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Backpacking to Sword Lake

Arnold, California

based on 4 reviews


Added by Kira Thornley

Easily accessible within the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness of Stanislaus National Forest. A great beginner backpacking trip. Campfires are allowed (but check at the ranger station in advance for any fire restrictions). There are granite platforms to jump off into the small but deep lake. 7.5 mile trek.

Getting There

Take 108 to Pinecrest Lake to pick up a free backcountry permit at the Summit Ranger Station. (If you reach Strawberry you've gone too far.) Continue past Beardsley Lake to Clark's Fork Road on the left. Cross two bridges and Forest Route 6N06 will take you to the trailhead (County Line Trail Head) at the end of the road, approximately 30 minutes on a well-maintained dirt road.

The Trail

From the trailhead, a brief but steep climb will lead you to the sign welcoming you to Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. From here, there's a gradual downhill walk to Sword Lake. You'll hike through a meadow that will be bursting with wildflowers if you're here in July or August.

The hike in should easily take less than 2 hours. Pick a campsite with a pre-existing fire ring and practice leave no trace principles.

Once at the lake, be sure to jump off some of the granite platforms that line the shore. Do depth checks before taking the plunge. Generally, if you can submerge yourself completely with your hands above your head you should be able to jump safely.

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Swimming Hole

Backpacking to Sword Lake Reviews

I loved it!

Sword Lake was the first backing packing trip I did with my family when i was 6, and I've done it a few time since them. The lake is great to swim in and has some rocks you can jump off of. It is also a great place to camp before summiting the Dardanelles.

I did this trip with my wife who had never tried any backcountry camping before and she loved it. It was an excellent introduction into the beauty of the backcountry without biting off too much on your first trip. I would definitely encourage even experienced backpackers to try out a night or two here. A couple things I'd mention that aren't in the description: - You do need a permit to stay overnight in Carson-Iceberg (where Sword Lake is located). The easiest place to pick it up is at the Summit Ranger District in Pinecrest. It is on 108 on the way. It's free and a great place to take a quick pit stop before hitting the trail. - The dirt road, NF-6N06, was fairly rough going when we were there. We have a 4WD sedan with decent clearance and I was definitely worried at a few sections of the road. It is definitely possible to make it assuming it does not get any worse but if you have minimal clearance, I would suggest convincing a friend with an SUV or truck to do the driving. You also could always park in a few of the turn outs at the junction of Clarks Fork or a few of the earlier larger pullouts on 6N06 and hike in along the road which we saw a few groups do. The areas you could do this are very obvious. Keep in mind this will add some uphill distance to your hike. - When you get to the trailhead, you will have the option to go left or right. The trail towards Sword Lake is the left fork, if you look at a map, it's the direction that heads towards water but it is worth noting as a few people we saw hiking in the next day asked if they were going the right way. Along the trail you will see a few markers that will keep you moving in the right direction if you get worried for whatever reason. It will be hard to make a mistake once you're going.

Went with the husband and our 6 year old for an overnight trip Labor Day weekend. Had a blast, will definitely be going back next summer.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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