WHAT TO EXPECT Spooner Lake, an alpine lake at 7,100 feet elevation, lies within 12,242-acre Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The 2-mile Spooner Lake Loop Trail is a well-maintained interpretive trail through meadows, pine and fir forest, and aspen groves. There are developed picnic sites spread throughout Jeffrey pines and white firs on the bluff above the lake. Spooner Lake is also a major trailhead for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians entering the back country. The picnic areas and a loop trail provide an easy, accessible mountain birding experience. Spooner Lake is part of the Carson Range Nevada Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: May through July
Notable species: Osprey fish the lake. Three species of nuthatches, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Brown Creeper, and Mountain Chickadee are resident as are Red-breasted and Williamson's Sapsuckers and Downy, Hairy, and White-headed Woodpeckers. Spring migration brings Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper, Western Wood-Pewee, Tree and Barn Swallows, Hermit Thrush, Western Tanager, Warbling and occasionally Cassin's Vireos, and a variety of warblers. Sooty Grouse, Northern Pygmy-Owl, and Black-backed Woodpecker are among the more elusive species here.
Precautions: This is a popular cross-country ski area during the winter. Also take note of posted cautions about bears.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, take US 395 south approximately 27 miles to Carson City, Exit 43 North Carson Street/US 395 Business. Travel 6 additional miles south through Carson City to the US 50 west/Lake Tahoe junction. Turn right (west) on US 50 and travel approximately 9.8 miles to the US 50 & SR 28 intersection. Turn right (north) onto SR 28 and look for the Spooner Lake entrance on the right at approximately 0.6 mile. Day use fee.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Park near the restroom structure (handicapped access). A kiosk in front of the structure displays a map of the Spooner Lake Loop Trail. From this area, follow signs indicating "To All Trails" in a northeasterly direction. Shortly, at the end of the paved paths, a sign indicates, "Marlette Lake Flume Trail." Follow the broad path downhill beyond the sign about 400 yards to its dead end. To the left is a sign "North Canyon Trail," which begins a 5-mile one-way hike to Marlette Lake. Continue instead to the right, down another 50 yards to the west side of Spooner Lake.
The favored route is to go to the left and circle the lake in a clockwise fashion. In this direction, the first part of the walk is principally in the sun with the latter part passing through more wooded areas. Toward the end of the loop, a sign somewhat south of where the loop began will direct you uphill to return to the picnic and parking area. On leaving Spooner Lake, turn left and backtrack to US 50 for Side Trip A, or turn right to return to Reno via Incline Village (Side Trip B).
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Spooner Summit: Just east of the Spooner summit on the south side of US 50, at about 0.8 mile east of SR 28, is a U.S. Forest Service rest stop (restrooms) and picnic area. There is good birding along a small creek which runs through an extensive aspen grove. You can walk along the dirt road on the far side of the creek. The rest stop is an access point to the Tahoe Rim Trail north- and southbound.
Side Trip B Connection to Area #17 Tahoe Meadows and Area #6 Galena Creek Regional Park: When you leave Spooner Lake, turning right (north) on SR 28 offers a return trip to Reno along approximately 11 miles of the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. At the first stoplight in Incline Village turn right (northeast) onto Country Club Drive, a 2.3 mile cutoff to SR 431/Mount Rose Highway. At the stop sign at SR 431/Mount Rose Highway, turn right (east) to return to US 395 in Reno (22 miles). From this turn, SR 431/Mount Rose Highway passes a notable scenic overlook of Lake Tahoe at 1.3 miles on the right, Area #17 Tahoe Meadows on the right at 4.3 miles, and Area #6 Galena Creek on the left at about 15 miles. Note: SR 431/Mount Rose Highway, which descends from a 9,000-foot summit, is a well-maintained, two-lane mountain highway at times steep and sharply curved. In winter it is subject to very heavy snowfalls and heavy traffic to and from popular ski resorts.