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6 of the Best Places to Hike and Shoot near Sacramento

A quick guide to finding some of the best views in NorCal.

By: Glenn Robinson + Save to a List

People often ask me where the best places are to hike and shoot around the Sacramento region. 

A lot of my friends are photographers, so I know they're wanting to find places that offer incredible views and scenery. Fortunately, Sacramento is situated in the heart of Northern California, so it's not too difficult to find amazing views. 

My strongest recommendations for places to hike and shoot near Sacramento are 2 hours outside of the city heading East. There you can enter either the Plumas, Tahoe, or Eldorado National Forests. Each of these forests have lakes, mountain peaks, vistas, rivers, and beautiful pine trees.

Over the past year I've made it my personal mission to discover NorCal gems and share them with others. So here is my ever growing shortlist featuring 6 of the best places to hike and shoot near Sacramento.

1. Ice House Road. One of my top hike and shoot locations is the entire region of Ice House Road just off of Highway 50 past Pollock Pines. There are waterfalls, creeks, grasslands, lakes, gnarly trees, and miles of trails hidden back there just waiting to be discovered!

TIP: Make your way up to Ice House Reservoir to shoot the beautiful lake and mountain there. Then as you exit the reservoir take Big Hill Lookout Road to the West and drive up to the heliport and fire lookout. From there you’ll tower over Union Valley Reservoir and be at eye level with the Sierra Nevadas. 

2. Loon Lake. If you were to continue on Ice House Road going North, eventually you would get to Loon Lake. Loon Lake is actually the start of the famous Rubicon Trail and you’ll more than likely see a lot of Jeeps there getting on the trailhead. But if you hike out towards the Western shore of Loon Lake it quickly becomes very secluded and utterly serene. 

TIP: Start as many hike and shoots as you can at sunrise. There is nothing that can replicate the beauty of soft blue, pink, and orange hues in the sky over nature.

3. Lower Echo Lake. Getting back onto Highway 50 (just before hitting South Lake Tahoe) you can go to Lower Echo Lake at the edge of the Desolation Wilderness. This beautiful area intersects with the world renown Pacific Crest Trail and really shows you what “wilderness” means.

TIP: Just past the Lake Chalet, you’ll see a sign at the trailhead pointing towards the PCT to the left. You’ll want to go that way, but before you do hike Northeast up into the woods and you’ll end up on a shelf of granite which towers over South Lake Tahoe. Perfect for taking epic pictures!

4. Red Lake & Caples Lake. Continuing on Highway 50 towards Tahoe, take Highway 89 South and then jump onto Highway 88 West. At this point you’ll be surrounded by mountain peaks in every direction. I never realized the beauty of this region until just recently!

Pull over and take in the views of Red Lake in Markleeville. 

Then head a little further down the highway until you arrive at Caples Lake where you'll want to park, get out, and spend some time shooting the incredible scenery.

TIP: Pull over on the North shore of Caples Lake and hike up the mountain side directly across from it to get a cleaner perspective of the lake.

5. Emerald Bay. Heading back toward Tahoe on Highway 50, join Highway 89 North and make a stop in the Emerald Bay region of Lake Tahoe. 

TIP: Feel free to get creative here, pulling over wherever you can and hiking up to see Cascade Lake to the the South of the road and Fannette Island in the middle of the bay to the North of the road. There are a some secluded vantage points that require very short hikes to find, but be careful—those drop offs are steep!

6. Five Lakes Trail. One of the highest rated trails in the region is the Five Lakes Trail which is a part of the Granite Chief Wilderness in Alpine Meadows near Olympic Valley. I can say from experience that this has been my favorite hike and shoot trail so far due to the variety of terrain and grandeur of the environment. It’s highly recommended!

TIP: Be prepared for a moderately strenuous hike the first mile or so up the trail. Once you arrive at the Granite Chief Wilderness sign at the top of the hill your climb is over. Rejoice and have fun! 

These are 6 of the best places I've discovered to hike and shoot near Sacramento.

Have you been to any of these places? What did you think? Do you know of other places near Sacramento that are perfect for a hike and shoot? 

Let me know in the comments section below. I would really love to hear your feedback and suggestions!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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