Photo of Glacier Lake, Nevada County, CA

Glacier Lake Fishing

Grouse Ridge - Nevada County

Photo of Glacier Lake at Grouse Ridge, Nevada County, CA

Glacier Lake

Glacier Lake is nestled at the base of the spectacular Black Buttes in the Grouse Ridge recreation area of Northern California. Glacier Lake has everything you could want from a small alpine lake--forested shores, rocky points, deep clear water and enjoyable fishing. The 3.2 mile hike is only moderately difficult. Glacier Lake is one of the few lakes in the northern Sierra where you can fish for golden trout.

To reach Glacier Lake from Highway 80 west of Donner Summit, take the Highway 20 exit and follow it west 4 miles until you come to the turnoff to Bowman Lake. Take this paved road 5.5 miles to the turnoff to the Grouse Ridge Campground and Lookout. A high-clearance vehicle is suggested for the 5.8 mile, 2000 foot climb up this sometimes rocky dirt road to the Grouse Ridge campground. The trailhead parking area is to the left, just beyond the campground.

In My Creel

  • Daredevle Skeeter
  • Super Duper
  • Mepps Syclops
  • Mepps Lightin'
  • #16 black gnat
  • #14 blue dun
  • #16 blue quill

For early morning and evening fishing at Glacier Lake I brought along several flies. For mid-day fishing, which proved challenging, I had the most luck fishing with small lures cast far out and allowed to sink as deep as I dared.

Hiking to Glacier Lake

To hike to Glacier Lake descend almost 500 feet along the Grouse Ridge Trail that weaves down the spine of the ridge. You will have great views to the north along the way, from Milk Lake below to the Sierra Buttes in the distance. After about half a mile you will see a trail junction to Downey Lake split off to the right. Continue on the Grouse Ridge Trail a short distance farther until you reach the junction with the Glacier Lake Trail. Turn right (east) onto this trail and follow it to Glacier Lake, climbing about 500 feet. Glacier Lake is at an elevation of 7500 feet. Several notes:

Photo of Five Lakes Basin at Grouse Ridge, Nevada County, CA

Five Lakes Basin

  1. Some guidebooks mistakenly list the mileage to Glacier Lake as 2.2. It is 3.2.
  2. Many trail signs have been knocked down and may not be reliable. Carry a good map and a compass or GPS.
  3. The Forest Service map shows the Sand Ridge Trail, but not the Glacier Lake Trail. The USGS map, on the other hand, shows the Glacier Lake Trail, but not the Sand Ridge Trail.

The Glacier Lake Trail is the easiest and most direct to Glacier Lake. If you want to drop down to fish in the less often visited Five Lakes Basin I suggest three options for reaching the basin:

  1. Go directly from Glacier Lake to Five Lakes Basin. The route is obvious, although there is no established trail and it can be a somewhat rugged descent.
  2. Try to pick up the lateral trail shown on the USGS map about a mile before you reach Glacier Lake.
  3. Take the Sand Ridge Trail off the Glacier Lake Trail (almost immediately after you turn onto the Glacier Lake Trail). The Sand Ridge Trail climbs steeply to the ridge and follows its crest east until you catch sight of the Five lakes Basin. The trail offers great views of all the surrounding area.

Accommodations and Supplies

Lodging is available at nearby Cisco Grove, Soda Springs, or Norden. You also could go over Donner Pass to Truckee where you will find a comfortable lodging.

Campsites up on Grouse Ridge are Spartan (no water), but the views are excellent. Campgrounds can also be found at nearby Carr Lake, Lake Spaulding, Rucker Lake, and Lindsey Lake. The best backpacking campsites at Glacier Lake are among the trees on its northwestern side. At Five Lakes Basin the best campsites I saw were on the northeast shore of the largest lake. There was also a nice site near the inlet of the second largest lake.

California's Best Camping logo

To find the very best campgrounds in the area and all across California, visit California's Best Camping.

Photo of one of the Five Lakes at Grouse Ridge, Nevada County, CA

One of the Five Lakes

For complete information about campgrounds, lodging, and recreation around the Donner Summit area, see Around Donner Summit.

logo saying Around Donner Summit

A good selection of fishing supplies, camping gear, and food can be purchased in Nyack, only a few miles west on Interstate 80 from the Highway 20 junction. The store is open 24 hours a day. A gas station and Burger King are located there also. Fishing supplies can also be found at Cabela's in Boomtown, Nevada, and in Truckee and in Nevada City.

If you are coming up Highway 49/20, stop in Grass Valley at the new Reel Anglers Fly Shop at 760 South Auburn St.

Recommended Books for Fishing Grouse Ridge


There are numerous other lakes in the Grouse Ridge area which offer good fishing. The Featured Trips listed in Dave's Sierra Fishing are show below. A number of other lakes in the Grouse Ridge area can be reached by returning to the Grouse Ridge Trail junction near Milk Lake and heading north to Shotgun Lake. From there you could continue on around to Rock Lake where you will find great camping on the south shore. The trail to Downey Lake splits off from the Glacier Lake Trail.

Staying on the right route while moving from lake to lake can be tricky in the Grouse Ridge area, especially if you strike out cross country. Carry good maps and a compass or a reliable GPS.

Photo of Grouse Ridge, Nevada County, CA

Grouse Ridge and Downey Lake

Nearby Featured Trips in Nevada County: