If it's hot, and you're hiking for fun, you may as well pick a trail that leads to a swim. Here's one that goes the old swimming hole one better, with an entire lake full of water at hand.
It's surprising how many hikers don't know there's a path around the "back" of Lost Creek Lake, or maybe they have a vague awareness of it but haven't tried it. While not a wilderness experience, it's a great hot-weather hike on a nice trail that's easy to get to.
Drive Highway 62 to Lost Creek Lake, cross the bridge at the upstream end and turn left on Lewis Road. The trailhead is just a mile ahead, complete with restrooms and a path down to the reservoir at a spot people often use as a beach.
As you set out on the trail you find yourself in a pretty little cove, but don't get too distracted by the mixed forest and wildflowers to watch where you're going. There's poison oak here and along the way.
An osprey soars overhead, and a gaggle of Canada geese paddle near the shore as the trail passes through madrone, ponderosa pine and black oak and climbs gently along a rustic fence. A spotted towhee scratches at the leaf litter, and somewhere, a white-breasted nuthatch calls yank!
As you pass out of the cove the bridge at the far end of the lake comes into view, giving a sense of the lake's scale. In the next cove, there's the hoarse croak of a raven, and a dark form taking wing through the shadows. The trail is in good shape for one on which you don't meet another hiker, wide and nearly free of rocks. There's the drone of outboard motors, so you don't have the feeling of being in the deep woods.
In a mile or so you come to an old fire camp, a relic of a 1979 forest fire. Camping there this day is a family who came by boat. There's a rustic restroom here.
The trail soon makes a right, and you're in a large cove lined with rock outcroppings. Some of these make good diving platforms, although the rule is to never, ever, dive or jump into water without knowing exactly what's under the surface. A rustic bench affords a view of much of the lake.
About two-and-a-half miles along you'll come to an elaborate, rustic footbridge. There's supposed to be a sign here that directs hikers off the trail to a spot known as the Grotto, which is reportedly thick with Amaryllis. I can't find it. I hike up the next ridge on the trail, try a little spur that quickly dead-ends, backtrack and look some more. Another spur quickly dwindles away near a large mudbank. Finally I bushwhack off up the hillside hoping to stumble on a side path. Nothing.
The only signs I find are for fire management projects called Flounce 183 and Flounce 184. My dictionary says a flounce is a strip of decorative material. As a verb, the word means to move in a lively or bouncy manner, or with exaggerated or affected motions or clumsiness. I probably did all of the above trying to avoid the poison oak. I eventually leave off my flouncing and give up on the Grotto. It's July, anyway.
Back down the trail a huge slab of rock is cantilevered into the edge of the lake. I flop down and eat lunch. Busy chickadees call to one another. Waves lap the rocks. A lone ant trundles across the rock carrying an improbably large — on his scale — bit of something, no doubt a treasure of great worth. A lizard comes quite near, does the usual pushups, then skitters away. Six Caspian terns fly low over the water, eyes down. One calls, krow!
A growing roar rends the day, and I realize I've almost dozed off. It's one of those speedboats with the souped-up inboards with the tuned stacks throwing a huge roostertail. The sun is high now, and there are no lizards in sight, nor terns. I have a swim and head back up the trail.
This trail's bragging points are its accessibility and all that water. My hike is about five miles, maybe six with the hunting and the backtracking and the bushwhacking. I don't even mind not finding the Grotto.
Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at firstname.lastname@example.org.