This is a great loop hike around Ponderosa State Park with views of Payette Lake nearly the whole way. There are lots of opportunities for huckleberry picking and morel mushroom hunting along the way. Some elevation gain but no long climbs. The trail is pretty buffed out from the mountain bikers but watch out for the occasional root that will grab your shoe when you least expect it.
There is a $5 entrance fee to drive into Ponderosa State Park. No fee to walk or run in. There are two campgrounds in the park and a few cabins for rent. See the park's website
for more info.
Nearly all of this loop is open to mountain bikes. There are bathroom facilities at the Nature Center near the trailhead and a vault toilet near Big Rock Beach. Most of the trails in the park are unsigned and some trails aren't on the park maps. It's possible to take a wrong turn, but you can't stay lost for long since it is a peninsula.
Park at the Meadow Marsh Trailhead just past the Nature Center. The trails winds through a stand of very large ponderosa pines. You'll connect with the Huckleberry Trail
, which has some rolling hills (easy stuff). The trail crosses a closed road and after a minute or two, you'll start to see the lake. At 1.7 miles, the trail drops down to the water's edge at a sandy beach, perfect for a swim or playing fetch with the dog. You can enjoy great view of Boulder and Jughandle Mountains from here too. There's even a bench if you want to sit for longer.
The trail continues on the lake's edge for a few hundred feet and then goes back into the trees. Around 2.3 miles, you'll go by Huckleberry Bay and if you want to cut the hike short, turn left and take the road back. Stay on the trail and head out toward the point. At about 2.6 miles, there is a good climb but it is short (0.2 miles). Soon the trail leaves the trees and enters an open meadow. At about 3.3 miles, you'll come to the Ridgeline Trail
junction; go right to stay on the loop. Cross the open road and then descend for a bit; then there is another climb to an overlook of the Narrows of Payette Lake. From here, the trail drops and starts paralleling the shoreline. At 5 miles, you'll pass Duck Bay.
At about 5.2 miles, the trail will end and you'll hike along the open gravel road, but the traffic is pretty light and they usually drive slow since they are on vacation. The Lily Marsh will be on your left. Watch for the gravel hike/bike path on the right just after the Lily Marsh. The trail separates from the road and runs by a couple of nice sandy beaches if you want to go for a swim. Big Rock Beach is just up ahead.
Cross the open paved road, angle a bit to the left to find the trail (look for the Boat Ramp/Exit sign; the trail is behind it). Stay on this trail for about 0.25 mile, then turn left at the junction. The trail crosses an open paved roadl; at the next trail junction, turn right and you are almost back to the trailhead.
Mule deer, owls, huckleberries, morel mushrooms.