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Lake Jenkinson: Sly Park’s crown jewel and premiere hike

(Last Updated On: August 24, 2014)

Sly Park holds a special place in my childhood. During my 6th grade year, my class, along wither other classes, went to Sly Park for a week. It was an adventure like any other. For most of us, this was the first time we spent a week without our parents. On a more personal note, It was also a great opportunity to impress the girls in my 6th grade class. But, I’ll save those stories for another time.

Sly Park Monument
Sly Park Monument


On an early Tuesday morning in late April. I set out to return to Sly Park for the first time in over 25 years. It was a chance to revisit the place that I fondly remember as a rite of passage into manhood. Or quite possibly, it’s just the place where I had many great memories as a kid.

The goal for this trip was to hike along the eastern portion of the lake in search of Sly Park Falls (also known as Park Creek Waterfall). I had spent the previous week working on my photography skills and I was eager to try out what I had learned by taking pictures of the lake and the waterfall.

The entire hike along the lake is roughly 8.5 miles. For my trip today, I was only going to hike roughly 6 to 6.5 miles round trip.

Where to Park?

bumpy meadow trailhead  (1 of 1)There are a few options in terms of parking. You can enter the main gate and pay $11 depending on the day, or you can look for a less expensive option. On Mormon Emigrant Trail there are two damns that you can park at for free. Unfortunately, there’s only room for a few cars and it fills up quickly. So, you would have to get out there early in the morning.

The best option is to park in the Bumpy Meadow parking lot which is on the Southeast side of the lake and it only costs  $5 for parking. There’s a trailhead there with bathrooms and a sign for the distances to travel. I chose to park in this parking lot because it got me a little closer to the waterfall and I don’t trust parking on the side of the road where things are unsupervised.

How to get there

Now, getting to Sly Park can seem a little tricky once you get off of Highway 50 and that’s because the road winds around for roughly 4 miles until you reach the main entrance. But then you have to travel another 1.4 miles to get to the bumpy meadow parking area which is past the main entrance and on Mormon Emigrant Trail.

If you are coming from Sacramento, take highway 50 east and get off on Sly Park road which is just past the town of Pollock Pines. You will make a right onto Sly Park road from the freeway exit. The speed limit is roughly 40 mph but it does require you to slow down during the sharp, winding turns. And, it’s even more dangerous if you go during the winter time because the roads will be slippery.

The Trail

The trail is easy to follow once you leave the Bumpy Meadow parking area. It runs along the lake for the entire 3 miles that it takes to get to the Waterfall. At this point, you have the opportunity to continue to loop around the lake and pass through the campgrounds, past the main gate and back around, or you can turn back and follow the same trail back to the parking area.

I chose to head back on the same trail. Honestly, after walking 3 miles along the lake, you are not going to see anything different if you choose to walk on  the other side. In addition to the lake itself, the waterfall is the main point of interest in my opinion. Of course, this doesn’t include fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other lake activities. Along the trail, you will see some great areas to go swimming and a rope swing that looks very inviting to try.

sly park rope swing (1 of 1)

The beginning of the trail takes you right near the lake and provides the option of walking out onto the sand to gaze upon the blue waters. If you get there early enough in the morning, you will be the only one there and you will get the chance to enjoy some beautiful views and peaceful moments.

I got to this spot around 8:15 am and I was the only one there. I took some pictures, soaked up the peacefulness and began heading further down the trail. For me, I never completely stay on the trail. I walked along the lakeside as much as I walked on the trail, which at some points is about 25 feet away from the water.

The majority of the trail is shaded from the tree coverage. However, there are a lot of bugs and I highly recommend bug repellent. The trail is also on dirt and can get really muddy during or after a rainstorm.

There are several signs on small posts to direct hikers and horseback riders. Typically, the signs pointed for the hikers to take the trail closer to the lake.

There is some poison oak along the way, but nothing that should concern you unless you run off through the trees.

Portion of Lake near Waterfall
Portion of Lake near Waterfall

The Waterfall

As you get closer to the waterfall, the trail brings you out into a little meadow along a calm, serene spot on the lake. It’s easy to skip the waterfall and keep heading toward the Park Creek Bridge, which will continue on the trail that loops around the lake. You must head up to the right about 200 to 250 yards instead of veering toward the bridge. You will soon hear the waterfall as you get closer.

Check out my article on Park Creek Waterfall (Sly Park Falls) for more great pictures and information

The trail to the waterfall will bring you out right alongside of it. You have a choice of going up to the top of the waterfall or down to the bottom. Both choices are easy to hike. The bottom spot will provide for better pictures. The top will give you a closer look at the power of the water flow.

It’s best to visit this waterfall in the spring, when the water has a greater flow. I was fortunate enough to witness a tremendous water flow on my hike. If you get there early enough, you can spend plenty of time at the waterfall by yourself.

Sly Park Waterfall
Sly Park Waterfall

Final Thoughts

After spending about 45 minutes to an hour at the waterfall, I decided to head back. The 3 miles back felt like 5. The trail constantly goes up and down throughout the entire distance from the parking lot to the waterfall. It takes more energy to go up and down these little dips and hills than it would on a flat trail. So, keep this in mind as you plan out your hike.

If your goal is to hike to the waterfall, then go in late April to mid-May when the water flow is at its peak. If you are going to have fun at the lake, then summer time is ideal. Lake Jenkinson is a great little escape from the valley heat.

Met some ducks along the trail.
Met some ducks along the trail.


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After many years of being a full time freelance writer, and a long time resident of this state, I've decided to turn my full attention toward California by exploring all that it has to offer. My goal is to inspire you to get out there and explore this amazing state. Please follow my adventures and news content by visiting Calexplornia daily or clicking on one of my Social Media accounts below.

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