Joan Merriam: Water, water, everywhere |

Joan Merriam: Water, water, everywhere

Lake Spaulding is a true water dog haven according to Joan Merriam. Featuring multiple alpine lakes that are pristine and undeveloped.
Photo by Joan Merriam |

Summer vacations are over. Kids are back in school. Nights are getting cooler. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of warm weather outdoor fun for you and your dog!

September and October can still hold wonderful opportunities for outdoor adventures.

A favorite for many dogs is anything to do with water.

This is especially true for “water dogs” like Newfoundlands, Portuguese and Spanish water dogs, Irish and American water spaniels, and all the members of the retriever family — although my Joey is a peculiar exception to the rule.

He loves standing in the water, but that’s as far as he goes. I can almost hear him saying, “Swimming is fine for those other golden retrievers, but I’m not gonna do it.”

Even after this brutally hot summer, last winter’s rainstorms left an abundance of water in our rivers, creeks and lakes — and now’s the perfect time to enjoy them, after the crowds have departed and the snowmelt waters have warmed.

This month, I’ll journey into the Sierra to point out some dog-friendly alpine lakes and hiking trails; in my October column, I’ll be taking you and your canine companion to a few nearby low-elevation lakes and rivers.

Before you head out, pick up some forest trail maps at the Tahoe National Forest headquarters on Coyote Street.

You can get more detailed directions and trail facts on Internet sites like and; you can also find a great overview of and links to hiking trails in Nevada County at

What follows isn’t exhaustive by any means. It’s just a Joan’s-eye-view of a few high-country lakeland hikes off Highway 20 and Interstate 80 to explore with your furry pal.

Trails and lakes

Lake Spaulding is one of the closest, up Highway 20 off Bowman Lake Road.

Once you crest the hill beyond the bridge over Lake Spaulding, you can stop at any number of places and easily hike back to the lake.

This quiet edge of the reservoir adjacent to the powerhouse attracts far fewer visitors than the campground, and features wide sweeps of granite boulders that march down to the shoreline.

Travelling north on Bowman Lake Road about 14 miles, on what goes from asphalt to gravel and then progresses from well-maintained to teeth-chatteringly rutted, you’ll arrive at the exquisite Grouse Ridge area, known as “The Land of 100 Lakes.”

This is true water-dog heaven, featuring one alpine lake after another, most of which are completely pristine and undeveloped.

Often crowded on weekends, during the week you may find yourself alone with your pup on the wildflower-bordered trails that curl through unspoiled forests, magnificent granite outcroppings, and up steep grades covered in scree and loose shale.

One of the prettiest is the Round Lake Trail, which passes Carr and Feeley lakes, Island Lake, Long Lake and Milk Lake.

For a longer hike, take the Crooked Lakes Trail spur and you’ll pass at least 15 unnamed lakes on your way to Culbertson and Penner lakes. Since the elevations here range from 6,800 to over 7,000 feet, bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

You could also try the trail to the Lola Montez Lakes, which takes off from the north side of Interstate 80 near Soda Springs.

This 6.5 mile round-trip hike can be challenging in spots, but is fine for novice hikers (and novice dogs). You may end up with wet feet where the trail crosses Castle Creek, so take an extra pair of socks.

Our last trek is to another back-country area that makes for a great day hike.

From the Highway 20 intersection with I-80, double back onto westbound I-80 and take the Yuba Gap exit.

Turn onto Crystal Lake Road, then Lake Valley Road (Road 19), where your way ahead turns to dirt and gravel.

Drive four miles, passing the eye-poppingly vast 300-acre Lake Valley Reservoir, then turn left onto Road 38.

Just beyond the charming little Huysink Lake is the Salmon Lake trailhead.

All in all, about 90 minutes from Grass Valley — but the drive is worth it for the enchanting hike through lush meadows and fern-covered hillsides to Salmon Lake where you and your pup can rest and swim (but be careful of the biting catfish!), then trek onward to the three lakes of Loch Leven.

Do remember that whenever you head out for the back country, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back, pay attention to weather forecasts, and always carry your cell phone or a GPS unit.

This is just a tiny fraction of the dozens upon dozens of lake and river hikes that traverse our beautiful Sierra mountains. Ao pack up your maps, hiking shoes, water, dog treats and trail mix, and head for the hills this fall!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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