On paper, Sword Lake does not fit my definition of a great destination. It is a popular lake, not a place to go for solitude. It’s not above treeline or filled with pristine glacier-fed waters. It is surrounded by forest so the views are minimal. There are mosquitoes and noisy boyscouts. There are no fish. The drive to the trailhead is dusty. The hike is short and unchallenging.
Nevertheless, this is one of the best lakes I’ve backpacked to in the Sierra.
What Sword Lake does have is the best swimming conditions I’ve found. If I’d discovered this lake unspoiled and rarely visited, I’d keep it a secret. However, this is a well known place and there is a lot of information out there (including several YouTube videos and a few mainstream media profiles) so I have no qualms in sharing the details here.
I had originally planned on starting a big week long trip out of Pine Creek this weekend, but the late snow melt led to a postponement. Therefore I was looking for something else to do and at the last minute I jumped in on this trip to Sword Lake that Laurent was busy planning. Simply along for the ride, I wasn’t sure what to expect – I just was hoping for a nice weekend in the mountains with some friends.
After picking up the permit in Pine Crest, we headed to the trailhead off of the Clark Fork turnoff from 108. The six dirt miles lasted a dusty eternity thanks to the horse trailers and parade of other vehicles heading up the road ahead of us, but we eventually reached the County Line trail head. The hike to the lake was a short jaunt through the wildflower strewn meadows and forest and we arrived quickly. Upon reaching the lake I let my campsite mojo take the lead and found us a great site above the lake that would keep us as free from mosquitoes as possible. Though they were bad in the evening they would have been worse closer to the lake.
I had originally planned to spend the afternoon exploring the area and possibly heading down to Spicer Reservoir to fish, but my plans were quickly squashed when I sighted our private ‘beach’. On the shore of Sword Lake, just below our campsite, there was the most wonderful little spot where the granite sloped gently into the water, providing a perfect place to lounge around and have easy access to the water. Just next to this ramp was a nice cliff with enough height to allow for some fun jumping into the deep cool water.
Interested in this hike? Get the details here.
The water was an absolutely perfect temperature for swimming. We spent all afternoon in and out of the lake. Jump in, swim around, crawl out an lay in the sun, lather, rinse, repeat. Across the lake, a group of teenagers (boyscout troop?) had camped and were jumping off the ~25 foot cliff into the deep water below. All around the lake people were swimming, jumping, and having a great time.
After several hours of swimming and sun we took a walk around Lost Lake, Sword Lake’s neighbor. A bit of bushwhacking and scrambling kept things interesting and we got a good picture of the campsite locations around the lakes. Although both lakes were busy, our campsite was quiet and pretty much out of sight from other campsites. A relaxing and warm evening in camp was followed by one of the hottest nights I’ve had in the Sierra – I barely needed even my 40 degree sleeping bag.
Sunday started off hot and sunny, so before hiking out I got in several more jumps and a bit of swimming. I could have stayed there for days! Sword Lake will definitely be my ‘go-to’ destination in the future when I’m looking for a place to spend a hot summer weekend. I was already ready to turn around and go back once we reached the 110 degree central valley heat on the drive home.
In and Out Dayhike or Backpack.
2 miles one way to the lake. The track below is 7.6 miles and includes both directions as well as a walk around Lost Lake.
+/- 1400 ft
Trailhead and Permit Notes:
Sword Lake is most accessible from the County Line Trailhead in Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Access to this trailhead is on rough dirt road, though we saw plenty of horse trailers make the trip. It is a busy destination on summer weekends so arrive early for parking and prime campsite choice if backpacking.
Wilderness Permits are required but free and not limited to quotas as of this writing. Sword Lake is a very popular destination, so if you want a good campsite choice I would recommend going mid-week or in the off season. The busiest parts of the lake are closest to the main cliff jumping rock, but you can find other spots around the entire lake.