WT8 – Upper Blue Lake
Length: 3 miles roundtrip
Time: 2-3 hours
Experience Level: All Levels
Launch Area: Resorts along southern end of Upper Blue Lake, off Hwy 20 about 9.5 miles west of the Main St intersection in Upper Lake.
Tranquil, easy paddling
Deep, spring-fed lake
Historic resort area
Migratory waterfowl route
From their unique geologic origins to legends of an evil sea serpent, the tranquil Blue Lakes (Upper and Lower Blue Lakes) are a fascinating string of elongated lakes nestled in densely- wooded Cold Creek Canyon. This water trail describes an easy 3-mile loop along the perimeter of Upper Blue Lake. The speed limit of 5 mph or no-wake zone makes this leisurely route ideal for kids and adults who wish to combine swimming, fishing and wildlife viewing with a paddling experience.
While locals can be seen parked along Hwy 20 to access the lake, the safest put in would be at any of the resorts along Upper Blue Lake which allow launching. This route begins at the southeastern section with entry at The Lodge at Blue Lakes or Pine Acres Resort, which offer day use lake access from their boat launches for a nominal fee.
Setting off from this corner, notice a large stand of tules as the lake narrows behind you. At high water, a narrow spillway behind the sedges will lead water from Upper Blue Lake through a long channel to Lower Blue Lake. But for most of the year, this channel remains dry.
Lower Blue Lake is significantly shallower, with its deepest portion at only about 25 feet. In the summer, it resembles nutrient-rich (“eutrophic”) Clear Lake which it connects to via Scotts Creek. Migrating loons come here in the winter to feast on the large population of bait fish such as shad that feed on the plankton.
Beneath a bright patchwork of cottages, the faded sign of the Laurel Dell Resort located on the southeastern shoreline of the Lower Blue Lake can still be seen from the highway. Around the late 1890s, its owner Henry Wambold, built nearby a two-story cannery for “Blue Lake” string beans which is well-renowned among avid vegetable gardeners as a premier gourmet bean.
As you paddle along the southwestern shoreline of the Upper Blue Lake, notice the dense growth of California laurels, madrones, blue oaks, pine and fir trees. Despite winter storms that occasionally knock down towering trees, ospreys doggedly return to build nests in this area. You can hear their cries as they swoop over the water to capture a meal for their young. Keep peering into the thickets and see if you can also spot golden and bald eagles.
Continue paddling northward, marveling at the clarity of the water. Upper Blue Lake is a magnet for visitors looking to plunge into its crystal clear, spring-fed waters in the heat of the summer. Although referred to as the “bottomless lake”, its depths have been recorded at anywhere from 90-150 feet, with distinct thermoclines.
About halfway through the lake and past The Narrows Lodge Resort on the left, the east and west shorelines begin to converge to “the narrows” which spans only 70-100 feet wide. Wave to the year-round bikini-clad mannequins on the right as you negotiate this thin channel. A small beach looks inviting on the western shoreline, but please don’t trespass as it is on private property. There are places along the eastern shoreline within the state highway right-of-way which can serve as resting areas.
As you pass the narrows, downed trees litter a wide cove on the western shoreline. There are several areas here to watch the antics of mallards, coots, and other species of ducks, and to stake out a good spot for fishing. Anglers can hook stocked rainbow trout (best in the spring), bluegill, largemouth bass, and catfish.
Continuing to the northern end which terminates at Le Trianon Resort, one might envision how Blue Lakes, about 200,000 years ago, were once part of a continuous channel that drained Clear Lake into the Russian River watershed. But in the last 10,000 years, geologists believe that a massive landslide originating from Cow Mountain collapsed into Cold Creek Canyon and blocked the flow. Clear Lake rose and eventually carved a new outflow southwest to Cache Creek, emptying into the Sacramento River. This landslide is northwest of Le Trianon Resort, and can be seen as a tree-covered ridge at a pullout on the right side of Hwy 29.
Stories of the landslide have been passed on through oral tradition among Native Americans, and it is possible that it may have occurred as recently as the last few thousand years. However, the presence of Indian settlements along Blue Lakes is questionable given the steep banks of Cold Creek Canyon compared to valleys to the east with the abundance of blackfish and hitch in Clear Lake.
As you paddle back to your origin, look upon the dark treed cliffs as they cast a deep emerald reflection on the water. And don’t let down your guard: Upper Blue Lake might just have its own “Nessie” writhing about in the deep!