Life in Our Mountain Town: Donner Summit’s hidden jewel revealed
A secret swimming hole is something to behold. This past weekend my family and I set out on an adventure to find the elusive Long Lake.
Long Lake is one of those places that I had heard about over the years. I had always wanted to go, but was never sure how to get there. Or I had never taken the time to try and find it.
I knew that getting to the lake is more like a walk than a hike, so we packed up a few meager supplies such as water bottles, towels, and a camera, but no map.
I had gotten verbal directions from a friend. We drove up to Donner Summit, and once in the quaint Serene Lakes neighborhood, we turned right on Pahatsi, and continued past Royal Gorge Nordic Ski Area. The paved road turns into a dirt road shortly thereafter.
The signs and trailmarkers along the road all let you know that you are traveling through Royal Gorge property. These signs are posted about twenty feet up in the air, due to the heavy snowfall that besets the Summit in the winter.
Other signs stating Public Travel Way reassured me that whether we were on the right road or not, we weren’t trespassing on private property.
From Royal Gorge Ski Area, it’s a 3 1/2 mile drive. Some of the dirt road is rutted and bumpy – a real-life version of Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
We came upon the Kidd Lake group campground, and then passed by that lake’s cement retaining walls. This lake looks manmade, and not particularly appealing. This being a dry year, we could see tree stumps sticking out of the water, and lots of dirt along the bank.
The road got even more rutted at this point. We climbed up a hill and came out into an open expanse that looked sort of like a parking lot with the Royal Gorge Devil’s Lookout warming hut sitting off to the right. I knew we were looking for a dead-end parking area, and several guys all dressed in camouflage gear were parked there, so we asked them if they knew where Long Lake was. They whipped out a map, and pointed us down a steep, narrow road to the left of the warming hut. Sure enough, not too far down the hill were many cars parked where they could fit, some wedged between trees or granite boulders in a parking area that straddles the upper and lower Cascade Lakes.
We piled out of our vehicle and headed down another steep path, across a spillway dam, and up a trail where we came upon a sign that read, Palisades Creek 5 1/2 miles, North Fork American River 7 miles. With no mention of Long Lake on the sign, we forged ahead, trusting the camouflage guys who had pointed us in this direction.
My friend had told me it was a 15-minute walk from where you park your car. We did come to one unmarked fork in the trail. I think intuition took over at this point, and we took the trail to the left.
A few minutes later, we came upon the most pristine alpine lake. It had slabs of granite extending down to its shoreline, and the view of Devil’s Peak just beyond was stunning.
My family took turns swinging off the rope swing, and dropping into the deep, crystal clear water.
Our dog behaved herself considering we were there on the weekend so there were several other dogs to greet, sniff, wag her tail at, and swim with. As we have also seen on hikes earlier in the summer, you can tell the dogs from more urban areas as their owners have them on leashes. I’m sure these owners think our dog belongs on one too, as she doesn’t always readily mind our verbal commands, such as “Chloe, come here!”
Everyone in my family had a great day. Long Lake was such a great find – with not one sign to mark the way. I wonder if signs have been removed on purpose to keep this hidden jewel just that – a secret for only those who know how to get there.
And now I’ve blown that by providing detailed directions. I extend my apologies to anyone who wishes I had never written this. But the truth about newspapers is, all copies of this column will be discarded in recycling piles by next week, and then maybe a few of you should check it out.
Katie Shaffer has lived in Truckee since 1981.
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