake. Everyone was quiet by nightfall.

The next day a LARGE group of backpackers traveled through.  If you are traveling with a group like this, it is a good idea to break up into smaller groups to decrease your noise impact. Large groups are bound to be having fun, talking over one another, and perhaps getting a bit boisterous.  Keep in mind we affect the habitats of the wildlife with our visits too, so take the opportunity to enjoy wildlife in their home.

Once our base camp was set up,

we had time to explore the area. My grandson had time to try out his slingshot, try various fishing holes, explore, play in the water, and relax.

 We found plenty of wildflowers along the way, too.  Brightly colored birds hung around while we fished.  Watch for rattlesnakes, but we didn't see any.

***Use bear bags or canisters for your safety and for securing your food supply.  Also, rodents got into some of our supplies while we were out exploring, so don't leave your camp unsecured.

This is Middle Loch Leven Lake at sunrise.  

which includes directions for another parking and hiking route.
Get your permit here: Fire permits

Links for other hikes in the area:

Up to 7.5
Easy to Strenuous
You choose
Moderate to Strenuous
·         Loch Leven Lakes, Salmon Lake

·         Sierra Discovery Trail
·         Pioneer Trail

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Happy Trails!  

1 comment:

  1. Tahoe wake boarding and cobalt boats that can seat up to 13 people are available for rent at Sunnyside Marina in Tahoe. If you dock in the north, you have the option of having your transportation to the beach arranged for you.


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