This climb is excerpted from 100 Hikes in Northern California, by John R. Soares & Marc J. Soares, published by The Mountaineers, Seattle. ©1994 by John R. Soares & Marc J. Soares. All rights reserved.
A series of beautiful lakes lines the trail on this hike, and most have campsites and deep sections suitable for a summer swim. You'll also enjoy a panoramic 360-degree view over much of the northern Sierra from the spine of Sand Ridge.
From the junction of Highways 20 and 80, drive 4 miles west on Highway 20, then turn right (north) onto Bowman Lake Road (Forest Road 18). Go 8.4 miles on this paved road, then turn right at a sign for Carr Lake, your destination. Stay on the main, somewhat rough, dirt road, and bear right at all road junctions for the last 2.7 miles to the trailhead at Carr Lake Campground.
Follow the road, which becomes Round Lake Trail after crossing a creek. The path borders the shores of fisherman-festooned Feely Lake and offers good views of Fall Creek Mountain. After 0.5 mile begin a gentle climb past red fir and western white pine. Reach an unnamed lake on the left at 1 mile with several campsites on its eastern edge, then immediately reach a trail junction. Go right and ascend above the granite-lined shores of Island Lake, the prettiest lake in the region. At least two campsites lie among lodgepole pine near the water's edge down to the left. If others have already claimed these, try one of the several sites along the lake's west shore.
You'll reach a crest at 1.2 miles with good views of Island Lake and the serrated Sierra Buttes to the north. The trail then descends 0.2 mile to a creek that runs from Round Lake to Long Lake. On the creek's far side, take a footpath to the right for the short streamside stroll past mountain heather to Round Lake. Granite and metamorphic rock stretch steeply upward on the lake's southeast side, and red fir and lodgepole pine clothe the rest of the lake's shore. Camp at one of the sites near the northwest shore if you find Island Lake too crowded.
Back on the main trail, at 1.5 miles you'll see a faint path traveling through a shallow gully on the left. It leads to Long Lake, which has two campsites on its east shore and, like Round Lake, sees few visitors. One hundred yards past the Long Lake turnoff, you'll see another spur trail to Round Lake on the right. Stay left and climb gently to a spur trail on the right heading down to Milk Lake at 2.1 miles. This shallow lake has a good campsite underneath a two-trunked fir tree near the water's edge. Note that this is your last sure source of water for the next 2.7 miles.
At 2.2 miles you reach a trail junction. Go left and travel under the shade of the red fir forest. A trail fork awaits at 2.8 miles. Go right and then left 100 yards farther for Sand Ridge Trail, where your path initially passes through a grove of young lodgepole pine.
Sand Ridge Trail gains most of its elevation over 0.3 mile and then levels out at 3.5 miles. You now walk along the open ridge that's covered with mule ear, phlox, purple lupine, and other components of a multicolored floral display. Western white pine, red fir, and an occasional mountain hemlock grow here and there in the exposed landscape but rarely hinder views of the imposing peaks of Black Buttes to the southeast, Stoddard Lake and the Sacramento Valley to the southwest, Fall Creek Mountain to the west, the Sierra Buttes and numerous other mountains to the north, and English Mountain to the northeast.
The trail eventually descends from the ridge and reaches a shallow, though swimmable, lake at 4.8 miles. A faint trail runs near the south shore, where you'll find several campsites.
From the lake's east side, you'll see the Five Lakes Basin, the hike's final destination, about 0.5 mile east and 250 feet below. Choose your own cross-country route over the gently sloping granite slabs. Most of the lakes offer several campsites and good swimming.ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Both John R. Soares (bottom) and Marc J. Soares (top) were born in Redding, California. John, the author of Best Short Hikes in and around the North Sacramento Valley (The Mountaineers, 1992), has hiked throughout North America and Europe. A resident of Chico, California, he teaches political science at Butte College. Marc, who has walked the trails of Northern California nearly all his life, guides tours at the Redding Arboretum and directs a Sierra Club Planting project. He lives in Redding, California, where he works as an independent landscape consultant specializing in native California plants.