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Sand Pond Interpretive Trail

Tahoe National Forest

September 2nd, 2007

1.2 miles
80 vertical feet
Total Time: 2:13

Rating: 6/10

Directions: From Sacramento, take I-80 to Highway 49. Take Highway 49 past Downieville to Bassetts, and turn left onto Gold Lake Highway. Turn left onto Packer Lake Road. After a short distance, turn left toward Sand Pond / Sardine Lakes. Park in the pullout on the left side of the road where there's a sign for Sand Pond Interpretive Trail.   View Driving Map

There are several possible starting points for this hike, but the quietest one is at the sign for the Sand Pond Interpretive Trail. You can also park at Sand Pond itself, or at Lower Sardine Lake.

We started on the trail and were immediately met with a decision. A trail went to the left, right, and straight ahead. There were no signs to tell us where the trails led to. We decided on the one that goes straight ahead, which follows some planks over a marshy area. After a few minutes we decided this was a bad choice and retraced our steps. As it turned out, this would have been a fine choice, but I'll get to that later.

Walking on the planks

We retraced our steps and turned left (west). The east trail probably leads to the nearby campgrounds. We followed the west trail, which closely follows the road. We tried to get through this uninteresting stretch of trail as fast as possible, and soon reached Sand Pond itself.

Sand Pond on Labor Day Sunday was a sight to behold. Swimming is allowed in the pond, which meant that everyone and their kids were in the water. Inflatable water craft and toys floated all over the surface. It was a complete zoo. Imagine your community swimming pool, and then multiply it. Interestingly, I searched the web afterwards and found pictures of the same pond 3 weeks earlier and there was no one in the water.

Resting at Sand Pond

We were already here, though, so we settled down on a rare empty patch of shore to have lunch. The Sierra Buttes, which we had hiked up 7 years ago, were visible behind the pond. I should point out that dogs are not allowed in or around the pond; a ranger continually walked around the edge and made sure people adhered to this rule.

It's a big party at Sand Pond

After lunch we escaped the masses by making the short walk to the far edge of the pond and then up a small earthen dam to Lower Sardine Lake. A 50-100 foot high hill separates Lower Sardine Lake from Upper Sardine Lake, which is of course not visible from here. Beyond that, the Sierra Buttes loom above. To the right is a grassy hillside dotted with trees. Swimming is not allowed in this lake, which means that we practically had the lake to ourselves. We could still hear everyone splashing around in Sand Pond, but it was still nice. The only downside is that there are fewer shaded shore spots within easy reach. We could have opted to rent a row boat at the Sardine Lake Resort, but opted to just let the kids play with their buckets and shovels before heading back.

Sierra Buttes over Lower Sardine Lake

Row boat rentals at Lower Sardine Lake

Sierra Buttes (lookout tower is on the very top)

After enjoying the lake, we returned to the pond. I got the bright idea to turn right and follow the trail on the southern side of the pond, which I was sure would loop around the entire lake. Well, it didn't. The trail ends, so we had to backtrack and retrace our steps along the trail back to the east end of the pond. We now took the right fork to follow the Sand Pond Interpretive Trail (there's a sign here). The trail heads into the forest. I've read that there are interpretive signs, but I didn't see any along the trail. The trail winds through the forest and then follows planks through the marshy area, with the Sierra Buttes visible above. Soon enough we were on the section of trail we'd started the hike on, and then were back at the parking area.

Planks on the Sand Pond trail

I'm a bit conflicted as to what to rate this hike. On the one hand, the hordes of people at Sand Pond would lead me to give it a 4 or 5 rating. But I can imagine that it's a completely different hike on a weekday morning when there's no one around, probably deserving a 7 rating. So I'm giving it a 6 for now. Perhaps we'll return when it's less crowded sometime, and also extend the hike to Upper Sardine Lake.

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