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Stories from the valley

Hike to Grouse Lake (and Beyond)

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

Fall is one of my absolute favorite times for High Sierra hiking. Cool, crisp weather and less people on the trails make this window between the hot summer and snowy winter a great time to take in the mountains.

With this in mind, I headed up to Grouse Lake in Desolation Wilderness. Although I’d visited Grouse Lake before, I had a goal to go beyond to a small lake called Hemlock Lake. However, I hadn’t been hiking much this season, so I left this decision for later since Grouse Lake itself is a great place to visit.

hiker at trailhead sign

The trailhead to Grouse Lake is located at Wrights Lake and is accessed by taking the Wrights Lake Road turnoff on Highway 50, 35 miles east of Placerville, and traveling eight miles. While the road has been recently resurfaced, which is great, Wrights Lake Recreation Area is closed, so you’ll have to park in the overflow lot at the gated entrance.

After parking and walking about a mile down the road to the trailhead, the hike to Grouse Lake begins in a mixed forest with views of Wrights Lake. As you hike, be watchful for the spot where the trail splits. Take the right fork to Grouse Lake as the left goes to Twin Lakes and Island Lake. 

Around 1.8 miles in, the trail will take a sharp upward trend. As you ascend, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Wrights Lake and Union Reservoir. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Coastal Range. 

grouse lake

At the crest, you’ll immediately see Grouse Lake, which is cradled in a basin and currently surrounded by golden grass, creating a striking view. You can proceed around the lake to find the perfect lunch spot or locate a flat rock where you can soak up the sun.

grouse lake

I did find enough energy to continue to Hemlock Lake, about a mile further up the trail, and I was glad I did. Hemlock Lake is much smaller than Grouse Lake, but it sits at the base of an impressive granite cliff. The water is crystal clear, and the lake is surrounded by hemlocks, an evergreen easily recognized by its drooping top. Hemlock Lake was a wonderful place to spend the day.

The trip back to the trailhead is all downhill, which is great, but I did feel the effects of the additional distance required to walk from the trailhead back to the parking lot.

two people looking out over grouse lake

For more information on Grouse Lake, please click here. Before you head up the mountain, make sure you check the weather conditions because they can change quickly in the fall. Also, be aware that overnight stays are not allowed at the present time because of forest-wide restrictions due to high fire danger.

I hope you can get out and enjoy these wonderful gems of the Sierra.