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One of the major draws to the Truckee-Tahoe area is, of course, the stunning beauty of Lake Tahoe. I was fortunate to have friends with lakeside homes that I visited numerous times a year for the first three decades of my life, both in summer and winter. It was a playground I loved, but didn’t think that much about because I spent plenty of time there.

Today, living in the Lost Sierra, I don’t go to Lake Tahoe that often, but when I do, my breath still catches at the first glimpse the lake. It’s just that majestic. But the public beaches and access points have become so crowded, it’s just not an enjoyable experience for me.

What I love about living in the Lost Sierra is the sheer number of gorgeous Alpine lakes that are accessible by foot, bike or car. The hardest decision I make most days is, “Which lake shall I hike to or swim in today?” So let’s take a little tour of the Lost Sierra lakes that are right in Nakoma’s back yard. This is by no means an exhaustive list of lakes, but it will give you a sneak peek into one of the great joys of living in the Lost Sierra.





Sardine Lake – for sheer beauty, Sardine Lake is hard to beat in its forested bowl with the Sierra Buttes jutting skyward so strikingly. You can kayak or fish at Sardine, and for swimming it’s just a short hike up the hill to Upper Sardine. Or, if you have young kids, just down the road from Sardine you’ll find Sand Pond, which is aptly named for its sandy bottom and shallow depth.

 
















Bear-Round-Silver-Long Lakes – For the casual hikers both young and old, the commonly called “Bear Lakes Loop Trail” in Lakes Basin Recreation Area provides an astonishing number of gorgeous lakes per mile of hike. The basic loop is just a few miles, but there are offshoots to Round Lake and Silver Lake if you want to extend the hike and increase your lake intake. All the lakes are swimmable and make perfect picnic spots on a warm summer day.

 











Gold Lake – What I call our “Mini Tahoe” is a beautiful, crystal-clear lake nearly 2 miles long with boat launching facilities and a campground along one shore. There’s also a shallow water shoreline just a couple hundred yards from the road with plenty of parking for a long day in the water and sun and easy access for launching a kayak. One of the most special summer treats is moonlight kayaks on this beautiful lake.

Rock, Jamison, Wade Lakes – Located high in Plumas Eureka State Park, it’s a bit more strenuous hike to get to these three lakes but totally worth the effort. Rock Lake looks like an infinity pool from some angles, Jamison has a small waterfall at one end that feels so good pouring on your head on a hot day and Wade has lots of shady spots for a well-deserved picnic.

 










Lake Davis – This huge man-made reservoir was built specifically for recreation. It’s at the north end of the Sierra Valley, above the town of Portola and is on the flyway for thousands of migrating birds making it a wonderful wildlife viewing lake. You can swim, fish, kayak and bike on the bike path that goes along the south and eastern side of the lake. There are a couple boat ramps to launch fishing boats or kayaks and several campground and picnic areas along the nearly 32 miles of shoreline.

None of these lakes compare in sheer majesty with Lake Tahoe, but for plenitude and accessibility, the Lost Sierra is truly a water wonderland.

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The Sierra Valley is a natural treasure trove that lies just east of Nakoma and can be easily accessed via Hwy 70. This 120,000 acre wetlands is about the size of Lake Tahoe and supports an astonishing diversity of bird life. Over 230 species make the valley their habitat, in addition, the valley is part of the Pacific Flyway for hundreds of migratory birds who travel north-south seasonally.

Mid-March through early May are ideal times to view thousands of migratory birds making their way north. My personal favorite is the Sandhill Crane which makes a decidedly un-birdlike guttural sound and has quite the distinctive dance steps in its mating ritual. These are large birds that travel in enormous flocks that you hear coming long before you can spot them hundreds of feet overhead. It’s not unusual to find cars pulled to the side of Hwy 70 watching these magnificent birds organizing themselves into a broad V to continue their annual migration.

In the fall, the valley supports an equally enjoyable variety of raptors. Bald eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen, and Golden Eagles have also been spotted. Bird watchers report that migrating flocks of waterfowl and songbirds can also be seen in the fall.

The Valley is also home to a variety of wildlife. A herd of Pronghorn can be seen regularly along Hwy 70 and deer and coyotes are also a common sight.

The Sierra Valley has a rich history and is largely made up of privately-owned ranches, many of which have been placed into conservation through the Feather River Land Trust to preserve the land from future development. The valley forms the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Feather River, which is part of the California State Water Project, a system that provides drinking water to over 20 million Californians. The Land Trust is dedicated to protecting this water source for both drinking water and the wildlife that depend on it.

For more information, contact the East Sierra Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Photos by S. Pettengill

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Moderate terrain, 4 mile loop

The Round Lake hike is one that I usually do in early summer because the flowers in the first section of the hike can be lovely. But this year I didn’t get to the hike until today, and even past the wildflower prime, it’s still a great hike.

The first section winds through the forest and passes a seasonal pond (which now seems to bear a name, which I can’t seem to recall since it’s never had a name before!) and then heads up at a slightly greater incline and into more sun exposure. You’ll want good trail running shoes or light hiking boots for the loose rock you’ll encounter.

After a bit of a climb, you’ll be able to see down onto Round Lake and you’ll come across remnants of a prior mine. Take the fork down to the lake where I highly recommend a swim. The water is delicious!

The trail winds around the east side of the lake before departing for the eastern edge of Silver Lake, which has some great picnic spots in the shade. From there, take the right hand turn toward the Bear Lakes and you’ll be treated to three more crystal clear alpine lakes. Follow the signs to the right at Bear Lake, cross the creek and wind your way back toward the trailhead.

Treat yourself to a cold beverage and a rest in the Adirondack chairs at Gold Lake Lodge, just a few hundred yards from the trailhead. Or better yet, plan your hike for later in the day and enjoy a family-style dinner at the Lodge (reservations recommended). Gold Lake Lodge is owned and operated by the Remlinger family who are friendly, inviting and very gracious hosts. Dad, Rob, cooked at Gold Lake Beach resort for many years before purchasing Gold Lake Lodge. It’s a step back in time to old-fashioned hospitality and with the family-style seating, there’s always someone interesting to meet and share stories with.

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