Mileage: 12 miles RT (from the highway and if you stay on the road the whole time)
Elevation Gain/Highest: 1575/2775
Map: Green Trails Silverton 110
12/23/2016 I have been meaning to return to the lakes on FR 4020 and 4021 since I did Boardman last winter and today with a forecast of snow and no views seemed like the perfect day for a long quiet walk in the woods. Last time, I was able to drive up fairly close to the junction with Bear Lake but when I arrived at the turn onto FR 4020, I knew I would be parking my car right there and starting from the Mountain Loop Highway for my trek. All the more time for solitude and peaceful thinking.
I decided to just go ahead and put my snowshoes on and head up at about 7:45am. The snow was a bit crunchy at first but deepened the further I went up. It was clear that 4 wheel drives were making it up the road but new powder made it hard to tell how long ago. Today’s snow was much different from the snow earlier in the week that was light and powdery. This snow was heavy and wet and I felt like I had weights on my shoes for most of the trip.
I had studied the map beforehand and as I am learning the more I snowshoe, there are often “winter routes” or ways to cut the switchbacks in the roads to get to your destination a bit faster. I wasn’t in a hurry today, but I thought I might cut the first two switchbacks in the road before you get to the junction with FR 4021. I wasn’t really expecting any help, but I did manage to catch some blue blaze on the a tree and was able to find a path up. Not sure why it had to be so much paint…poor tree.
The trail was pretty easy to follow and it wasn’t long before I was able to cut about a mile off the trip.
I debated cutting the third switchback and landing above the junction with FR 4021 but looking at the terrain let me know it wouldn’t be a stroll (at least not at first), so I stuck to the road for the rest of my trip. There are very little trees over the road, I imagine that whoever likes to 4×4 up the road is taking care of that.
The creeks were rushing and the snowy day made everything look monochrome and elegant. The tire tracks in the snow continued much further than I thought they would for the amount of snow there was on the road. I was surprised to see them continue onto FR 4021 when I turned (2.7 miles). For the most part, this road is a nice even grade with just a few ups and downs.
As you make your way up, there will be multiple smaller side roads. Just try to always stay on the main wide road and take the right if the roads look the same size. There are signs on the main junctions pointing to the appropriate lake.
Turning right at the junction with Ashland Lakes (4.1 miles), it is just a few steps until you cross Black Creek. What an aptly named body of water!
The road narrows just a bit now and there were a few trees and brush bending low but nothing that would slow you down.
At about 4.5 miles, there is a beautiful viewpoint that I’m sure presents some wonderful views of Liberty and Big Bear in the distance on a nice day but I did have a misty valley view that was showstopping.
Here there is also a path that goes up to the west, similar to the directions given in Dan Nelson’s snowshoeing book where he mentions turning west in the forest but doesn’t mention there will be a SIGN. If you haven’t been here before (like I hadn’t) you might think this will connect with the Bear Lake trail.
Don’t take it. It does not. My hopeful thinking of how far I had come up 4021 had me in denial that this wasn’t it even when I gained elevation and turned SW making it clear I wasn’t headed to Bear. Part of me wanted to think I would maybe skip Bear and just get to Pinnacle. Oh, well.
It IS a pretty trail (old road) and has some rather nice viewpoint potential. But there will be a TON of trees over the trail and no lake.
Just sayin’. Save yourself some time.
Continue PAST this and go until you reach an actual trailhead sign for Bear and Pinnacle Lake (5.7 miles from the HWY). The signs about high crime area are kind of funny when there is this much snow.
Once I left the road and was on the actual trail, it was back to crunchy snow. The path was easy to follow, the trail is clearly trenched in many places. Just look for clues like this giant cut log.
It was just a few minutes to the junction with Pinnacle and the right again to swing around Bear Lake (.3 miles from the TH).
I found an open spot to sit and eat lunch about 12:45.
The snow was falling gracefully and silent and I was kept company by a red-headed woodpecker looking for his own lunch in the trees around me. Either he is a busy guy are there are a bunch of these birds at the lake from all the holes in the trees.
I enjoyed the peace and calm of the lake for about 30 minutes until the cold started to creep in and I headed back from the lake. The wind and snow had picked up a bit, and the combined snow off the trees made the day seem all that much wintry. My tracks were already starting to fade under the new accumulation.
Walking out and down the road for a bit, I was thinking about how I was going to get to write about not seeing a soul today until I came to these right before the crossing for Black Creek.
Turns out the only other people I saw today were two guys in jacked up jeeps tearing up the beautiful snowy “trail”. They had turned around but I would soon see they had headed up towards Boardman. I was glad to get off the road and cut back down my switchbacks, the new ruts they were making made it hard to follow my own tracks back down anyway. I can see now the benefit to gating roads like this during the winter.
I was back down to my car by 3:30pm to see it was covered in snow, as well as the road. I guess the snow had come to the lowlands, too. The two guys in the jeeps were there and we chatted a bit. They were surprised I had made it all the away to the lake, and by myself. I just laughed and said I do this kind of stuff all the time. 🙂
Directions: Take Hwy 92 to Granite Falls and at the first of three roundabouts, follow the signs for Quarry Rd. Continue on Quarry until it comes to a T with N. Alder St. Turn left towards the Mountain Loop HWY. At MP 15.8 (past the TH for Lake 22), you will see the sign for Bear, Boardman and Ashland Lakes. Turn onto FR 4020 and either park here, or as far up the road as you can.