Charity Valley and Burnside Lake Trails to Burnside Lake

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Outside Markleeville there is a beautiful area of Alpine County south of the immediate Lake Tahoe region, including Grover Hot Springs State Park surrounded by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The park has a hot spring-fed pool, campground, and hiking trails. One of the trails goes along Charity Valley Creek, in the same-named valley, and another climbs over 2000 feet to Burnside Lake. This was an out-and-back group hike to Burnside Lake on what turned out to be a warm early-fall day.

Near the hot spring pool there was a small garden area with late-blooming flowers, including these pretty Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella). Although they are not native to California, the bright colors certainly seemed indicative of the fall season.

photo of Indian blankets near the Grover Hot Springs pool

Indian blankets near the Grover Hot Springs pool

The GPS track shows the layout of the hike, with the orange dot showing the trailhead we used near the pool area. The hike up to Burnside Lake is about 4.4 miles each way, and on the way back we did a short exploration to explore a waterfall, which we did not actually find.

GPS track

GPS track

From the pool area a trail goes north across a meadow, with beautiful views of the surrounding high country. In this view the direction we would be hiking was generally toward the left and up the valley.

photo of view across Charity Valley Creek’s valley

View across Charity Valley Creek’s valley

For the first mile the trail gains no elevation. There are a couple of intersecting trails, which facilitate easy loop jaunts of 2-3 miles. Just before the trail begins to climb there is a junction with the trail that follows the creek to a waterfall. Past this junction the trail begins to climb, with a grade of 9% for 2/3 of a mile. Then the grade steepens to 19% for the main 1.75-mile climb, before leveling out 1 mile before reaching Burnside Lake.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The lower part of the trail is the Charity Valley Trail and passes through a pretty pine forest, with a carpet of pine duff covering the ground and trail. The shade was quite pleasant for hiking.

photo of forest along the Charity Valley Trail

Forest along the Charity Valley Trail

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead, after 1300 feet of climbing, the Charity Valley Trail continues to the left along Charity Valley toward Blue Lakes Rd, while the Burnside Lake Trail goes to the right and continues steeply uphill to the lake. Near this junction there is an impressive, if somewhat intimidating-looking, rock wall. It’s hard to look at such a rock wall and not wonder how on earth there is a trail to the top! Of course, the trail doesn’t go up that part of the wall, but the view helped with the mental preparation for the remainder of the climb.

photo of rock wall viewed near the junction of Charity Valley and Burnside Lake Trails

Rock wall viewed near the junction of Charity Valley and Burnside Lake Trails

Perhaps 0.3 mile past the junction there is a quite large down tree on the trail. Not only is the tree a pretty good size, approaching 5 feet in diameter, it fell along, rather than across, the trail. The surrounding area is thick with brush. Though not visible in this picture, there were intact branches at the far end that impeded the original plan to climb onto the tree and walk up the trunk to get to the other end. In the end, some hikers in my group went up the trunk and others bushwhacked along one side. Either way, it was a challenge to get past the tree – and we all knew that we would need to pass it again on the descent!

photo of large down tree on Burnside Lake Trail

Large down tree on Burnside Lake Trail

In several areas the trail passed through brush that was so dense that it was hard to be sure there was even a trail. But we pressed on, and did find the continuation of the trail. Evidently there is not enough foot traffic to keep the path of the trail open. Note that this picture was taken directly along the path of the trail!

photo of dense brush along Burnside Lake Trail

Dense brush along Burnside Lake Trail

In several places there were beautiful views back down the valley, with numerous rows of Sierra Nevada ridges as far as we could see. I think the small light area to the left of center is the meadow in Grover Hot Spring State Park where we had started the hike.

photo of view of Sierra Nevada ridges east of the trail

View of Sierra Nevada ridges east of the trail

About 3.4 miles from the trailhead the trail rather abruptly levels out. From here to the lake it passes through more forest with gentle rolls. In this area there were some impressive, large individual rocks in the forest.

photo of large rock near the top end of Burnside Lake Trail

Large rock near the top end of Burnside Lake Trail

After a mile of hiking through the forest we reached Burnside Lake. As is typical, the lake is in a small depression, reached after cresting a rise and descending 50 feet or so. The lake is pretty, with nice reflections of the surrounding trees and even of a rock just off the near shoreline.

photo of Burnside Lake

Burnside Lake

This was a great place to take a lunch break before hiking back down to the valley. For the most part, hiking down was a little easier than hiking up. However, I note that pushing through the dense brush and negotiating the large down tree were of similar difficulty going uphill and downhill.

Overall, the group agreed that the views were excellent and the lake very pretty. But the hike was more difficult than it needed to be, due to the lower level of trail maintenance compared to most other trails we have hiked. For other potential hikers who may not be concerned about trail maintenance, this situation virtually guarantees solitude hiking this trail.

At the end of the hike we had been planning to take a dip in the hot springs pool. However, the afternoon was so warm – in the mid-80’s – that we decided ice cream was a better choice. So we stopped in Markleeville for ice cream on the way back to the Truckee area.

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