|One of many "rock gardens" in Loon Lake|
At an elevation of 6,400 feet, Loon Lake Reservoir lies in the Eldorado National Forest, near the edge of Desolation Wilderness. A bit more than two hours’ drive from Sacramento. Not too hard to find, but far enough off the beaten path to keep traffic manageable, both on and off the water. Put ‘er on my “A” list of paddling places, for sure.
Loon Lake was created in the 1960s by the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District for a network of mountain hydro power plants. Most of that infrastructure is hidden underground and under water. What’s plainly visible is an incredibly beautiful and secluded area for kayaking, camping, and hiking.
Last Saturday, Loon looked – and paddled – a lot bigger than its officially listed 3.5-mile length. That’s because it features so many nooks and crannies, coves and mini-islands. Also, this record water season has raised the lake level to its highest point in years. That’s what the locals told us, and ‘twas easily confirmed. Many trees partially submerged, some fire pits under a couple feet of water or more.
|Think you've seen boulders? Now these are bold boulders|
Even the underwater rock formations were awesome. They glowed in the reflection of bright Sierra sunlight like surreal counter-cloudscapes or huge white water creatures. If this sounds both fascinating and a bit eerie, well, you’re in the right neighborhood.
|Delicate "shooting stars" add a softer touch|
|Our impressive yet dismissive national symbol|
We got occasional glimpses of hikers on the trails above, while a few boaters and paddlers pulled over to bask on the rocks lakeside. At our first stop in a small cove, we met a young couple who had canoed in two nights earlier and were just leaving. They found the perfect primitive campsite with a raised, level area for a tent, a tiny, rock-scape path and “dining table” that they decorated with a tiny spray of wildflowers, and a raised fire pit just off the beach.
Could it have been more perfect? Well, yes. They told us the skeeters were relentless in the evenings, even with a full-on dose of DEET. Take note, campers, or wait and hope for an early fall cold snap.
|Human artistry atop natural sculpture (click photo to zoom in)|
|Many places to stop and enjoy small details (below)|
Nor could we resist making a couple more stops as we weaved in and around a maze of coves and “islands,” some of which were really just single, massive boulders.
We had been warned about afternoon wind at Lake Loon, and it arrived right on schedule about 1:30 p.m. Fortunately, the breeze was fairly light on this day, but a bit of chop livened up the return paddling on our round trip of about seven miles.
|Sailors settling in for the weekend -- nice idea, but beware the skeeters|
For an excellent description of Loon Lake’s recreational features, check SMUD’s Web site which includes maps. (Take the Ice House Road exit off Highway 50, about 22 miles east of Placerville.) Free, hard copy maps of the lake area are also available at the launch ramp parking lot.
For advance trip planning, SMUD also has monthly data on temperature and reservoir levels for the Crystal Basin Recreation Area.
Day use parking costs $7. The lot is well-paved and maintained, adjacent picnic tables are nicely shaded. Last Saturday, the only negative comment I heard about Lake Loon’s facilities came after one of our party went to the launch area toilets – and found them very stinky.
© 2011 Glenn Brank