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A lovely gem set among California's High Sierra mountains, Lake Alpine beckons the outdoor fan looking for solitude. The lake is a reservoir created when the Lake Alpine Dam was built across Silver Creek. The reservoir acts as a water regulation and storage basin for hydroelectric power generation downstream. Part of the Upper Utica Project, the reservoir is controlled by Northern California Power Agency (NCPA). Surrounded by the 898,099-acre Stanislaus National Forrest on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the US Forest Service has developed a number of camping facilities around the lake.
Only a a hundred miles east of Stockton and Sacramento, Lake Alpine is the perfect get-away for a weekend of fishing, hiking and campfires under the stars. Several campgrounds hug the lakeshore. The Silver Valley Campground and Pine Marten Campground are both at the eastern end of the lake. They offer campsites-some large enough for RVs, picnic tables, water, flush toilets and sandy beach. The Silvertip Campground is a mile west of the lake with a footpath leading to the lake. Lake Alpine Campground has sites spread along the north shore of the lake near the US Forest Service boat launch. When these campsites are all full, Lodgepole Campground is opened to accommodate more guests.
A primitive walk-in campground for those planning on a backpacking adventure, the Backpackers Campground is located near the east end of the lake. Camping at the Backpackers Campground is allowed only for one night as it is designed to allow hikers an early start on a day's trekking the nearby forested mountains. The Bear Valley to Lake Alpine Trail is a four-mile delight suitable for hiking, cycling and horseback. Part of the trail shares the route with the four-mile trail around Lake Alpine. A portion near the east end of the lake is paved and wheelchair-accessible. Another popular hiking destination is nearby Inspiration Point. Besides the many shorter trails in the nearby forest, the most breath-taking part of the Pacific Crest Trail can be accessed from the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway.
A Day Use site at the east end of the lake accommodates those who come for the day to swim and picnic. A commercial resort along the north side of the lake offers rental cabins, a store, restaurant and boat launch. The resort also rents boats and canoes. Fishing is popular at Lake Alpine: rainbow trout are stocked regularly and brown bullnose catfish are also caught. A 10 HP speed limit on the lake assures quiet fishing: no motors at all are allowed at night. The shallows are often fished from float tube, canoe or kayak. A California fishing license is required and special regulations may be in effect so it's best for anglers to check at the ranger station just down the road for any last-minute information. The campgrounds close by October and no reservations are taken so the early arrival gets the best spot! Private campgrounds are also located nearby.
Lake Alpine is the perfect spot to explore this scenic and historic area. Although camping at Lake Alpine may not be available in winter, many areas nearby along the Hwy 4 Corridor are perfect for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Several areas cater to off-road vehicles and ATV riders. A one-and-a-half-mile groomed trail exists for snowmobiles from the Lake Alpine Sno Park to Bear Valley Village. The Sno Park is located at the winter snow-closing gate on Highway 4 and requires a pass be purchased from one of several local sporting goods stores. Bear Valley winter sports activities are just a short distance away and several local snowmobile clubs, cross-country ski groups and winter sports facilities are located in the area.
The Lake Alpine area is easy to get to as the lake is beside Hwy 4, one of California's best scenic routes. Named a National Scenic Byway in 2005, the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway winds 61 miles along Hwy 4 and Hwy 89, between the Town of Arnold and Markleeville. The route travels some of the least developed and most scenic areas of the Sierra Nevada, crossing 8,700-foot Ebbetts Pass through what are called the California Alps. The route is thought to be the original path of early gold prospectors and silver miners who in turn followed early Native American pathways through these rugged mountains. Two major state parks can be reached at either end of the Ebbetts Scenic Byway: Grover Hot Springs State Park and Calaveras Big Trees State Park are worth a days exploration.
Lake Alpine and vicinity get many week-end visitors from the coastal cities, with others coming to camp sometime during the summer. The higher altitude provides cooler temperatures and refreshing mountain air. The campgrounds are small, keeping them from becoming overcrowded and noisy. Famed Bear Valley is just a couple of miles away and offers all the the resort-style amenities any visitor could want. Although known for winter sports and skiing, there is plenty in the area to keep any visitor entertained year round. Antique stores, eclectic dining and shopping contrast with the many hiking and biking trails in the area. History buffs can spend an entire week just visiting the many museums dedicated to gold mining, logging and the colorful characters who populated the period when the area was first explored. Several limestone cavern complexes invite visitors to view spectacular stalactites, crystal flowers and even underground lakes.
Non-campers will find every possible form of lodgings available in the are near Lake Alpine. From Victorian inns to modern hotels, bed & breakfasts, guest ranches, cabins and ski chalets, the perfect accommodations can be reserved to make your Sierra Nevada stay a memorable experience. Private guest rentals can often be arranged off-season. And Lake Alpine awaits all summer long. So, take the Scenic Byway to Lake Alpine. We know you'll want to return again and again!
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