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Stories from the valley

Winter Trek on the Orion Trail at Loon Lake

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

With the recent storms, many opportunities have opened up for winter adventurers. The area around Loon Lake in the Crystal Basin off Hwy 50 is a wonderful place for beginning and advanced backcountry travelers. 

My friends and I headed out from the trailhead on a recent morning and followed the snow-covered road to the summer campground on the southside of Loon Lake. Here we found directional signs along with blue diamond-marked trees on the trails in this area. Being early in the season, we decided to take a shorter trail—the Orion Loop. 

snowy hilltop with mountains in background

Our trek took us along a rolling-hilled trail, which climbed slightly to a ridge that gave us a great view of Brown Mountain and other peaks of the Crystal Range. The top of this ridge made an excellent lunch stop. After our stop, we continued around the loop back to the trailhead, a total of about four miles. We only encountered a few other skiers or snowshoers along the way.

Loon Lake Recreation Area is administered by the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) and is located about two hour’s drive from Sacramento. To get there, take Hwy 50 to the Icehouse Rd turnoff about 9 miles east of Pollock Pines. Turn left on Ice House Rd and follow it north about 25 miles to the intersection where Ice House Rd turns right. Make the right turn and after five miles you will arrive at Loon Lake. The road is plowed by SMUD but may have some snow- or ice-covered sections.  

people snowshoeing a winter trail

As you drive the final miles to Loon Lake, you’ll enjoy some great views of the Crystal Basin. The trailhead to the Orion and Brown Mountain trails will be on the right shortly before you get to the lake. It’s not marked but is easily located as a plowed area at the side of the road. If you continue on Ice House Road, you will arrive at the Loon Lake Chalet, which serves as the trailhead for many other trails. The trails are well marked and signed, and they range from beginning to advanced. 

Loon Lake is rather remote, so if you travel there, be sure to check the weather beforehand and carry chains. Most of the area has no cell service nor are there other services, so make sure your vehicle is fueled and in good repair. The trails aren’t patrolled, so it’s best not to travel alone.

snowy forest

Have a wonderful time on your winter adventure on the Orion Trail.

For more information on Loon Lake and the Crystal Basin, please click here.