Sanger Lake: Off the beaten path in Eastern Del Norte County
Written by Bill Schlichting, Pilot staff writer   
June 20, 2012 10:12 am

Sanger Lake is in a bowl at 5,000 feet above sea level in Eastern Del Norte County. The Pilot/Bill Schlichting
Sanger Lake is in a bowl at 5,000 feet above sea level in Eastern Del Norte County. The Pilot/Bill Schlichting
GASQUET – Nestled high in the Siskiyou Mountains is a crystal clear jewel of a lake near the Del Norte-Siskiyou county line.

Sanger Lake sits in a bowl, 5,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountain peaks on three sides and a portion of a fourth. A stream flows out of the lake, the water almost immediately plummets down the side of the mountain where it feeds into the upper reaches of the Middle Fork Smith River.

Nearby is a jagged mountain of ancient serpentine that has the same name as the lake. Sanger Peak rises 5,862 feet above sea level and is among the highest peaks in the immediate vicinity. The east side of the mountain is steep with vertical walls rising 500 feet.

Sanger Peak and nearby Haystack Mountain are prominently visible from Highway 199 looking south from Cave Junction. Likewise, from Sanger Peak is an unobstructed view of the Illinois Valley.

 

Reaching Sanger Lake and Peak can be easy or difficult, depending on which road is taken. The easy route, from the west, can be driven with any vehicle. I made two trips up in the past week and nearly every car I encountered was small – one was a Prius. The other route begins in the Illinois Valley and makes a steep ascent and should not be driven with anything lower than an SUV.

Before heading up, check with the Six Rivers National Recreation Area visitor center along Highway 199 in Gasquet. Excellent information is available in a self-service kiosk which is available even if the center is closed.

From the visitor center, continue north of Highway 199 to milepost 30 and turn right on Knopki Creek Road. The first sign I encountered warned that the road was closed nine miles ahead, followed by a sign indicating Sanger Lake was 15 miles ahead. I chose to ignore the road closure sign, figuring it would be a nice drive even if it was closed.

Initially the road follows Griffin Creek (which Highway 199 follows from about milepost 29.5 to the Collier Tunnel) before making a horseshoe turn to meet Middle Fork Smith River. The road crosses the river twice before beginning its ascent along Knopki Creek.

Along the road, prominent peaks come into view, one is Broken Rib Mountain. As the road crosses back to the Smith, high above the river, Broken Rib, 5,812 feet, appears to be a massive mountain as it rises 4,000 feet above the river.

Near milepost 9, the road makes a switchback and comes to a gate. It was open. A couple of miles further is another switchback in a small open area. This location provides a panoramic view to the west. All mountain peaks between this point and the ocean are hundreds of feet below – few rise higher than 2,000 feet. 

The road continues east until it comes to an intersection marked by a bullet-riddled sign. The right goes to Youngs Valley Trail in the Siskiyou Wilderness, the left goes to Sanger Lake and peak as well as the Illinois Valley.

Sanger Lake is not visible from the road. There is a pullout at a left-hand curve. Once parked, the lake is visible through the trees. On my first trip, I missed the lake. I was curious as to what was beyond the pullout, but decided to keep going. I should have listened to my hunch. At least I knew where to look the second time I went up two days later.

There is a small rise to climb to access the lake. The creek is the only spot that is at water level, but filled with brush. Once at the edge of the lake, it’s not difficult to stand in awe. Yes, fish do jump from the water.

I followed a crude trail that apparently surrounds the lake. I didn’t go all the way. From the trail I did note that the lake is deep. I do not know the exact depth, but along the south edge it was beyond 10 feet.

Follow the road north of the lake and there is a small wetland followed by Sanger Peak. The road passes between the mountain and an unnamed peak. There is plenty of space to turn around and park at this spot. Do not go beyond this point in a passenger car.

The wide spot in the road marks the boundary between Six Rivers National Recreation Area and Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest. A half mile to the east is Siskiyou County and Klamath National Forest.

I climbed to the top of the unnamed peak to take pictures. I read that there is a trail to the top of Sanger Peak, but I also read that it has not been maintained in many years.