By TIM WILCOX – Special to the Alpine Mountaineer
Length: 2.8-mile loop
Elevation gain: none
The scenic shoreline pathway around Lake Gregory is one the mountains’ most popular hiking/walking destinations. Some trail devotees will insist that it’s more of a walk than a hike. That’s a subjective assessment, and it depends mostly on your pace.
As far as parking is concerned, your best bet is to turn onto San Moritz Drive from Lake Gregory Drive (a right if you’re motoring downhill from Highway 18). Less than two-tenths of a mile beyond that junction, go left and down into the lake’s large southern lot. You’ll find the trail’s starting point for a counterclockwise transit at the lot’s eastern end. Of course, you can also park in the main-beach lot across from where Goodwin’s Market is being rebuilt. That’s a convenient place to begin a clockwise foray.
During high season, both lots charge $2 for the first hour and $1 for each subsequent hour (electronic kiosk). Free street parking is available, too.
On the Trail
Let’s go with the first lot this time, where your initial few steps on the trail lead past a dog park and onto a sand-and-beaten-earth path that’s 12- to 14-feet wide. To the left is a sign bearing the unofficial title “Lake Gregory Educational Trail.” It signals that Valley of Enchantment Elementary School projects lie ahead on the route. They’re nicely done with text and illustrations by the young students.
This portion of the trail used to be much more heavily forested. Some years ago, however, many trees were felled due to a severe infestation by bark beetles. Inexplicably and unfortunately, remnants of that drastic action remain. They’re oh, so unwelcome souvenirs! The really important question, then: Who’s responsible for the final cleanup?
You’ll also notice the first of 10 exercise stations along the whole trail that challenge you to pause for a round of sit-ups, chin-ups and more. Your call. . .
Approaching the lake’s eastern end, turn left just before San Moritz Lodge and go past what once was a baseball field. During the construction of the new 100-foot dam, which began in March 2018, it was covered with an enormous mound of excavation soil. Now it’s an expansive, grass-covered area that invites varied forms of recreation.
Just beyond that field, bear left and proceed north along the shoreline past the senior center. Here the route is more heavily forested, with mature Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines predominating.
At the trail’s northern tip, you cross a sandy beach popular with families in particular. Just beyond and across the street is the new dam, which was dedicated in 2019. Nearby is the original dam, built in 1937. It’s much smaller and easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.
Now you’re heading southwest along Lake Drive. Steps after the old dam, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. Head downhill to the left, and you’ll remain on the shoreline, where the views are more pleasing than those offered by the upper pathway.
Continuing on this track for half a mile or so, you’ll eventually wind uphill briefly, then intersect with the upper pathway. Beyond that point you’ll go past the lake’s main beach, cross its parking lot, climb a few stairs, then turn left onto the trail once again. Passing the market and county library building, then following the trail left along San Moritz Drive, you’re soon back in the big parking lot.
Whether you’ve just completed a hike or a walk, you’ve been ambling along near water’s edge for, oh, 45 to 75 minutes.
NOTES: It’s always refreshing and inspiring to trace the shoreline of this 84-acre alpine lake. Because the trail is wide and well maintained, families will discover that it’s both stroller- and young-hiker friendly. Ten exercise stations along the way provide calorie-burning opportunities for more ambitious hikers.