The Sierra has an abundance of places to enjoy the water besides the obvious choice of Lake Tahoe. The region is dotted with alpine lakes that, like Tahoe, have clear blue water and stunning vistas, but are smaller and have fewer crowds.
These lakes are great for fishing, hiking, swimming, boating and other activities. Here are some of the best:
Donner Lake: If you’re a fisherman, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better choice in the Sierra than Donner. The Truckee-area lake seems to provide more consistent catches than other lakes.
“Donner is our bread and butter,” said Miles Zimmerman, who works in the fishing section of the nearby Mountain Hardware store.
As of early May, the lake was nearly full thanks to snowmelt from a relatively wet winter. Anglers can fish from Donner’s banks, but they will have more luck trolling in a boat, particularly if they’re looking for big fish, Zimmerman said.
Mackinaw trout run as big as 25 to 30 pounds, but more typically weigh about half that, he said. Rainbow trout and brown trout are also caught regularly.
Echo Lakes: Are you a hiker and want to get into the wilderness? Upper and Lower Echo Lakes are a great place to go. They’re at the edge of Desolation Wilderness, and provide a good jumping-off point for extended hikes to other lakes, such as Aloha. The Echo Lakes make a fine destination, as the renowned Pacific Crest Trail provides a beautiful hike along their northern edge.
The hike next to Lower Echo includes a beautiful glimpse of the Lake Tahoe Basin near the start of the trail. If you want a shortcut to Upper Echo Lake or are just looking for a boat ride, Echo Chalet runs a water taxi across Lower Echo Lake. There is a phone on the other side of the lake to call for a pickup. The shuttle is $12 each way.
Ice House Reservoir: For the family that wants a beautiful campsite without the backbreaking hike to get there, Ice House Reservoir is the place to go.
The campground is right on the edge of the reservoir, where you can swim, fish and boat. The campground is shaded by Ponderosa Pines, a towering tree with a vanilla scent.
Ice House also has the benefit of being convenient, near Pollock Pines, a 90-minute drive from downtown Sacramento.
Fallen Leaf Lake: Feeling a little more adventurous? Get a campsite at Fallen Leaf Lake and use it as a base for some of the region’s most strenuous and beautiful hikes.
The Mount Tallac Trail is 10 miles round trip, and roughly a quarter of the hike is a steep climb. The work is rewarded by a stunning panorama of Lake Tahoe.
“It’s a very popular hike because the views are great,” said Peter Hussmann, owner of Lake of the Sky Outfitters in South Lake Tahoe.
The Glen Alpine Trail, just west of Fallen Leaf, is a more forgiving climb than Mount Tallac. But it still provides a good workout, rewarded by a stop at one of several lakes in Desolation Wilderness.
Caples Lake: Located along Highway 88, Caples Lake is easy to reach yet still feels pretty wild. Tucked between Carson Pass and Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Caples is the postcard version of an alpine lake – clear, placid and surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Fishermen and hikers will find plenty to enjoy. About half of the 8-mile Emigrant Lake Trail runs along Caples Lake.
“It’s a relatively easy hike, and the wildflowers are amazing,” Hussmann said.
Fisherman can catch trout at Caples, aided in part by the state’s consistent stocking of rainbows. Trolling in a boat or fishing from the banks can produce good results.
But whether or not you hook a big one, you’re guaranteed a beautiful view.
If you go
Donner Lake: The lake is known for its fishing, and it has one boat ramp, operated by the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District. The ramp is at 15511 Donner Pass Road in Truckee and costs $10 for a boat registered in California.
Echo Lakes: The lakes are known for hiking, either for a short trip along the lakes themselves, or as a jumping-off point into Desolation Wilderness. Echo Chalet has a water taxi service and parking is available near the chalet at 9900 Echo Lakes Road in the town of Echo Lake. The chalet also runs the boat launch. Information about the launch and the water taxi is available at www.echochalet.com/services.htm.
Ice House Reservoir: The reservoir features a campground on Wrights Lake Road in Pollock Pines. Reservations for the campground can be made online at Reserve America (www.reserveamerica.com/camping/ice-house/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70283).
Fallen Leaf Lake: Fallen Leaf Lake has excellent camping and is a gateway to some of the area’s best hiking. Reservations for the campsite can be made at Recreation.gov (www.recreation.gov/camping/fallen-leaf-campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=71531). It is at 2165 Fallen Leaf Road in South Lake Tahoe.
Caples Lake: Caples Lake is along Highway 88 just west of Carson Pass. It is known for fishing, hiking and spectacular scenery.