Grouse, Hemlock, and Smith Lake Trail

HARD 71 reviews
#6 of 80 trails in

Grouse, Hemlock, and Smith Lake Trail is a 5.5 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Pollock Pines, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, and backpacking and is best used from May until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

5.5 miles
1,699 feet
Out & Back

dogs on leash








wild flowers



5 months ago

We did a two night trip here. We hiked to Grouse lake, which according our gps is 4.1 miles. It is a climb but all and all not to bad. We made our camp here. Gorgeous lake with brook trout jumping. The next morning we hiked up to Hemlock and Smith. My gps said 1.3 miles from grouse, Total elevation gain from Wright’s lake was 1704. Both were full of trout. All these lakes are worth the effort. The last section to smith is very steep, hard to find and follow the trail and has loose rock. The view to the west is amazing! I would consider the trail a mod/hard depending on your fitness. I’m 52 in ok shape and carried a 28 lb pack. It took me 2.5 to Grouse. From grouse to smith took about 45 minutes but some of that was looking for the trail at smith. One way the hike is approx 5.4 so total 10.8. Hard on the knees going down. Hiking poles are your best friend here

5 months ago

From Smith Lake, we continued upward and climbed Crystal Range summits Agassiz Peak and Mt Price. My track is not the easiest way to do this, but it got the job done in a very eventful 10 hour hike. Our boulder hopping route to the notch on the ridge above Smith Lake was OK, but we would have been better served by then dropping down some into the Lyon’s Lake drainage instead of trying to traverse around the head of the canyon higher up. The large boulders up there made the walk extremely difficult, so we ended up dropping down anyway, but still not far enough to make for an easy passage through the head of the drainage. Climbing up the east side we did OK by staying low in grassy chutes and quickly made the ridge with a clear view and path to Agassiz and Price. We headed over the meadow to the low point on the ridge between the peaks, and once there decided to first bag Agassiz to the south. This was another mistake as the boulders high on the ridge were massive and the going up there very slow. A better approach would be to stay low on easier terrain until directly below, or maybe even a bit beyond, the peak then go straight up to it. We did make it our way, though, or at least to a few feet below the high point where we took a pass on the class 3 summit block. From there we dropped off Agassiz the way we should have come up, then by comparison, the half mile north to Mt Price was an easy class 2 walk in the park. From the summit of Price the views of Lake Aloha and so many other Desolation Wilderness lakes and peaks were spectacular and the sky was as smoke free as it had been in weeks. Our route for the return trip was OK though we initially aimed a little too high for the notch above Smith Lake when we might have done better staying lower on the Lyon drainage longer where the walking was easier. Another way to reach these peaks is to simply hike the drainage north from Lyon’s Lake then climb up the east side, as we did, to the large meadow west of the Price-Agassiz ridge. This hike would start at the Lyon’s Lake trailhead on Wright’s Lake Road and would be a few miles longer, but likely an easier hike. As it was, our route was 11.5 miles and 3638’ of gain. There’s no easy way to reach these peaks, but as the spectacular backbone of Desolation Wilderness, they are well worth the effort.

6 months ago

This trail has become one of our favorite trails in the El Dorado/ Tahoe area. The views from the Hemlock and Smith Lake are amazing (there was even some snow on the northeast side of the lake, where the granite wall prevents the sun from reaching).
The full trail (back and forth) is 9.8 miles instead of 5.5 miles as originally reported (we had a tracking device that recorded the distance and altitude gain; and if you check the full map here and add the distances, you'll see that it's close to 5 miles one-way).
As mentioned before, the trail is well-visible until a certain point (up to where it splits with the Twin Lakes 16E12); from that point on, it's essential to have some guidance (the AllTrails map works great), keep an eyes on the stacked rocks too.
On our way back, we saw some commotion due to someone getting lost (there are too many splits) and the Rangers and El Dorado Police had to be called (when we got back to the parking lot, we heard that they had found the guy).

If you are going on a weekend, chances are that the parking lot by the trailhead will be full. Don't park by the cabins or by the road or you will get a ticket. Park at one of the two Wrights Lake parking lots.

7 months ago

I would definitely rate this as hard, especially because the trail from Hemlock to Smith is marked as "primitive." I found it hard to catch the spot where you take a hard left up into the rocks. I wasn't sure if I was off trail, so I sat down until I saw someone else arrived who used their GPS to find the trail. After being at the top I came back down to find two hikers lost in the same spot that I was. Just keep an eye out for stacked rocks to the left to find that final steep ascent.

The parking lot at the trail head was open as of 7/7/18. The wildflowers were incredible! And the water running down beside the first part of the trail was serene. I dunked in at Smith Lake and felt so refreshed. Will be coming back soon to see it again.

7 months ago

Wildflowers are blooming everywhere right now. Don’t forget bug spray!

7 months ago

Beautiful hike! The wildflowers are in full bloom right now and there are some waterfalls along the trail as well. The last 0.2 mi was steep, but worth the trip to Smith Lake! Also, the road to the parking lot is still closed to the public so you have to park at the further lot and walk to the trail head.

8 months ago

There was a lot of snow for late may. But the climb was worth the view on top. I would recommend but definitely get hiking sticks.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

BEAUTIFUL hike, but let me tell ya, when its covered in snow there are quite a few tricky spots, and we lost the trail a few times. also the lakes are completely snowed and frozen over right now. enough that when I thought I was solid i hit the edge of the creek coming out and managed to fall knee deep in ice water. Definitely beautiful, but maybe wait til snow melts.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hiked to Grouse and Hemlock yesterday through a light coat of early season snow. The trail was a fun and solid workout, and the views up top were gorgeous.

Monday, October 16, 2017

This is a pretty vigorous hike to some wonderful lakes. Great if you are looking for a decent workout--not too easy, but not too hard. Smith lake is the final lake and is my personal favorite. It sits high in elevation just at the tree line with some excellent views of the valley below. Very much worth it!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

This is one of my favorite trails. It's definitely an uphill workout in some spots and it pays off big. Climb up the rocks past Smith Lake for even more amazing views.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ooh la la. All star views, diverse wildlife and fun trails. Immaculate.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Absolutely beautiful! Wildflowers are blooming and the streams are flowing. Went on a Tuesday morning- surprisingly quite a few people were out! Looked like a great place to backpack in if you're looking for something short.

Monday, July 17, 2017

This was a fantastic hike- made it to Smith which was snow covered and gorgeous. It's on the moderate-to soft hard, totally doable and worth it if your in good shape. Considering there are much more difficult hikes near- longer and more gain I would not rate it "hard". But a good challenge. Go to the top it's beautiful!!! Will not be able to follow to trail to smith but use some type of gps tracker or trust going straight up from grouse and tracking through snow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I went to the Grouse lake today. 7/11.1 big patch of snow I had to cross otherwise trail is easy to find and the lake is ice free. I Will try getting to Hemlock and Smith in a few weeks since the trail looked covered with snow still. The water runoff from Smith looked gorgeous.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Beautiful trail, a steep incline-definitely tougher than moderate.
Grouse lake is a perfect spot to stop and eat before heading on to the next 2 lakes.
Definitely would do it again

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Amazing hike so peaceful on a Monday! Grouse Lake was gorgeous and water even warm enough to swim a bit. Great spot to eat lunch and relax! Must hike!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bit of a difficult trail but very enjoyable. Got to the parking lot at 9am on Saturday and it was mostly full. Quiet hike up but ran into lots of hikers on my way back down. Fitbit tracked this at a little over 5 miles round trip to just Grouse Lake. Will definitely do again and possibly stay overnight. Hiking poles would have been helpful on this hike.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This is a more difficult trail than moderate if you go all the way to Smith Lake. It is also longer that the stated my Fitbit and GPS both put it around 7 miles give or take a 10th or so. Nice trail though with great views of Wright's , Union and Icehouse lakes. Hike early to beat crowds this time of year as the trail is narrow for larger groups.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

This, in my opinion, is not a moderate hike, but a lovely one. I left the trail head just after noon and made it to Grouse right at 2. Grouse Lake was definitely worth the struggle. I went there on a weekday and was the only one at the lake. I was hoping to swim, but the water was still too cold. Like everyone already says, when you're almost to the top the trail kind of ends with a creek at the left and you have to cross the creek hopping rocks to pick the trail back up. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

I have met quite a few people doing this hike that want to give up just before they get to the first lake. Grouse Lake Trail ascends very aggressively and is not for the faint of heart! It is quite vigorous and requires good footing as well.
The trail turns to the left, (feels like it might not end its vigorous elevation gain), and looks like a creek that you cross over on stones. To the right you see steeper rocks that could be climbed to get to Grouse, but the official trail goes to the left and is easier. Don'f give up at that creek. Just rest with the skeeters, then resume and get the reward of at least Grouse Lake! Take water because you will sweat for this prize! Wear reliable shoes! Trekking poles help me so much!
I did 6+ miles by roaming up the north ridge of Smith Lake and over the spillway. Since I last went, I heard someone has vandalized the bridge and that they do not intend to fix it. Smith is gorgeous!!! It has forest and a few hidden campsites on the north-ish side and the high bowl walls on the other sides except for the west that has long, beautiful views and sunsets. The trail is pretty good, but strenuous in some sections. You can get a little lost, but keep looking around yourself and you can find the trail ahead. My GPS helped the first time up, and there is a clear trail that runs fairly parallel to the runoff from the Smith Lake dam. It traverses mildly and heads downward more directly, without bushwhacking, and gets you on a more level easy trail pretty quickly.
Hemlock is amazingly gorgeous, but without the distant views seen earlier along the way and at Smith. Super clear water!
I love this hike! PS. Don't bother building cairns. The wilderness policy is to break them down. If you rely on them, not your own observations on the way, they may be gone by the time you return!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Amazing trail! It is listed as difficult on the entry sign. It is not an easy trail.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Beautiful hike Smith Lake is worth a little longer hike

Monday, October 13, 2014

We just did this hike 10/12/14 and i would highly recommend it. its well worth the time to go up and see Grouse lake...since we started on time, but lost half the group who ended up going somewhere else, so we ran out of time, and did not go past Grouse to Hemlock or Smith Lake. So, I would suggest to start early and do all three....from Grouse to the others is not difficult, you pretty much do all the work getting to Grouse Lake. They have camping areas up there, so we plan on going back to camp up there.

We started at the West side of Wrights Lake...took the loop trails around to the NE corner of the lake...there you will sign up for a FREE wilderness permit (so that they know you are out there)...from here you start on the Twin Lake trail. You will cross the wilderness boundary and then 15 minutes later you should come to the split of where the Twin Lake and Grouse Lake trails split....from here its pretty straight forward.

The trails does get lost at times, but look for footprints or where the path may restart again....this happens when you hit the granite rock areas. The other thing that we found was that it was somewhat difficult to figure out when we would know that we are crossing the wilderness line and where the split was for Grouse Lake from the Twin Lake trail. I've added pictures of those markers...this should help knowing that its not an arbitrary marking that you will miss :)

Also, I hiked in runners....its doable. You will slip on the granite rock areas and bang your knee unnecessarily if you are not careful. Hiking shoes definitely recommended. Take plenty of water and energy food, you will need it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Did this hike on a Saturday in late July in a severe drought year with a 2 year old in a backpack and a dog. Lake levels are still excellent. Trails were not very busy but the recreation was. Get there early for parking at the trail head. went swimming at Grouse and Wheeler lakes. was pleasantly surprised at how warm they were probably from the lack of snowpack. Views are amazing it is worth packing the Fancy camera. Lots of climbing and you are exposed to the sun on a lot of the trail. i wore my trail running shoes instead of boots and slipped a lot on the granite on way down the hill. i also recommend trekking poles for this hike. To help with the large step ups. This is definitely a 5 star trail for us.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Beautiful hike. We only made it as far as Grouse Lake, but I can't wait to come back here another time and do the whole trail all the way to Smith Lake. The trail is steep, but we took our time. What amazes me is the change of perspective on the way up and then on the way down. I noticed different things on the hike up, and then saw more of the beauty of the little details on the way down. Fantastic panoramic views! It was an uphill journey the whole way, but it was an adventure. You lose sight of the trail sometimes, but it was fairly easy to pick it up again. There seemed to be a lot of fish in Grouse Lake, and a woman said she hooked something every time she cast out. Happy trails!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The trail to Grouse Lake from Wright's Lake Trailhead is a moderate climb. From Grouse Lake we took a trail due east to.Smith Lake (we followed the stream bank trail which is not marked on any map)-this trail was difficult due to elevation gain in a short distance. We then hiked back the marked trail to Hemlock Lake. The view at these 3 lakes doe not disappoint! We also did some fly fishing at both lower elevation lakes - used nymph and elk hair caddis. Most all were caught on nymph. Please catch and release at these lakes. Our hike was midweek on August 6 and we saw 5 others total in this area all day long.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wow, I can't believe more people haven't reviewed this trail! I think it's spectacular!
I did this trail twice, once a couple of days ago and once about two years ago when there was still snow on the ground.

Wrights Lake is gorgeous. I kayaked there a couple of weeks ago too and it was great. Very shallow. Lots of ducks and osprey. I highly recommend camping there for a couple of days to hike and kayak/boat (no motorboats). I wished I had more time!

It's only three miles to Smith lake and it is a moderate climb. Once there, it's well worth it to scramble up the rocks to the peak. Breathtaking views of several lakes, and mountains forever. I wanted a bigger map so I could identify more of the visible peaks.

I took a quick dip in Smith Lake and it was COLD! This was mid-September. I doubt it was any warmer in August.

Grouse Lake is beautiful also. You could spend a nice day just exploring that.

Hemlock is smaller but pretty (as everything there is!)

One thing about this hike though, it's easy to lose the trail, especially when your getting close to Smith, and extra especially if there's snow! But when you're getting close just keep your eye out for ducks and generally climb UP!

Do this hike!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Very nice hikng and backpacking. there r several lakes to hike to off twin lakes trail, I have backpacked to and camped at Smith lake and Maud lake and beyond. FUNNN

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