Salmon Lake to Sardine Lake – November 1997 |

Salmon Lake to Sardine Lake – November 1997


Length: 9 miles one way (with car shuttle)

Difficulty: Strenuous

Map: Tahoe National Forest or “Lakes Basin Recreation Area” map from the Bassett’s Station store

Last year I stopped describing hikes and switched to general outdoors topics in November. But, I squeezed in a swan-song Nevada County Hiking Club trip late last month which begs description now. If you’re lucky, you could still do it soon on a sunny cold day – or you can stick this article on your fridge until next June.

Fourteen of us met to carpool for one of leader Jolynn Mierau’s favorite Lakes Basin hikes: healthy ups and downs, postcard views, swimmable lakes in the summer. We headed up Highway 49 along the Yuba through golden oaks and orange-and-red dogwoods and paused in Downieville for the club’s traditional pre-hike “pit-stop” and bakery visit.

Twelve miles past Sierra City, we turned left onto Gold Lakes Road at Bassett’s Station. We left shuttle vehicles about a quarter-mile in at the Sardine/Packer lakes turnoff at the “Tamarack Trail Connection” sign. Note: This road to Sardine/Packer is not marked going north; look for the first paved road on the left.

We crammed into vehicles for the drive to the takeout about 3 miles further on the left, Salmon Lakes Road. We piled out after about a half-mile at the “Upper Salmon Lake Trail” sign, sorted out which layers to wear and which to pack along (it was cold!), then started up the hill.

The trail arches up and around Salmon Lake with its picturesque lodge and cabins, closed for the season. We started up the hill behind the first cabin, reaching tiny Horse Lake after one-quarter mile. There was ice along the edges of the lakes and creeks and snow patches and hoarfrost in the northern shadows that day. Sere corn lily rattled on the Horse’s edge, where I’d enjoyed profuse tiger lilies and senecio three months earlier.

A steep climb with nice views of Salmon ends in a fork with a sign “Deer Lake, 1/4 mi.,” to the right. Deer has the feel of a much higher lake with its granite slabs and brisk summer swimming. We headed left at the lake through a willow thicket, emerging at the top of a gully. We headed southeast cross-country down it for about one-quarter mile to the trail to Packer Lake; you’d have to work to miss the path, even though it’s reached off trail.

We turned right after bisecting the trail and passed the sign, “Grass Lake 1/4 mi.” From here we switch-backed down for about a mile, stopping more than once in awe of luminescent, golden aspen, backlit in the low autumn sun under the shadow of the snow-dusted Sierra Buttes.

The trail ends in a sign, “Deer Lake Trail,” at a paved road. We headed right past the “Packsaddle Campground and Trailhead” sign then dived off onto a wide dirt trail on the left after 100 feet. We walked up a rise for a quarter-mile, crossed the pavement, then descended to the deserted Packer Lake Campground. We had lunch in the weak sun and caught up on all of the adventures – foreign and domestic, Elderhostel and private – that we had had this summer.

We continued down the paved road to the “Tamarack Lake Trailhead” sign, which is also a route up to the Buttes. A stiff, winding climb brought us to a sign,” Sardine Lakes 2 mi., Sand Pond 3 mi.” Jolynn urged us to take a look at Tamarack Lake just up the hill, an ideal photo op of the Buttes in the cold, clear, mid-afternoon autumn light.

Keith announced that he had a blister from new boots, and instantly multiple first-aid kits appeared as five women offered advice. He was descending into the Grand Canyon in two days. Later, I muttered to Ann,” Jeez, he’s never even heard of Moleskin and he’s doing the Grand in new boots? Boy, he’s gonna have a quick education!” She grinned, rolled her eyes, and shook her head in mutual disbelief.

From there, we headed through beautiful reddish granite with a nice canyon view up a steep, wooded ridge (We had ascended 1,300 feet since Packer, according to Alan’s altimeter watch). At the top, we bushwhacked out to the canyon edge for an unbeatable view and photos of the Buttes and both upper and lower Sardine lakes.

This article was originally published on 10/13/1999.

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