Snake Lake offers recreation, history

Snake Lake is shedding its winter cloak March 9. Although parts of the lake remain frozen and snow is plentiful in shady areas, much of the lake is free of ice. Spanish Peak looms in the distance as spring starts to show its tender buds and new shoots of grass begin to sprout. Photos by Laura Beaton
Laura Beaton

  Plumas National Forest boasts more than a million acres of land spread over five counties. Eighty-five percent of the Forest lies within Plumas County boundaries.

  Approximately 53 campgrounds are available to the public within the National Forest.

  One of those campgrounds is located at Snake Lake, approximately seven miles from downtown Quincy.

  Snake Lake Road, off of Bucks Lake Road heading toward Meadow Valley, turns to dirt just before the descent to the campground. The road is minimally maintained and may be rutted and eroded, depending on the season. In rainy weather the road gets muddy and is sometimes impassable. The road is not plowed during the winter, but offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities.

  The campground has nine primitive campsites for tents and RVs. The campsites have no water or electricity. Most sites are shady, close to the overgrown lakeshore and have picnic tables and fire rings.

  Thanks to a recent partnership between the Forest Service and local equestrian group High Mountain Riders, eight equestrian campsites, complete with corrals, are now available as well.

  There is a vault toilet at the campground. Garbage service is not provided anywhere around the lake, so the Forest Service reminds visitors to “pack it in, pack it out.”

  There are no reservations and no fees required for camping, which is limited to 14 days.

Nearby activities

  Fishing, hiking, horseback riding, biking, off-highway vehicle riding and non-motorized boating activities are available on and near the lake. The Forest Service does not recommended swimming.

  Springtime is ideal for kayaking or canoeing around the approximately three-mile shoreline. Once conditions warm up, the lake becomes choked with weeds and water lilies, making paddling and fishing difficult.

  Before then, the lake remains fairly open and free of weeds, creating a peaceful environment for boating.

  There are currently three beaver lodges at various locations around the lake. Freshly cut trees and branches are visible on shore and near the lodges, indicating recent activity.

  Nesting “boxes” jut out of the lake at the northern end, where gently sloping meadows reach to the water’s edge. These areas are havens for geese and ducks.

  A road extends about two-thirds of the way around the lake before it peters out, overgrown by brush and trees. Beds of old rail lines used to transport logs are still partially evident.

  Multiuse trails abound in the Snake Lake area. The Mt. Hough Ranger Station on Highway 70, a few miles west of Quincy, has information and maps available.

  Although signage was installed for a trail from near the spillway at Snake Lake through the forest to Feather River College, the area has been logged since the signing and the trail is difficult to follow, according to Erika Brenzovich, acting public services staffer for the Mt. Hough Ranger District.

History of Snake Lake

  According to Scott Lawson, Plumas County Museum director, Snake Lake was a swampy valley when David Hambly bought it from a fellow who had claimed it in the 1850s.

  Hambly and his family homesteaded the area on the far eastern side of the lake in the 1860s. Hambly drained the water from the valley and grew hay and oats, along with vegetables for his family such as corn, potatoes, cabbage and turnips.

  Some of the Hamblys are buried at the site of the old homestead. David Hambly is buried at the Meadow Valley Cemetery. Eventually the family members went their separate ways in the 1890s and other people took over.

  In 1911, the Quincy Mining and Water Co. owned nearby Gopher Hill, Bean Hill and Mountain House mines. They dammed Snake Lake Creek, building Snake Lake to control mining operations downstream.

  The company drew up a proposal to develop Snake Lake into a mountain resort area. Plans were drawn but never acted upon.

  In 1892, John Marshall Stone acquired the homestead and operated a short-lived cattle ranch to provide meat to miners. According to a letter written to the museum by Stone’s grandson, the snow was so deep the winter of 1892-93 that Stone pulled up stakes the following summer and moved to Dayton, near Chico.

  For more history on Snake Lake and Plumas County, visit the Plumas County Museum, located at 500 Jackson St. in Quincy. Call ahead to make sure it’s open: 283-6320.

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