Loch Levens Lakes Trail: Norden, CA

LENGTH: 7 miles round-trip. Total hiking time = 4-5 hours, not counting lunch/snacks breaks.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate-difficult, with serious hill-climbing and boulder-scrambling – worth it.

DIST FROM SACRAMENTO: 1 hour & 15 mins, via I-80 BUS E.

DIST FROM GRASS VALLEY: 45 mins, via 20E & I-80E.

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LOCATION: Just plug in “Loch Leven Lakes Trailhead” – you’ll get the Tahoe National Forest result in your Google Maps and you’re on your way.

Okay, first thing. Don’t skimp on wearing your hiking boots for this one. Your ankles will be oh so grateful. That said – it’s always fun to be a mountain goat for a bit, right? Biggest tip I can offer for this one, since the trail’s a bit stop & go for the first few miles (is that it? oh, maybe not…) watch for the cairns along the way. They’re fairly easy to spot if you’re looking (see below for the world’s tallest, near the Upper Lake) and a big help if you need a quick compass arrow to guide you.

When things start getting steep about 1/4 mile in, look for a large boulder up on your right. If you continue jogging right you’ll hit the pine trees and a small campsite. You can pick up the trail there, and will soon wind around a boulder with a small pond on the left. It’s easy going after that. If you miss it…no stress, you can pick the trail up again at a later point!

You’ll cross a small 536 (3)bridge after 1.5 miles or so, then the railroad tracks. You reach the Lower Loch Levens Lake after 2.5 miles (and an option to travel to Salmon Lake). The Middle Lake is another 1/4 mile, then it’s under a mile to the Upper Lake (3.5 miles in then). You can fish at the lakes, or camp overnight – quite a few good spots, but I’d recommend heading in early on a busy summer weekend.

You’ll end up at 6500 feet at the highest point! This is definitely snow-country, and looks like snowshoers have trekked it before according to the Internet…could be fun.

FUN FACT: The railroad tracks you’ll cross a few miles in were originally built in the 1860’s, as one of the first transcontinental railroad lines from Omaha to Sacramento. AKA “a modern engineering marvel of its time” – love all the great history we have around this area!

THUMBS UP: One of the best hikes I’ve seen around here where you can easily hit 3 beautiful lakes in a day trip. Fairly shady, with cool breezes from the water. Gorgeous views if you feel like scrambling up the boulders around the 2nd/3rd lakes. Picnic spot heaven. Not too buggy. Bathroom at start.

THUMBS DOWN: It wasn’t that busy when I went, but I imagine the trail could get pretty crowded.

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