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Jenkinson Lake Loop Hike in Sly Park

Updated: Mar 23

In December 2023, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 37% of average. Come January 2024, however, the season's snowpack tripled. So, we've been dealing with some snow, but it is welcome after a slow start. In fact, as I write this, it is a blizzard outside, and we are currently in, potentially, the biggest snowstorm this season with 3 to 6 feet of snow accumulation possible for us at our house at 6,600 feet, and 6 to 10 feet possible above 7,000 feet. So far today, we have 13 inches of accumulation with more coming. The forecast for the next 5 days shows non-stop snowfall. Winter is definitely not over yet in the Sierra.

That being said, we haven't been hiking much since our spontaneous trip to Zion over New Year's. But this weekend, we finally got out and put some miles on the dirt. Granted, we had to drive 77 miles down to Pollock Pines, CA, to get out of the snow, but it was beautiful out and a nice day for a nearly 2-hour drive.

Just before noon, we arrived at Sly Park Recreation Area, paid the day-use fee at the entrance, and continued into the park to find the trail, which makes a full loop around the perimeter of the reservoir called Jenkinson Lake. A sign at the entrance reported that the reservoir was currently at 100% capacity, which means it contains 41,000 acre feet of water. As casual observers to Jenkinson Lake, we both thought it looked plenty full/high, as some trees just beyond the shoreline were under water.

The first opportunity to park was street side, near a pit toilet with close access to the trail, so we took it. We'd prepared for an 8-plus-mile-hike and were hoping to see the waterfall that is a part of the hydroelectric operations at the reservoir.

The daytime high temperature for the hike was supposed to be around 60º F, but it is February, so I dressed in a couple of layers, just in case it was shady or windy. We donned our packs and headed out.

The trail was down the slope towards the water, following the shoreline, so we meandered through the tall trees and proceeded clockwise on the pine needle-covered trail. The surface area of Jenkinson Lake covers 650 acres, and this trail makes a full loop around its perimeter.

Trail along Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park Recreation Area
Trail along Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park Recreation Area.

Since this trail is within an established "recreation area" (owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, and operated by El Dorado Irrigation District), numerous picnic tables, BBQ grills, and even campsites can be seen throughout the hike, so it is not exactly a remote hike in the wilderness, but the scenery was lovely and I was just glad to get outside. One young woman was seated at a picnic table adjacent to the trail with her tubes of paint, brushes, and a canvas – no doubt capturing some of the beauty before her.

Jenkinson Lake
Jenkinson Lake.

Small "island" in Jenkinson Lake
Small "island" in Jenkinson Lake.

I was particularly drawn to the deep red sand that bled into the blue-green water.

Red sand at Jenkinson Lake
Rippled red sand at Jenkinson Lake.

Within 15 minutes of hiking, I had to stop and remove the fleece vest I'd worn as a precaution, jammed it into my pack, and we kept moving. We saw lots of mergansers, mallards, and Canadian geese on the water, and even saw (or heard) a few boats (and two kayakers), despite it being February. I lost count of the number of people we passed carrying fishing poles or fishing along the shore, and it was people of all ages. (The lake is kept stocked with fish by the California Department of Fish and Game.)

We crossed several foot bridges on the trail and made a few stops along the way to take some photos.

Jenkinson Lake
Jenkinson Lake.
Rock shoreline of Jenkinson Lake
Rock shoreline of Jenkinson Lake.

Rock shoreline along Jenkinson Lake
Standing on the rock shoreline along Jenkinson Lake.

Rock outcropping along Jenkinson Lake
Rock outcropping along Jenkinson Lake.

Jenkinson Lake
Jenkinson Lake.

About 4 miles in from our starting point, I spotted a nice foot bridge (Park Creek Bridge) ahead spanning over Sly Park Creek.

Park Creek Bridge over Sly Park Creek
Park Creek Bridge over Sly Park Creek.

As we continued towards it, we realized we had reached the short spur to the waterfall, so we flanked left, away from the bridge, which we would come back to after venturing to the falls. A few adults and their children had gathered on the boulder shore of the creek. As we approached, a well-informed 8-year-old boy gestured toward the little cove across the creek and told us, "It's dammed up." So, unfortunately, we did not get to see the waterfall that day.

No falls at Sly Park Creek Waterfall
No falls at Sly Park Creek Waterfall.

So, we double-backed to cross the Park Creek Bridge and continued on around the other side of Jenkinson Lake.

The trail had lots of tall trees all around it as we wound up and over the whoop-de-dos of Hazel Canyon, past rock outcroppings dripping with green moss. Amongst the trees were even some redwoods. I would say that the trail on this side of the lake was a bit busier than the initial side we were on. Maybe because it's closer to the waterfall, and people, like us, were unaware that it wasn't flowing.

Here's a little more information about this trail:

In preparing for this hike, we understood that the measured elevation gain wouldn't be great (649 ft.), but that the trail undulates frequently.

Trail description excerpt from AllTrails:

"The total elevation change is insignificant but the small 'whoopdedoos' can amount to hundreds and even thousands of feet perceived elevation change. Good physical endurance is a must if you're going to make it all the way."

I had never heard "whoopdedoo" used in that context, so I consulted a trail expert: My husband. He explained that this is often used to describe the "ups and downs" built into a mountain bike or dirt bike trail. Huh. So, new trail lingo learned here. I also found out there appears to be some discrepancy online about the official spelling of the word. Merriam-Webster uses this spelling: "whoop-de-do," but its definitions do not include this particular use in trail lingo.

Either way, we can attest that this trail is comprised of numerous "whoop-de-dos" and the elevation gain, indeed, felt greater than it was.

Additionally, one of the trail reviewers complained that she got lost on the trail. We kind of wondered about that because we've been on some trails that turned into bush-whacking and choose-your-own-adventure routes where it is easy to get lost, but this was a trail within a municipal recreation area, so it was a little hard to believe one could "get lost" on it.

But, we can also attest that in some areas, the trail was defined and obvious, while in other areas it was kind of a guessing game. For example, in some stretches, there were signs indicating a separate equestrian (horses) trail, and in other spots, there appeared to be multiple trails but no signage.

So, around 8 miles (3 hours) in, the unintentional adventure began.

The trail met a paved road called Mormon Emigrant Trail. Across the road was a large trail sign next to what looked like a trail. The sign indicated that the biking/hiking trail continued over there. So, we crossed the road and continued on this trail, which I thought was simply going to be a bypass to avoid having hikers and bikers walking along the narrow road and across the earthen dam. Well, we soon discovered that this trail descended quite a bit, even switchbacking a couple of times. As we descended, both of us started to question our decision to continue following this trail.

I could hear water rushing in the distance and wondered if we would be treated to a surprise waterfall or creek rapids for our additional effort.

Well... kind of.

The descending trail led us to another foot bridge, lined with chainlink fence, that spanned across a large concrete spillway – the source of the rushing water.

Looking up the spillway at Jenkinson Lake
Looking up the spillway at Jenkinson Lake.

Looking down the spillway at Jenkinson Lake
Looking down the spillway at Jenkinson Lake.

So, that was kind of cool and made me want to grab a tube and slide down it, but then the reality hit that we'd now have to hike all the way back up to the road we thought this trail was simply bypassing. From this point, the intended trail became pretty obscure (perhaps, where the reviewer got lost?). We spotted some equestrian trail signage and decided maybe it was best we just follow that until something more obvious came to light.

Well, the established equestrian trail ended up being pretty hit or miss, as well, and we resorted to hiking straight up the steep incline back to the road, where we eventually crossed the road again to pick up the actual hiking trail along the lake. But with over 8 miles (and what with all those whoop-de-doos) hiked already, plus, considering it had been months since we'd hiked this many miles, my legs were pretty unhappy with me climbing straight up a steep incline near the end of this hike. But the truth was, we really didn't see a better alternative.

Once we crossed the road and rejoined the trail, it kind of started to feel like drudgery to make it back to the Jeep. My pace slowed and I was just ready to be done. My legs will get fatigued on most of the substantial hikes we take on, but it usually feels "worth it" because we summited a peak or got to a beautiful, pristine, remote alpine lake. But this time, it started to feel like we were just out walking in the woods. It's one of the reasons I have a "rule" about hikes... if we aren't hiking to something, if there's no payoff, I'm not that interested because it just feels like a lot of "work" with no reward.

We eventually made it back to the Jeep and I was happy to sit and stretch and rest my legs. I was hungry, I was tired, my calves were yelling at me. So, our next order of business would be finding a nearby restaurant for some food. We headed towards Pollock Pines, and stopped at the historic Sportman's Hall to eat before starting the 2-hour trek back up to Tahoe.

Since we didn't get to see the waterfall on our hike, on our way back to Tahoe, we made a roadside stop on Hwy 50 to check out Bridal Veil Falls. Not bad.

Bridal Veil Falls along Hwy 50
Bridal Veil Falls along Hwy 50.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls.

All in all, this hike wasn't one of our best or most memorable, and in the end, it felt long, but it was still a nice way to spend a beautiful Saturday (in February) outside.

Jenkinson Lake Loop hike

Total Distance

9.14 mi

Total Time


Total Ascent

709 ft

Max Elevation

3,581 ft


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2 則留言

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Must’ve felt great to get out and hike again. Looks like a lovely day with quite beautiful scenery. I’m glad you got to see a pretty waterfall after all.

Brianna Sheck
Brianna Sheck

Yes, me too! We were a little disappointed that the falls on the hike weren't flowing, so it softened the blow to stop at the roadside falls. 😉


Hi, thanks for dropping by!

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