If you enjoy exploring like Sherlock Holmes in the wilderness, then you might want to try the hike to Umpa Lake this month. The trail is an unofficial, non-maintained, route, which means you have to use some trail-reading instincts to reach the lake. It is a trail well traveled by the Wrights Lake summer cabin owners, so you are likely to encounter other groups of hikers that you can follow if necessary.
You start in Wrights Lake Campground (from Highway 50, about 5 miles east of Kyburz, turn left onto Wrights Lake Road and drive about 8.0 miles to the campground entrance), following the campground road to the Twin Lakes Trailhead parking area. This is a popular parking area and can be full on the weekends. If you are not fortunate to find a parking place, then you need to return to the campground entrance and park in the overflow parking area.
Start on the Loop Trail signed “Twin & Grouse Lake Trail.” After 0.4 miles, you depart the Loop Trail and head right in the signed direction for “Twin Lakes Island Grouse Hemlock Smith.” You are going to hike just 0.1 miles on this trail and then strike out to your left on a straight plane (use a pedometer to measure the 0.1 miles). There may not be any “ducks” to help you, and there is a footpath leading downhill to confuse you. Try to stay on a straight, level path across the rock slabs. Shortly, you will pick up the sounds from water descending from Grouse Lake’s outlet stream. You will need to carefully cross this stream to continue on the trail.
The trail is sometimes an easy dirt footpath, but at other times, a hard to read crossing over granite slabs. You need to look beyond the rocks to see the continuation of the path. You will walk around a large rock in one instance, and then have to veer to your left to find the trail at another time. Then you have an easy trek straight across the rock slabs. Glance to the cliff face to your right along this stretch. There is a good chance that you will see some rock climbers. You will pick up the sounds from the water flowing in the “Enchanted Pools” long before seeing them. Umpa Lake’s outlet stream forms this series of pools. A number of spur trails are available to take you downhill to the stream.
The pools are a great place to relax and take photos. From the pools, the path to Umpa Lake continues along the stream, ending at a log crossing. Cross here, and then continue to your right a short distance to the lake. You will see water cascading into the lake before you actually reach your destination. The waterfalls are awesome to behold. I do not know of another alpine lake with three waterfalls filling it.
The hike is only 1.75 miles to the lake, so it will not take more than an hour to reach your destination even with time for plenty of stops. You should return early enough to stop on your way home and super dog-friendly Crystal Basin Cellars. They are right off Highway 50 in Camino at 3550 Carson Road. For a more complete description of the trail, pick up my new book, Dog-Friendly Trails for All Seasons, and look at Trail #25. Be sure to pack your camera for this outing.