The Tranquility of Sardine Lakes

Kat Hill takes Anikin Allen and Aldo Aronhalt kayaking on Lower Sardine Lake. | Michelle T. Allen

North of Truckee past the open space of the Sierra Valley, there are many places in which to escape the hectic pace of modern life. One of the most ideal locations is Sardine Lakes: Upper and Lower. Located near Sierra City, the lakes are a prime destination for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, camping and deep relaxation. Secluded and remote, there is no cell phone reception or Internet so it is the perfect place to disconnect to reconnect with nature.

For the past several years in late June, my friend Nikki Aronhalt and her son Aldo have stayed in a cabin at Sardine Lake Resort next to Lower Sardine Lake. This year they invited me and my family to join them. My sister Kat Hill, my son Anikin and I stayed for several days and my husband for one day.

The boys mostly filled their days with catching minnows and frogs in the dam spillway to Sand Pond, building forts, scavenger hunts, collecting rocks and whatever else they could find that was messy or dirty.

The drive on State Route 89 North travels through remote areas of the Tahoe National Forest. The winding road flattens out as it drops down to the floor of the Sierra Valley in Sierraville. It skirts the valley then heads back into the forest following a curvy route over rolling hills. Eventually, we reached Sardine Lake Resort off Gold Lake Road.

The lakes are surrounded by the 8,000-foot snowy peaks of the Sierra Buttes. | Michelle T. Allen

Sardine Lake Resort is on the edge of Lower Sardine Lake at 4,240 feet. Upper Sardine Lake is at 5,997 feet and is reachable by foot or by off-highway vehicles. Both lakes are surrounded by lodgepole pines, marshy meadows and the 8,000-foot snowy peaks of the Sierra Buttes. There is a large network of hiking and mountain-biking trails including a 1.8-mile loop around the lakes with connections to Pacific Crest Trail, Deer Lake and Tamarack Lakes trails. There are options for family-friendly hikes, as well as longer backpacking trips. There are also many single-track motorcycle trails and OHV options in the area.

Sardine Lake Resort was originally established in the 1940s. This privately-owned resort has nine log-cabin rentals, boat rentals, lakeside restaurant and bar, and a lodge with snack bar and fishing rentals. The cabins fill up fast so make your reservations for next summer now.

Boys being boys. | Katherine E. Hill

Sardine Lake Campground has 27 campsites and all can accommodate RVs, trailers and tents. It is connected to Sand Pond by the road and a trail. Sand Pond is a favorite swimming spot with families due to its warmth and shallowness. There are picnic tables, bathrooms and a small parking area at Sand Pond. Lower Sardine Lake, which feeds into the pond, is a short hike from there. There is no swimming in Lower Sardine Lake.

During our stay, we packed our days with fun activities and lots of down time. The boys mostly filled their days with catching minnows and frogs in the dam spillway to Sand Pond, building forts, scavenger hunts, collecting rocks and whatever else they could find that was messy or dirty. Nikki, Kat and I filled our days with exercise, reading, chatting and relaxation.

Frazier Falls is a short, 1-mile trail great for families. | Katherine E. Hill

The day Luke came, he took Anikin and Aldo kayaking; they had fun cruising the shore, looking for fish and exploring the large boulders in the middle of the lake. Luke paddled them to get closer at the waterfall created by snowmelt running down the side of a serrated rock face. As they completed their journey, Luke spotted a nest with a pair of bald eagles and two fledglings next to the dam. The boys didn’t know it but that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Maybe they will appreciate it when they are older.

Upper Sardine Lake with the still snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Buttes in June. | Katherine E. Hill

We went on a short 20-minute hike to Upper Sardine Lake. It took us a little extra time due to the rocky terrain and hikers with little legs. Ascending the ridgeline above Lower Sardine Lake, we were rewarded with sweeping views. When we reached Upper Sardine Lake, we enjoyed a peaceful respite while Anikin and Aldo collected rocks and climbed boulders.

For a side trip, drive to Sierra City, Graeagle or Downieville to explore their historical and cultural attractions, restaurants and shops. We also took an afternoon to visit nearby Frazier Falls, with an easy, paved 1-mile roundtrip trail to the overlook for the falls. |,


Upper Sardine Lakes

Easy-moderate | 1.8 miles roundtrip

Sand Pond
Easy | 1 mile roundtrip

Sierra Buttes Lookout
Intermediate | 5 miles roundtrip

Frazier Falls
Easy | 1 mile roundtrip