Back to index Elbert Lake Hike
Trip Date:  05/04/2018

: 5.5 Miles

Vertical Gain: 1300'

Group Size: 8

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
Elbert Lake Route
Download GPXGPX for this trip
Elbert Lake Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 38 47.638, W 120 01.258     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates  
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 50 to S. Upper Truckee Road.  Turn south and head down approximately 3.6 miles to the entrace to the Hawley Grade National Recreation trail.  If the gate is closed, then park off the road in this area.  Otherwise, continue up the road for 1/10 of a mile to the parking area at the coordinates listed.  The end parking coordinates are at the parking area for Mt. Ralston, across from Camp Sacramento on the north side of the highway.
Hazards of Note:   Most of the trail section of this hike is a non-official use trail.  Route finding is necessary a couple of times and there are steep sections of trail.  The last 3/4 miles to the lake are all off-trail navigation. Crowd Factor:   Moderate to Little.  Although this is almost completely along a use trail, it is a well-known hike in the area and a popular outing for hiking, running and dog walking with local residents.  Past the 2 mile mark, the trail runs out and cross-country navigation is required to reach Elbert Lake.
General Notes:
From the start parking area, follow the road south for a short distance past the sign for the Hawley Grade National Recreation Trail which heads off to the right.  Almost immediately the trail becomes a narrow, single-track use trail which begins to climb steeply as it passes a number of waterfalls to the east.  There are a number of places to head off the main trail to check out the various waterfalls closer, and evnetually the trail cuts up and away from the Truckee River, and a little bit of cross country navigation is required to reach a small, unnamed lake which is about a 1/2 mile north of the larger Elbert Lake.   Pass around the east side of the pond where you will encounter a large area which is the obvious home to a beaver population who have knocked down numerous trees to create a number of large dam structures.  Continue almost directly due south until you reach the lake.

At the beginning of the hike near where the Hawley Grade trail begins is one of the many historical markers which are scattered around the region with actual exerpts from pioneer journals. Trail history marker
Just a little further south is a marker listing the history of the Pony Express in the region. Pony Express marker
Our group at the junction of our trail toward Hawley Grade and the trail into Lake Valley toward Lake Dardenelles. Typical Trail
About 1/2 a mile into the hike is the first of a number of spectacular falls along the Upper Truckee River. First falls
First snow plants of the year found along the trail on an early May trek. Snow Plants
Rob showing the size of the middle falls just over a mile up the trail. Another falls
A nice spot for a break a mile and a half up the trail. Along the trail
Checking out the beaver activity just south of the pond.  There were more than 12 trees which had been downed by the beavers including this one pictured here. Beaver Activity
Using one of the beaver-downed trees to cross a wet section of the area south of the unnamed pond. Crossing the log
Making our way up toward Elbert Lake. Making our way up toward Elbert
A first look at the surprisingly gorgeous Elbert Lake.  The sheer granite cliffs on the west side of the lake make for a great reflective scene. A first look at Elbert Lake
Checking out the lake from a large granite slab which overlooks the lake to the west. Checking out the lake
Elbert Lake as viewed from our granite rock overlooking the lake. Lake view from the lunch spot
View of the ridgeline to our south which is north of Little Round Top Mountain. Southern View
Our group at the lake.  The view was just amazing from here and the lack of easy accessibility makes this a great spot to get away from the crowds. Our group at the lake
GPS Track of the full hike, from right to left and back. GPS Track of Hike