After a few years of camping the Sierra Nevada and its foothills, my preferences have meandered from riverside campsites to lakeshore spots, especially ones that offer a diversity of outdoor activities.
I make an effort to explore new locations whenever possible, but this year I have been ensnarled into repeat visits at one have-all campsite: Blue Lake, which offers scores of opportunities from drive-up camping, hiking, petroglyphs, a water fall, amazing views to an island and swimming in some of the clearest glacially-carved waters I’ve ever seen.
Not far from Grouse Ridge Campground, Blue Lake is one of the dozens of small and large bodies of water carved speckled throughout that region of the Tahoe National Forrest, just off of Highway 20 en route to Interstate 80, about halfway between Nevada City and Truckee.
From the highway, turn onto Bowman Lake Road and follow it for about four miles, until you reach Rucker Lake Road, an unmaintained, but not insurmountable route if you have a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle. Two-wheel drive vehicles are not recommended for this road, according to Rick Ramos, a Sierra Club member, who spoke in a video program called “Sierra Snapshots” with Cheryl Noble.
This road, which has one or two steep and rocky portions, leads directly to a large campsite, nestled against Ruckers Creek and a stone’s throw from a parking area.
Whether the road acts as a deterrent or whether the surrounding Lake Spaulding, Rucker Lake and Fuller Lake are more enticing to your average visitor, Blue Lake is practically abandoned during week-day visits. Two weeks ago, when my parents were visiting, I took them there on a Sunday afternoon and we had the entire lake to ourselves.
This group campsite is just down the hill from the Blue Lake dam, part of a series of transport systems that PG&E, Place County Water Agency and Nevada Irrigation District all utilize to get water down to Sacramento, as well as power, Ramos said. From the first campsite, you can ascend the short hill up to the dam, where there is water access that serves as a launching point for kayaks and canoes or as a swimming hole to those not camping along the lakeshore. The lake is too small for motorized watercraft.
Encasing the lake are a few of notable trails.
Along the south side, closest to the drive-up campsite, is a less than a half-mile, less than 400-foot trail leading to the top of Zion Hill, which offers a 360-degree view of Lake Spaulding, as well as feeding confluence of the South Fork of the Yuba River with Fodyce Creek.
Wrapped around Blue Lake’s shores is another trail, that leads to several lakefront campsites.
Following the north side of the lake’s trail will lead to another large picnic area that is often used as a campsite for larger parties. Pressing through this cleared-out area leads to a trailhead that unfolds into 1.5 mile hike replete with a waterfall and petroglyphs.
Across the lake from the damn are two twin hill tops peaking above the lake’s island that also offer an amazing view of Lake Spaulding.
The island makes for a great water feature, perfect for snorkeling around or as a canoe destination.
“During the summer, spring, fall it is definitely blue,” Ramos said of the lake’s waters in the video. “It’s a wonderful swim lake.”
Because of the relatively easy access to this site, I’ve also found it ideal for camping with my dogs and leisure camping, allowing me to hike in unnecessary conveniences that would normally be left behind in harder-to-access campsites. Yet Blue Lake feels as remote as any other hidden High Sierra gem.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.