Grouse Lakes Basin: Carr Lake Loop

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Carr Lake is one of numerous lakes in the Grouse Ridge / Grouse Lakes Basin area in Nevada County north of I-80 and/or CA-20. The area is accessed via Bowman Lake Rd and National Forest Rd 17, followed by 4 mi on a dirt road best negotiated by a high-clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive. The hike leader for this group hike had planned a 12-mile semi-loop from the Carr Lake trailhead. The hike became a little longer when we mis-interpreted a trail junction and hiked a 0.7-mile detour off the intended trail. This can happen when neither the junction topology nor the mileages agree with the available maps. It was a great day for a hike, though, and we enjoyed several lake views as well as Sierra views in the surrounding Tahoe National Forest.

The GPS track gives an overview of the many lakes in the area, and the orange dot at the lower left shows the location of the trailhead. We hiked the loop in a clockwise direction.

GPS track

GPS track

Almost immediately after leaving the trailhead we hiked past Carr Lake. It was a nice preview of the many – at least 7!! – lakes we would see along our path.

image of Carr Lake

Carr Lake

Next, only 0.3 miles farther, was Feeley Lake with a pretty reflection of Fall Creek Mountain only ½ mile away.

photo of Feeley Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

Feeley Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

About 1.3 miles from the trailhead we came to the trail junction that marked the beginning and end of the actual loop. This junction is between a small, unnamed lake and Island Lake. Across Island Lake we could see the Grouse Ridge Lookout Tower on the top of Grouse Ridge. The small, unnamed lake was especially serene, with another pretty reflection of Fall Creek Mountain.

picture of reflection in a small, unnamed lake

Reflection in a small, unnamed lake

Near this junction someone noticed a few fawn lilies, called plain (or purple) fawn lilies (Erythronium purpurascens). We would see these beauties in many places along the route. The petals tend to become delicately purple as the blossoms age.

image of plain (or purple) fawn lily

Plain (or purple) fawn lily

We saw a few patches of a bright green low-growing shrub with flower heads of small, bright pink blossoms.

photo of shrub with pink flowers

Shrub with pink flowers

We also passed several patches of velvety stickseed, or forget-me-nots (Hackelia velutina). At many places along the trail there were nice views of the hills and peaks surrounding the Grouse Lakes Basin. About 2.5 miles from the trailhead we noticed the Black Buttes, which are only 3-4 miles away.

picture of view of the Black Buttes

View of the Black Buttes

Another wildflower that we saw frequently along the trail was Lobb’s buckwheat (Eriogonum lobii var. lobii). Although there are many varieties of buckwheat in the state and the area, Lobb’s buckwheat is easy to recognize because the stems lie almost flat on the ground – prostrate stems – and the flower heads look like pink cotton balls.

image of Lobb’s buckwheat

Lobb’s buckwheat

Still on the northbound leg, about 3.3 miles from the trailhead, we came to Penner Lake. The lake color was an amazing, deep blue reflecting the clear sky. The water surface was calm, nicely reflecting the nearby hills.

photo of Penner Lake

Penner Lake

After another 1.5 miles of hiking we arrived at a junction that proved to be confusing for us. We were looking for a T junction, and what we found was more like a side trail to the right, making almost a U-turn. We decided it wasn’t our T junction so we continued “straight,” but when we checked our GPS’s again a bit later, we determined that we had essentially made a left turn instead of going straight, so we turned around. Along this short section of trail we passed Rock Lake, and we decided to stop there for a break. It was a great place to stop and enjoy the view of Haystack Mountain behind the lake.

picture of view across Rock Lake

View across Rock Lake

After the break we returned to the confusing junction and continued in the direction we had not yet traveled. This section of trail shows – on two independent maps – as a fairly straight eastward segment. The map with mileages indicates just 0.4 mile to the next junction, where we would turn to the south. As is evident from the GPS track, the trail is not straight at all, but traverses several switchbacks – and was actually 1.4 miles long. Also, up to this point the trail had been remarkably level, with only short ascents and descents. This section was more of a steady descent and was to be followed by a longer ascent.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

At the bottom of the descent we reached an expected trail junction and turned right to travel south. As we climbed, the trail started to follow the South Fork of Canyon Creek, which tumbled down the hillside. As we approached Shotgun Lake the creek path was so steep it was almost a waterfall. Shotgun Lake was yet another serene lake with pretty reflections of its surrounding hills.

image of Shotgun Lake

Shotgun Lake

After we passed Shotgun Lake we continued along the South Fork of Canyon Creek. There was good water flow in the creek, and we had two particularly interesting creek crossings. For the first one there was a good-sized fallen tree across the creek. As long as you were confident with your balance it was possible to get across remaining dry.

The second crossing was not as simple. There was another tree across the creek, but it had quite a few branches and was skinnier, and the few hikers who tried crossing that way had to work pretty hard to get across. Everyone else decided to cross in an area where there just weren’t any partially exposed rocks to try to hop across on. As people were deciding whether to cross with their boots on or off, one of our group called out “It’s ok to get your feet wet”. Like many others, I eventually simply sloshed across with my boots on, hoping that they would dry out nicely during the remaining 5 miles of the hike and that having wet socks would not have adverse effects on my feet.

photo of stream crossing: it’s ok to get your feet wet!

Stream crossing: it’s ok to get your feet wet!

In the next section we traveled through forest and past small, moist meadows. I saw pretty (yellow) mountain violets (Viola purpurea), (white) Macloskey’s violets (Viola macloskeyi), and a few shooting stars, probably Jeffrey’s (Dodecatheon jeffreyi). One of the small open areas was carpeted with corn lilies (Veratrum californicum).

picture of field of corn lilies

Field of corn lilies

Farther along there was a single patch of Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia torreyi).

image of Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary

Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary

Shortly before we reached the junction that marked the end of the loop portion of the hike, we passed by a hillside nearly carpeted in fawn lilies. We also had a pretty view of Island Lake, once again with Fall Creek Mountain in the background.

photo of Island Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

Island Lake and Fall Creek Mountain

From this section of trail, to the right of Fall Creek Mountain we could barely see the Sierra Buttes. They are only about 14 miles away, but the drive from today’s trailhead would be over 2 hours!

When we reached the end of the loop we retraced our path to the trailhead. The many pretty lakes in Grouse Lakes Basin certainly enhanced what would have been a pretty hike even without the lakes.

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