The area of the three Loch Leven Lakes, including some smaller satellite lochs, is part of the Tahoe National Forest in the North Sierra in Placer County, California. Visitors typically access this high-elevation landscape of open granite swaths, which is located between the South Yuba River and the American River, from the Loch Leven Lakes Trailhead at Hampshire Rocks Road (old Hwy 40) between the Big Bend Visitor Center and Rainbow. During summer the lakes make a popular destination for hikers, backpackers, anglers and campers, who look for places to relax, picnic, fish or swim and who appreciate scenic spots for sunbathing on granite slopes and islands.
Middle Loch Leven Lake with
small rock islands
Lower Loch Leven Lake can be enjoyed on a short round trip of 4.4 miles. It will take seven to eight miles—depending on which reference you read [1-3]— to see all three. And you need to add a few extra miles when planning to walk around some of the lakes, explore interesting granite slopes or include the side trip to Salmon Lake.
Middle Loch Leven Lake is the largest loch, almost half a mile in length. This is where campgrounds are found. You may see several tents near the lakeshore and along the trail that leads around the lake's south tip. At this point a trail branches off to the North Fork American River. Continuing on Loch Leven Trail, bending east and then northeast, one will arrive at High Loch Leven Lake after a short climb and walk over a bare rock section. A wooden sign announces an elevation of 6920 feet for this upper loch.
Hiking around the lake basin is easy. The more difficult part is the ascend from the Loch Leven Lakes Trailhead out of the Yuba River canyon. The trail can be tricky to find on bare granite sections, but later in the season the trail has often been marked by rock piles and rows placed by previous hikers.
For anybody, who is interested in the Sierra Loch Leven plant community, I highly recommend to pause at Stop #7 in the Sierra College natural history article written by J. L. Medeiros, Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences .
References and additional information
Karen & Terry Whitehill:
Best Short Hikes in California's North Sierra.
The Mountaineers Books,
2nd Edition, revised by Shane Shepherd & Owen Wozniak
2002, pp. 259-261.
Afoot & Afield,
Reno-Tahoe, A comprehensive hiking guide.
1st Edition August 2006, 2nd printing
2008, pp. 83-85.
Trailspotting: Loch Leven Lakes Trail:
J. L. Medeiros:
A Naturalist's Transect along the I-80 Corridor in California: Rockin to Donner Pass