Hot weather is a great time to escape the heat and enjoy Huntington Lake in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. The lake sits at about 7,000 feet with much cooler temperatures than the valley below. This area offers recreation seasonally with skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, hiking, boating and of course, camping.
The Huntington Lake area has 7 developed campgrounds. We enjoyed 1 night’s stay at the Lower Billy Creek Campground, next to the beautiful lakeshore. There, our youngest daughter with her family and in-laws (the Kramers) were tent camping. The Kramers brought their butterfly class sailboat and an inflatable kayak for all to enjoy. This is an annual trip for their family and we were pleased to get to join them.
However, most of our camping is off the beaten path in our truck camper. Due to the popularity of the area, finding dispersed camping well before nightfall can help to avoid the disappointment of finding the spot you were heading for as already occupied.
Tamarack Ridge Sno-park
There are several sno-parks on the way to Huntington Lake via Highway 168, but not all allow camping. Sno-parks usually offer a nice rest stop with pit toilets. Turning into the sno-park at Tamarack Ridge, beyond the paved parking lot is a nice forest road leading to good camping spots. There is a gate, so be aware the forest service may close it off to camping.
Potter Pass Cut-off
A sign for Florence Lake / Kaiser Pass is a turn off the main Highway 168, as you drive into the northeast end of the Huntington Lake area. The Eastwood Sno-park with a camp store parking lot lies just beyond this turn-off.
Follow the Kaiser Pass road just a short way until you see a small sign for Potter Pass Cut-off. Turn into that dirt road where there is a hiking trailhead as well as several wide places to camp, some with fire rings. We camped near a large log carved with “Red Cloud Camp.”
There are no toilets or drinking water there. Sadly, we found trash left behind by other campers for us to pick up. Folks like this ruin the privilege of dispersed camping. Over the years we are seeing places we used to love camping, being closed off, most likely due to the abuse of litter and human waste not being disposed of properly.
The Potter Pass area is not far off the main road, so you will hear some traffic noise, as well as see folks coming in and out for the trailhead. We enjoyed wildflowers and the sound of running water from a nearby stream. Getting to Huntington Lake was a short drive from there.
Eastwood Sno-park, Portal Powerhouse, and Ward Tunnel
Be sure to stop in the Eastwood Sno-park visitor area for watching the release of water from the Ward Tunnel at the Portal Powerhouse. In July we stood in awe at the force of the water being released from the record snowmelt. This tunnel is 13 miles long, carved out of the granite running under Kaiser Pass in between Florence Lake and Huntington Lake.
The outdoor visitor’s kiosk offers a map of the man-made chain of lakes that creates hydro-electric power. Bronze plaques are engraved with the history of the visionaries behind the building of the area lakes, dams and tunnels.
Pres has a special place in his heart for this area as his grandfather was part of this massive building project. Pres’ Dad, Ted Meyers was a child in the construction camp at Big Creek. Ted grew up loving the mountains hiking and fishing in the wild country there. Ted later became a radio and TV personality for KHJ Channel 9 (now KCAL) in Los Angeles.
Badger Flat Campground
If you can’t find dispersed camping at Potter Pass, you can try further up the road heading towards Florence Lake, at Badger Flat. We came into this area after dark and found most of the sites full. This area offers fire rings and pit toilets.
Continuing up the road to Florence Lake the road becomes very narrow and curvy. You will come to an area of pit toilets with signs clearly marking the Kaiser Pass OHV area. We enjoyed doing some 4×4 driving to the Kaiser summit at 9,184 feet. From this rocky vantage point, we could see Florence Lake. The mosquitoes were plentiful and hungry. I was grateful we had repellent.
We saw an OHV type road marked FR32A that looks promising for campsites, we may check that out on our next visit. Let us know if you’ve been there.
Mushroom Rock Vista and Black Point Trail
At the western end of Florence Lake, past the Huntington Lake Marina and Resort, we found a forest road with great camping. The road is marked Mushroom Rock and Black Point Trail.
Please don’t drive this road after dark! The first mile of it is one lane with steep cliff exposures with very few turnouts. This graded road is very rough in areas with water running alongside or across it. I believe this road would be impassable in wet weather.
The road widens and improves after several miles. Watch for side trails at this point, that offer good camping. The road climbs to Mushroom Rock Vista at 8,000 feet where we could see Shaver Lake and the Big Creek Powerhouse.
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my sense put in order.” – John Burroughs
Things to do
July is when the annual High Sierra Regatta brings beautiful sailboats to the lake for competitive sailing. Huntington Lake is 5 miles long, with steady winds of about 15MPH, making it a perfect location for sailing. Many regattas are held there including the North American Sailing Championships. It was a thrill for me to be taken sailboating around the lake by Janine Kramer, in celebration of my birthday.
Huntington Lake is a fun place to explore. Did you know a WW II B-24 Bomber found its final resting place at the bottom of this lake? Read more about the lake at Wikipedia. The tiny village of Lakeshore offers a Post Office, restaurant, bar, store, and lodge. Multiple marinas offer a place to launch your boat or rent one.
Of course, I like to try my hand at flyfishing. The lake is stocked with trout. My favorite fish to eat from this lake is the Kokanee, a cross between trout and salmon. I was startled to observe a bald eagle dive bomb fisherman with their catch hanging off the side of their small watercraft. We hid our small catch to avoid enticing any aerial combat, grin.
Be aware that due to long term drought and the bark beetle, crews are working hard to remove damaged trees. Some campgrounds were closed. Our family was tent camping and had to break camp and move for the day while crews came in, to fell trees.
Timber! The process was interesting to watch, hearing the thunder of sound and feeling the ground quake as the forest trees were cut down. The area echoed with the sound of chain saws and large equipment. Logging trucks were plentiful carrying out the huge timber. I am writing this as of August 2019. I don’t know how long the tree removal program will be ongoing.
Maps of Huntington Lake area
Huntington Lake had excellent cell reception in most of the places we traveled around there, so Google Maps on your phone can be used. Doing your homework online at home before your trip really pays off. A favorite website for investigating potential camping is the U.S. Forestry. I created a PDF from their website for a map to take on our trip. You are welcome to use it: Huntington Lake forest OHV roads.
However, I am a fan of paper maps as you can’t rely on reception in many of the areas we camp. We picked up a good map of the Sierra Nevada at the Eastwood Sno-park camp store. You can get yours at my affiliate link on Amazon. Thanks, and happy trails!