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 25, 2015

Lyons and Sylvia Lakes in Desolation Wilderness July 2015



along the Lyons Creek Trail!  

Alpine Lilies

Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily


Assorted Indian Paintbrush, lupine, and other wildflowers.

Single-stemmed Groundsel

More Alpine Lilies

This is the creek just before the Lyons Lake Junction sign looking SW into the woods.

Difficulty:  At 10 miles I would rate any hike "Strenuous", and there are a couple of shallow creek crossings this year.  A plus is the elevation gain is accomplished going in, and coming out is downhill.  Not for strollers, but babypacks work!
Distance:  10+ miles round trip, upward, some loose rocky sections.
Elevation gain:   + 1875 feet up and -1875 back down.
Driving Directions:
  • Take Wrights Lake Road north off of Highway 50 near Kyburz. 
  • Follow the signs to Lyons Creek Trailhead. There is parking, but no restrooms are available. If you reach the Bloodsucker Lake parking, you have gone too far.  
Notes: Day passes are available at the trail head, seasonally. In the winter season, stop by Pacific Ranger Station at Fresh Pond, CA and pick one up.
You could stop at Fresh Pond for gas, restroom use, drinks and snacks before you get off of Highway 50. For backpacking, see the notes near the end of this page.  For even a small cooking stove, have your fire permit with you.  Also bring your fishing license with if you bring your pole.

A great website is Desolation Wilderness Volunteers.  It includes a photo gallery and a wealth of information if you plan on visiting the area.
I just returned from hiking to both lakes on the Lyons Creek Trail and the weather was, as expected, random!  Sunny and hot on my first day and then on my way out after my over-nighter and day hiking, a thunderstorm blew in. In Desolation these weather changes are not uncommon, so be prepared.  

Walk along a barely used roadway for forestry related activities.  In a short distance though it becomes trail, first leading you through an large open meadow.
Take one of the "use paths" to your left when you hear the water, and
at some of those locations you can refill your water in Lyons Creek
or maybe splash to cool off.
The following photos will take you through to Sylvia Lake.
Enter the woods on a hard packed soil trail.
I get excited when I reach this point, feeling closer to my destination.
Some hiker's goal is Pyramid Peak.  Sylvia Lake is in the bowl beneath the peak though, so you won't have to climb it unless you are prepared to do so.  Lyons Lake is a steep climb north marked with a forestry post at the trail junction.
This open area has corn lilies blooming at shoulder height right now,
along with Lupine, Paintbrush, Pennyroyal, Larkspur, Asters,
Mountain Bluebells, and many other wildflowers.
Corn Lilies and Mountain Bluebells

The creek crossings are quite shallow.  Step across the rocks and head into the woods again.
The view to the south side.  
As you get closer to the lake, the trail is composed of loose rocks.  If you are prone to twisting an ankle, mid boots will help prevent injury.
We have arrived!  Bring your fishing pole if you have one.  There were fishermen along the WNW shore of Sylvia Lake and also at Lyons Lake. 
 Please note that Sylvia Lake is a sensitive area with recent restoration work done. Please respect the restoration effort.  These signs will show you the areas to avoid:


Please, please, please respect fire restrictions in place.  More than ever before, Desolation Wilderness could be lost in fire due to the extreme drought, and even lasting effects from dead and dying trees that resulted from the drought.  Fires mar the surfaces and change the resources, but at the end of the day, fire hazards are very high regardless of how careful you feel you are.  Build fires in campgrounds designed with safe fire rings rather than in the wilderness. 

  •  Day use fees: none; permits available at some trail heads after Memorial Day weekend, specifically at Lyons Creek, Rockbound, and Twin Lakes Trailheads.   
To obtain passes or for assistance in trip planning:
  • You can make online reservations for Desolation Wilderness Permits for a small reservation fee at
  • or visit Pacific Ranger Station Fresh Pond, 7887 Highway 50, Pollock Pines, CA or call (530) 647-5415 .  
  • If you are from the Tahoe side, check with Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit at (530) 543-2600. 
Other regulations and restrictions can be found on the website, too.
 I highly recommend you bring water and some snacks or lunch. No campfires are permitted in the wilderness. Have your Wilderness Permit to use your stoves and lanterns. 

 Please Leave No Trace and enjoy your trip!

Happy Trails!

Related Posts
Desolation Wilderness
10+ miles
30 miles
Moderate to Strenuous/Difficult
18 miles
12+ miles
Moderate to Strenuous
13+ miles
Moderate to Strenuous
Umpa Lake & Enchanted Pools
8+ miles
Cross country ~ Moderate
Horsetail Falls via Pyramid Creek TH
Aprox.  10 miles to lakes at the top of the falls
"Difficult, and potentially dangerous" miles
10 miles
8 miles
Lyons Lake via Lyons Creek Trail
10+ miles
9.2 miles
6+ miles
Lyons Creek Trail with melting snow
9+ miles
3.8 miles
2010-09 We hiked 12 days.
167 total
Moderate to Strenuous

See the Full Table of Contents.
Added links and updated permit information  06-2016

July 06, 2015

Alta Sierra Biblical Garden in Grass Valley, CA

 has a waterfall, creek, gardens, outdoor chapel, and a historical 13th century prayer and meditation labyrinth.  

This walk is a privately owned daytime retreat located near Grass Valley, open sunrise to sunset daily.  The gardens are  closed in winter months.  They also have a quaint outdoor chapel for up to 150 persons and includes a PA system, and electricity available.  No reservations for a few people but if more than 5 of you are going please make reservations.

Difficulty:  Easy.  It is made to be a pleasant place to reflect and find some peace. They say allow 1 1/2 hours for a self-guided walk through the gardens. The trail is very short, but perfect to spend some time reflecting. There are uphill and downhill areas and rocks sticking out of the dirt, and some has wood chips making use by wheelchairs unavailable.
Driving Directions:  From I 80 take CA 49 east.  In approximately 17 miles turn left on Auburn Road.  The Biblical Gardens is located on your right in about .7 mile.  There is plenty of parking, even for buses for events!
Notes: I called two days ahead to say we were coming.  We were greeted sternly because people have been using their parking as a park and ride, leaving cars in the parking area for overnight even.  The woman also looked quite suspiciously at our small day packs and said we cannot take food or water on the trail.  She complained that people have been leaving trash.  We never made it to see the labyrinth, but did walk the trail.  It is indeed serene and beautiful.  Please use the picnic area to eat.  Take your water in a non-disposable container.  Please, please be considerate of the owners and of people who use this place.  Leave it cleaner than you find it.  Enjoy the view.  The restrooms are only open on week-ends due to the drought.


16343 Auburn Rd.
Grass Valley, CA 95949
You can call them at (530)272-1363.  

Below is their map of the gardens to give you an idea of the layout.  You walk from station to station within the garden. Benches are placed to pause and enjoy the garden, meditate, perhaps pray, reflect, or simply take it all in. On their website you can click on each number and see a photo of a spot in the garden.  Click the link below the photo.
Notes of interest:  
  • A picnic area is available for reservation for bible studies, or other small group activities. A family picnic is fine too. Please take out your trash.  No BBQing is allowed.
  • The prayer labyrinth is a historical replica of a 13th century as a meditation or prayer path. Please don't let children run about or disturb the rocks that line the path.  It sits near Rattlesnake Creek and the gardens.  
  • Please, no wading or splashing around in the creek.
  • No pets allowed.
  • The outdoor chapel accommodates 150 people, and is available for memorials, weddings, and baptisms.
  • While the property is privately owned, the Grace Works Community Project has designed and constructed the interfaith nondenominational labyrinth.  (Donations are welcome and are tax deductible.)
The original owners and developers of the land have moved on and since 1996, Paula and Maskey Heath have continued the traditions of Alta Sierra Biblical Garden.
To learn more about the Gardens check out all of their website pages at Alta Sierra Biblical Garden.

July 03, 2015

Packing for a Fun and Safe Hike

For a full day hike, you may have read "The Ten Essentials" lists over and over again on the internet.  The lists sound like everything but the kitchen sink, and you are only going for a full day in the woods, hiking along designated, maintained trails.  I routinely see people on the trails with no more than water, sunglasses, and maybe a sandwich...maybe not even water and food.  You think that in a worse case scenario you would be close enough to others, or a ranger, and some help should you get sick, injured or lost.  Many of us tell ourselves those troubles only happen to people who are not familiar with the outdoors, or the daredevils and adrenaline junkies who tempt disaster.
My day hiking pack is ready to go with all the items shown and mentioned below!

Over the years I confess that I have been, on a few occasions, over-confident and under-packed.  I have used a space blanket, needed medication, a fire starter, or my bear spray (safely locked in my car trunk!)  I have gone without food, and been stuck in unexpected snow flurries overnight without a headlamp....really. Stormy Nightfall will fill you in on some of that.

For now, let's explore what you really need, basics, and some fun things too.  To nail down your own list, I recommend that you research your destination's weather forecasts, trends, and learn about the topography, distances, and consider possible injuries.  View maps of the trails you want to use, and get a "quad" map. Those are available at the local ranger station.  While you are visiting the ranger station, ask them about potential hazards (like high creeks, snow drifts, and tree falls), as foresters have given us great insights about current weather and trail conditions.

Here is a bullet list of things I pack:

  • Snacks/food.
I enjoy salami, jerky, trail mix, cheese, and those sports jelly bean like snacks.  I may take french bread.  It holds up well and I am not big on sandwiches, but need the carbs.  Whatever it is, pack some food that will survive your hike!
Favorite snacks and fizzies (electrolytes)
  • Water and a purifier, electrolyte fizzies.
Keep your electrolytes balanced out there.  Otherwise you may find yourself battling muscle cramps that were avoidable.  Be sure not to get dehydrated.
I love my SAWYER Squeeze Water Filtration System, and my Life Straw.  I look for lightweight, compact means and prefer to avoid batteries. (No, I am not getting compensated for telling you my favorite products).

The Life Straw needs to be broken in like some shoes.  It is very hard to suck the liquids through until you do it a few times.  I recommend doing this at home to make it more fun on the trails.  Kids need it broken in for them.  On the trail it is lightweight and easy to carry.
This is the water system I use.  All you do is screw on the filter to the water bag and you can drink through the filter or pour the water through the filter into your cup to add electrolytes before drinking.

  • Small tarp/space blanket.
The little thin, super compact ones are fine.  We once used a one-man, but for two of us it was very narrow, and even for one person, the extra width would be helpful, so I recommend you get a two-man....they weigh next to nothing and are compact.  My friend got me the heavier red/silver one that is the backdrop for these photos. I like to have it for sitting on, for a picnic and a nap, and using on snow! Minimally, take the featherweight one though. Be aware, they tear pretty easily in use.
The ultra light style of space blanket (Mine has been used!).
  • 1 brightly colored item.
It is preferable when you are in the wilderness to see people in natural colors.  It keeps wilderness experiences more pure.  But in the event of injury or getting lost, having one brightly colored item to capture the attention of helpers may save you misery and get you help more quickly.  SAR teams will have a higher likelihood of finding you faster.  My red tarp with the silver back is excellent!

  • A small first aid kit, with bandaids, bug spray, an extra dose or two of medication you take at home, and I suggest having moleskin.  I have used it for years!  Cut  a piece that is larger in diameter than your hot spot. Next cut a hole the size of the hot spot (discard it) and use sports tape to keep the disc in place without covering the actual blistering area. This really helps prevent a full blown, torn up, bleeding blister. The opening leaves room for swelling and protects the skin from rubbing. 

Prepackaged first aid kits are available, or self pack one. 
Mine also includes migraine meds.

Remember your epi pens!

You can pick up small prepackaged kits for reasonable prices and I get a small one for each kid to carry, just in case, (without medications they shouldn't handle of course).  Prepackaged kits will have a couple of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Benedryl tablets, and probably some ointment good for treating small wounds.

  • A light source like headlamp +/or flashlight.
I prefer a good headlamp, then if you are out after dark your hands are free.  Just be sure your batteries are good!  My zipper tab tiny flashlight is practically invisible it's so small and is handy.

  • Sunglasses, a hat or scarf.  
    I love my Panama Jack hat!
I need prescription glasses now.  My college professor recently got the ones that go from sunglasses to indoor glasses quickly and she loves them out on the trails. They are on my wish list!  If you don't need prescriptions, get some good sunglasses with rubbery stems to help them stay on if you get sweaty.  I like NATIVEs.
A baseball cap is sufficient, but I like my hiking hat with a wide brim all the way around.  I may look like a hiking geek, but I am sheltered and cooler.  I love the fabrics nowadays.  I can dunk my hat in the cool stream and feel cooler on my hike without wrecking my hat.

My Native sunglasses with flexible stems.
  • Fun items for the kids.
We take mini cards to play Go Fish or dice to play a form of Yahtzee.  I also have a lightweight floppy frizbee that is bright orange, making it easy to find in the woods.  I did some internet searches and found some fun games to play while hiking.  My grandson enjoyed doing "What if" scenarios and learned a lot about finding your way.   

  • A pencil and paper have come in handy.

  • Make a tradition. We have a little "toast" of an adult beverage carried in a flask when we reach our destination.  One time a friend made old-school chocolate, cream-filled cupcakes, frosted with a traditional white zigzag stripe across the tops for another friend's birthday.  Figure out something fun!  Repeat!

  • A camera.
You never want to forget at least a cell phone camera for selfies.  I like my Nikon Coolpix S9700.  (No compensation here either, just my favorite).  I bring 2 extra batteries!

  • Your dog.
I could be writing a whole article on this. Use good judgement about taking your dog. Be sure your dog is fit enough.  They get tired and sore just like people. Dogs get sick, over-exerted, affected by heat and cold they are not accustomed to.  They also get lost on occasion. A dog's feet may not be up to a hike in the woods unless they are out on trails often.  Dogs with bloody feet are not what any loving pet owner wants.  If you decide to take your dog, take a leash and use it if your dog is not under verbal control.  When a dog is not accustomed to the woods, it may get over-excited and harass wildlife, frightening wild creatures, and may put itself in harm's way.  Please carry dog waste out with you. Carry food, water, first aid and a leash. 

  • Shoes.  You will surely wear them anyway, but please be sure they can stand up to the terrain you will be on.  Shoes Have Soles too is a true story of an urbanite hiking in her tennies.  I have learned that appropriate shoes are a safety factor. (I do carry light weight flip flops or water shoes on a carabiner on my pack to wear at the destination) Try looking at REI's shoe guidelines to help decide how much shoe you need.  I also found out that for the kids, shoes matter.  One came with shoes recently purchased and didn't make it in a mile before being upset about blisters!  It turned out he had a growth spurt and his next pair purchased when we got home was 2 sizes larger!  Check the kid's shoe fit before you go.

A real hiker's shoe with multiple repairs needed to get through the hike!

Leave No Trace.  Remember Wilderness Etiquette.

And with that, I wish you a happy and safe hike!

7/4/2015 Photos added and related written edits.
Italicized edit on 7/5/2015