LET’S GO HIKING – MacKay Park and N.S. Campground

Nov 1, 2023 | Outdoor Adventures

MacKay Park’s gazebo deck offers some of the community’s finest westward views of Lake Arrowhead. (Photos by T. Wilcox)


Special to the Alpine Mountaineer


Where: Lake Arrowhead

Length: 2.1-mile loop

Elevation gain: 155 feet

Challenge: easy


As you’ve probably noticed, our “Let’s Go Hiking” forays aren’t always along area trails, though most of them are. This one is a pathway/road/trail outing that begins in MacKay Park – above Arrowhead Lake Association’s headquarters and immediately southeast of Mountains Community Hospital.

It’s almost always easy to find a parking spot in MacKay’s large lot. Begin your hike by heading out along the pathway beyond the restrooms. You’ll pass a plaque bearing the solemn message: “In memory of Audrey MacKay, longtime Lake Arrowhead resident and supporter, and her grandson, Deputy Sheriff Jeremiah MacKay, who gave his life protecting the people of San Bernardino County.”

Also seen from MacKay Park, the Audrey MacKay Dam (finished in 1977) backs up not only Lake Arrowhead itself, but also mini-reservoir Papoose Lake.

Also seen from MacKay Park, the Audrey MacKay Dam (finished in 1977) backs up not only Lake Arrowhead itself, but also mini-reservoir Papoose Lake.


Downward to the left as you proceed is Papoose Lake, with the main dam (1977) on its eastern edge and the old dam (1922) under Highway 173 to the west. That’s a big deal. Why? Because only a handful of places in the world have two functioning dams in such close proximity. Lake Arrowhead is one of them.

Farther on, past the zipline, playground and covered picnic area, is a deck that provides some of our area’s most expansive views of the big lake. Linger here for a few minutes to savor the buena vistas. Now walk back along the pathway to the parking lot and out through MacKay’s main entrance.

On the Road

Bear left on the road and head toward Mountains Community Hospital. Walk for some three-tenths of a mile, watching for oncoming traffic, as you continue up the road next to the hospital’s parking lot.

When you come to a crest where there should be a stop sign, look for the plastic-shrouded North Shore Campground sign that announces, “Closed for the Season.” That doesn’t mean you can’t turn right there, walk around the nearby gate and head up the road into the deserted campground. Chances are you won’t encounter any other hikers as you proceed, and that’s just fine. Enjoy the alpine quiet!

Bear left at the next fork and amble on a few steps to the point where arrows begin pointing left. Follow them up to the highest level of the campground, where the pavement ends. Ahead is a Forest Service road that passes through a damaged gate and continues uphill for a couple tenths of a mile. Unfortunately, that unsecured opening gives ATVs and dirt bikes access to what should be an undisturbed off-season site. Candidly, this is an ongoing Forest Service faux-pas!

Anyway, proceed up the uneven road until it intersects with another Forest Service route – Old Sawmill. If you were to continue left there, you could extend your hike for two miles or more. Instead, pause to take in the views from this vantage, then head back down into the campground.

On the pavement again, walk through an impressive stand of manzanitas. When you arrive at a restroom station, turn left and plod on until you reach the entry point for the North Shore National Recreation Trail. That title, as we noted in last week’s column, is a bit pretentious. Most hikers simply call it the North Shore Trail.

Now, for the next two-tenths of a mile or so, trace this narrow route, which heads downhill quite steeply. Covered with oak leaves and loose rocks, it can cause unwelcome slips. Please walk with care, then.

When you come to a wide, deeply rutted road (Rouse Ranch), turn right and head uphill. (If you were to turn left instead, you could easily hike for miles.) You’ll walk through an open gate and soon see a looming, somewhat intrusive sign of encroaching civilization. It’s the construction zone of the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District’s new corporate yard. Promising LACSD customers even more effective and efficient service, it’s a $6-million, behind-schedule project.

At the intersection of Torrey and MacKay Park roads, turn right and follow the pavement for three-tenths of a mile. After 35, 40 or 45 minutes, you’re back where you began – in Lake Arrowhead’s one and only public park. Amazing!

NOTES: This is an easy pathway/road/trail hike that offers delightful lake and mountain views. The section through the North Shore Campground is peaceful – unless an off-road vehicle finds its way inside the site thanks to a damaged Forest Service gate. As a rule, however, you’ll likely have the campground to yourself – or, if you’re hiking with others, yourselves. That won’t be the case in MacKay Park, for obvious reasons.




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