Hiking Lake

Guide to Hiking Lakes in California

lakes Southern California

This is California – the beautiful, where millions flock on vacation. California is crowded: the population & tourists are only increasing each year. Thousands of people are looking for hiking mountains or better, a hiking lake – each weekend. Many are using the web for destinations, like the research you are doing right now. All folks seeking nature, water, cooler temps, fresh air & views. High Sierra, NorCal, SoCal Reservoirs, we list the best of these hiking lakes below.

Some of the lakes have mountaineering routes nearby; equestrian trails, regular hiking trails, campgrounds, some even have sorta level paved (granny) trails for biking, hiking & skating around.

High elevation or alpine lakes can be accessed best in summer months. Mountain bike, backpack, horseback into these hidden treasures. With any Sierra Nevada destination, snow pack deep can be in certain seasons. Major Highways (Sierra Passes) can be closed into June or July, due to rock slides and late snow melt. Snow shoes, snowmobile or 4×4 vehicles may be needed to reach such lakes, any months OCT-MAY (fall to spring). Winter can come early & stay late at these higher elevations of California; Be prepared for true Wilderness experience.

But maybe you are just looking for some easy hiking, loop trails & picnic spots; Or perhaps an overnight stay near a lakeside camp w/ kayak rentals. California reservoirs to alpine lakes, we have a wide variety listed below.

This page contains links to some favorite lakes with hiking trails around the lake, along the shoreline or routes on ridge lines overlooking the lake. If no good lake page could be found, we’ve linked to some photos of the lake on Flickr.

Baja California:

SoCal:

Central California / Sierra Nevada:

NorCal:

Blackrock Reservoir in Sierra Nevada

Blackrock Reservoir in Sierra Nevada

Lakes California Map: check out all the maps we have for lakes in Cali

Yosemite Lakes

yosemite camping lake
Lakes in & around Yosemite

These are picnic lakes, hiking lakes and camping lakes that are located inside Yosemite National Park or the surrounding areas bordering the granite wonderland.

Tioga

Tioga Tent Camping

Silver Lake @ Bucks

Silver Lake from Above

Silver Lake @ Bucks Lake Wilderness

(Plumas Co)

Plumas Road #24N29, off Bucks Lake Road
East of Bucks Lake, California.
a six mile, one lane, dirt road is the only vehicle access into this high elevation, dammed reservoir, tucked back against the wilderness. Secluded lake campsites await, you’ll just need to get a little dusty first. The turn off, at a small brown sign reading “Silver Lake”, one which is very easy to miss – due to the amount of homes, cabins, fencing and driveways in the vicinity.

bucks trailhead

Bucks Lake Wilderness
Plumas National Forest

All Bucks Lake Campgrounds

Kayaker @ Silver Lake

No swimming allowed at this Silver Lake, as it serves as a drinking water source for the neighborhoods below. Canoe & kayaking are allowed. Fishing is also popular at this location. Hiking trailheads at Silver Lake lead to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), Mount Pleasant, Spanish Peak and a small gem of a swimming hole, we call mini Gold Lake.

Bucks Lake Wilderness Map

FREE Campground @ Silver Lake, near Quincy, CA

This small campground is actually set downhill from the rock earthen dam, which is something to ponder before/during a big earthquake. With sites 1-5 in a shady forest area and the others a bit closer to the lake, no campsite is too close to another. These are all well-spaced-out sites, providing decent privacy and minimal noise from neighboring campers. No campsites are located at the lake edge, as the rocky dam is a long structure and quite complex with water control measures.

All the campsites have new bear boxes for food storage, cuz ‘wilderness’ usually means black bears are roaming about. Deer tend to frequent campsites 1 & 2.

silver camp 5

Silver Lake Campground NFS

campground

• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 9
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Campsite Reservations: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: No piped/potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: PCT, Gold Lake, Rock Lake, Granite Gap, Bucks Lake Wilderness

silverbackdrop

As with most of the high elevation lakes in California, winter months can mean deep snow and dirt road closures. This campground is usually open through the end of October, but call head to the local rangers if in doubt.

Plumas National Forest
Mt. Hough Ranger District
39696 State Highway 70
Quincy, CA 95971
530-283-0555

See all Silver Lakes in California

Little Grass Valley Reservoir

LGVR

Little Grass Valley Recreation Area
Plumas National Forest

Little Grass Valley Reservoir

Tucked way up in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains, at the top edge of the California Gold Country, is this popular recreational lake in the forest above the busy Sacramento Valley.

Up on the mountain at 5000 feet above sea level, via La Porte Road (Plumas #120), a Sierra Nevada THRU-ROAD – one which closes for winter snow. The lake destination may be open, but the campgrounds are closed up seasonally. (NOV-APRIL)

Sierra Nevada Lakes

Little Grass Valley Reservoir
Lake Statistics:

Elevation 5,100′
Surface Area 1,433 acres
Shoreline 16 miles
Capacity 93,101 acre-feet

With over 300+ camp sites available in 10 different campgrounds, Little Grass Valley has room for everyone. Reservations are recommended in summer months, although some camps are on a first-come basis.

lake destinations bike trails hiking lake Fishing dark skies picnic wildlife mountains boating equestrian lake trails


3 boat ramps
2 swim beaches
Lakeshore trail
RV Camping
Walk-in tent campsites

RV campsites campground

Camper Trailers up to 40 feet can be accommodated in some of the camping units. 2 RV dump stations are available, near Tooms Boat Launch & Red Feather. Campgrounds have piped water, but no RV hookups.

Fishing, water-skiing, kayaking, sailing, boating.

Swim beaches provide excellent swimming and picnicking opportunities. The Lakeshore Trail (13 miles) winds around the entire lake, for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS

  • Horse Camp
  • Little Beaver Campground
  • Red Feather Campground
  • Sly Creek Campground
  • Strawberry Campground
  • Wyandotte Campground
  • LaPorte Union

    LaPorte, California – up the mountain

    Sierra Nevada Lakes

    TRAVEL NOTE: The nearest town isn’t much of a “town” at all – so driving to get “anywhere w/ tourist services” from here is quite a chore. Gasoline is minimal, if any. Plan to bring everything you will need for your vacation stay, cuz driving to Quincy, or down the hill to O-ville will take more than an hour (one way). Go prepared.

    Print a Lake Map [PDF download]

    PLUMAS NF PAGE

    Sunsetting on Lake

    Reservoir usually open from Memorial Day to October, annually.

    Challenge Visitor Center
    18050 Mulock Road
    Challenge CA 95925
    530-675-1146

    Northwest Park Management
    530 283-5559

    Plumas National Forest
    Feather River Ranger District
    530 534-6500

    nearby towns:
    Challenge, CA
    La Porte, CA
    Oroville, CA
    Quincy, CA

    LGVR

    Sawmill Lake Sierra

    primitive camp spots

    Sawmill Lake, California


    N of Donner Pass, Sierra Nevada

    elevation 5800′Canyon Creek connects Lake Faucherie, Sawmill Lake and Bowman Reservoir in the Sierra, Tahoe National Forest. 20+ miles of backroad travel, off I-80.

    While many consider Faucherie to be the most beautiful scenic lake, Sawmill Lake just downstream a couple of miles is still quite attractive – with dense forests and a granite mountain backdrop. Sawmill is especially nice for those who like to primitive camp, ouside of developed campgrounds. Way off the interstate @ Hwy 20, tucked in way back behind Bowman Lake a few miles, you can find Sawmill Lake.

    Sawmill Lake California

    Fishing and camping, kayaking and canoeing are all popular recreation around this lake. A trailhead on the northend of the lake leads out to even more alpine lakes (a day hike “lake loop” or backpacking option). The Pacific Crest Trail is also routed nearby.

    No motorized boats or watercraft allowed. No boat ramps, no pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no fees.

    4×4 Lake
    Fishing Lake
    Free Camping Lake

    The north shoreline is abundant with dispersed campsites: metal fire rings and a clearing only; no picnic tables, no toilets. Self sufficient campers only. Campfire permits, a water bucket and a shovel are required. During extreme fire restrictions campfires may not be allowed. Check with local rangers for up to date info.

    Tahoe National Forest
    Truckee Ranger Station
    530-587-3558

    National Forest Lake & Forest Lake Fishing Kayak lake hiking lake

    Most campsites are drive up and park, while others closer to the shoreline have only walk-in access. Hauling your gear down hill won’t seem unthinkable once you’ve seen the lakeside views. There is even a camp below the dam, next to the waterfall.

    waterfallfromdam

    The main access Road #843-037 is very rocky and 4x4s love to frequent the area. The backroads here are best suite for truck travel, high clearance vehicles, off-roaders and SUVs. No small RVs or trailers. Passenger cars are not recommended. The access roads around the lake and up to the lake are dusty and rugged. The road below the dam is quite rough w/ rocks.

    For more driving details, please see entry on Canyon Creek Campground.

    road at dam
    The water at Sawmill Lake is crystal clear snowmelt. The lakes around here are managed by Nevada Irrigation District, so this is why there are no engines allowed on the lake. This canyon area closes to public entry during winter months (NOV-APRIL), due to deep snow.

    clear water