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Spaulding Lake Trail

SPAULDING LAKE TRAIL – FULLER LAKE TO EAGLE LAKES

MILES: 9 miles R/T

DIFFICULTY: Moderate



MAP: Tahoe National Forest




Against our better judgment, Dan and I camped in the very-popular Grouse Ridge area Memorial Day weekend. But with this year’s snow level in Tahoe National Forest at 7,000 feet, I was giddy to be able to do the 5,000-elevation Spaulding Lake Trail, sans snow.

Take Highway 20 to the Bowman Lake exit and go four miles to tiny Fuller Lake. Cross the dam and head downhill beside a deep Pacific Gas and Electric canal. The water funnels through 8- and 6-foot diameter pipes to the Zion Hill Pipe and Spaulding Lake powerhouse. Alongside of and under the pipes, follow Bicyclists of Nevada County’s “TRAIL” signs high up on trees.

We soon had our first glimpse of Spaulding, lapping high on its banks, and began to look for bald eagles and osprey. The trail crossed the first of many snow-fed creeks, and we saw two large, round “erratics” on a lake-side ledge. Glaciers plucked up boulders then deposited them willy-nilly whenever the rocks’ weight melted through. We passed the first of many campsites.

Powerful Fordyce Creek could soon be heard where it surges into Spaulding. Take a detour down a rocky hill at its loudest point to see the creek’s churning mouth.

The trail winds up and down through rocky dry areas then under a dense canopy of Jeffrey pines (smell its vanilla-scented bark), cedars and oaks, rich with birdsong. We saw many snowplants, looking like red Coke bottles, without green pigment. Later in the season, look for huge, white, intensely fragrant Washington lilies among the ferns.

Other flower highlights Sunday were pink mariposa lilies, cinquefoil (a bastardization of French “cinq feuilles” or “five leaves”), blue and pink phlox, pennyroyal, mock orange and blue-eyed grass.

Parts of the trail can be indistinct early in the season as you follow drainages that will become evident, dry paths later. Keep your focus up and out for boot prints and sandy areas and maintain the loud creek on your right.

We saw several U.S. Forest Service “location posters” – yellow metal plates with nails pounded into a section grid, marking our exact location.

The trail enters an area of large granite slabs marked with “ducks” (marker piles of rocks). We checked out two impressive falls – one wide and low; and the next, about 800 feet upstream, 15 feet high.

Rocks alternated with meadows then we came to a very broad creek you may want to take your boots off to cross, early in the season. Head downstream and consider stopping for lunch at a beautiful beach with a deep pool before heading up a rocky hill to the left.

We dropped into another dense forest, this one dominated by sugar pines. Two were labeled “bearing trees” at the corner of four sections. Between them was a flat post flush with the ground labeled “county survey monument.”

Continuing uphill, we saw two signs: “Spaulding Lake Trail – Spaulding Lake 2 (miles)/Bowman Road 4” and “Eagle Lakes 1/Beyers Lake Trail 2/Grouse Ridge C.G. (campground) 3.” Consulting the map, we agreed that all of these distances were off.

Fordyce shoots down a narrow, rocky canyon before an old “USFS green” wooden pedestrian bridge appears. We studied a vicious rapid under it then read the sign at its far end: “Grouse Ridge Tail- Spaulding Trail 1/Beyers Lake Trail 2/Grouse Ridge C.G. 4.”

We skirted a mysterious pool formed by an abandoned creek channel then headed up a rocky hill. At its base is the first of the Eagle lakes, an eerie, duckweed- and lily pad-filled lake studded with dead pines, well on its way to becoming a meadow. Beyond is the road at the back of Indian Springs OHV Staging Area and Campground.

Pat Devereux is a copy editor for The Union and a member of the Nevada County Hiking Club.

This article was originally published on 06/15/2000


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