Eldorado National Forest

Eldorado National Forest is situated in the middle of California, just east of Sacramento and south of Lake Tahoe. This land is shared by Alpine, Amador, El Dorado and Placer counties, but is primarily located in El Dorado. It is about a 3.5 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay area, and a 1.5 hour drive from Sacramento.

Lake Tahoe - just north of Eldorado National Forest
Eldorado National Forest is located just south of Lake Tahoe – Image by David Mark from Pixabay

You can expect warm, dry summers and cold, wet winters from the Eldorado climate, with temperatures ranging anywhere from zero to 100 degrees, and a rainy season that occurs from October through April. The average temperature between June and September fluctuates between 73 and 82 degrees, perfect for summer sports! In fact, even though most people associate the shrubland habitats of California with heat, even the southernmost national forest (Cleveland National Forest) has average summer temperatures of 79 to 86 degrees. If you’re looking for snow sports, Eldorado becomes a winter wonderland from December to May at elevations of 6,000 feet and up.

The forest begins at 1,000 feet above sea level and rises to 10,000 feet before topping out at Sierra Crest. It comprises both thick evergreen forest and open grassland, shrub-covered valleys and rocky mountain tops, with dry cracked dirt and white fluffy snow, all dotted with various crystal blue lakes and rivers; Eldorado is a diverse forest indeed!  

About the Forest

If you look up photos of Eldorado, you will find images that look like magazine and calendar covers, complete with plentiful lakes and streams filled by the gentle downpours of rain that the forest receives; each acre sees about 56 inches per year! This picturesque landscape is a supermodel of the forest world that garners a lot of photographic attention.

In the summer, these woods are a deep blue and emerald green canvas, with fiery sunsets reflecting off the mountains and waters. In winter, it is a crystalline wonderscape of white, plush powder, yet still plentiful in green pine, fir, and cedar. The snowy months are suitable for winter sports such as sledding, skiing, and snowboarding, complete with rentals and accommodations from Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Sierra At Tahoe.  

The Forest Service regularly conducts restorative projects in order to keep the forest healthy and reduce chances of wildfire damage. These projects involve restoring watersheds, removing invasive species, assisting fragile populations, controlled burning, and maintaining delicate ecological zones. By upholding park rules and regulations, visitors help keep this forest alive and thriving for all to enjoy. Always remember the naturalist’s code; leave it the way you found it!

A controlled burn - one of many tools used to help manage Eldorado National Forest
Controlled burns are one of many tools used to manage Eldorado National Forest – Image by M Barnett from Pixabay

History of Eldorado National Forest

What is now Eldorado National Forest was once a small part of two previously existing forests, The Stanislaus National Forest and The Tahoe National Forest. In 2010, Eldorado celebrated its 100th year anniversary, as it was born from its predecessors on July 28th, 1910, with the new park headquarters located in Placerville, CA.

The name ‘Eldorado’ is derived from the spanish ‘El Dorado’ which literally translates to ‘the gold one.’ As you may have guessed, this is a nod to The California Gold Rush, when the state became known for its plentiful riches in gold and silver in the mid 1800s. No one knows when or why ‘El Dorado’ was changed to ‘Eldorado’; many believe the spelling switch was due to a typo.

Logging in Eldorado

This and many other neighboring woods are often the center of disputes between forest biologists and logging companies. In 1990, The U.S. Forest Service imposed a ban on logging in Eldorado National Forest due to its rapidly declining health at the time. The once thriving ecosystem had become subject to disease and invasive insects that destroyed 10% of the forest. In lumber terms, this is about one billion board-feet.

These facts fell on deaf ears as county leaders, concerned with the missing lumber profits, pushed to have at least 56 million board feet logged. They eventually won this battle after months of bitter debate. With the conclusion of the ban, profits won out over the beseeching biologists who insisted that the logging would only make the already sick forest even sicker. More on this piece of history here.

These groups still butt heads today, as modern timber industries hope to ease the current logging restrictions and regulations in order to gain more room for their companies. This hope was spurred on by President of Public Resources Steven A. Brink, a logging advocate who argues that cutting down trees is the best way to reduce wildfires. Brink points out the fact that logging does indeed remove dead trees. Foresters who have seen the damage done by the logging process, living trees included, insist that the operation is still too destructive. More on this story here.   

Logging practices in Eldorado National Forest are rightfully a controversial subject – Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

Ranger Districts

The forest is divided into four ranger districts, located as follows:

  • Amador Ranger District: 209-259-3774

     26820 Silver Drive

     Pioneer CA. 95666

  • Placerville Ranger District: 916-500-4712

4260 Eight Mile Road

Camino, CA. 95709

  • Pacific Ranger District: 916-500-4712

   7887 Highway 50

   Pollock Pines, CA. 995726-9602

  • Georgetown Ranger District: 530-334-6477

   7600 Wentworth Springs Rd.

   Georgetown, CA. 95634

Recreation in Eldorado National Forest

Eldorado offers hiking, fishing, ground and cabin camping, OHV trails, and skiing; there’s something to do at all times of the year. In addition, there’s boating, swimming, skiing, and windsurfing for those sweet summer months.  Some roads and trails are closed now and then due to time of year and weather, so know before you go by visiting the USDA’s roads and trails status page.  All unpaved roads and trails are closed from January through March. This does not apply to the OHV Rock Creek area, although Rock Creek can still close for 1.5 inches of rain, or 2 inches of snow.

Horseback riding and camping are available on 17 different campgrounds and trails. At the end of a long day of riding, you and your horse can stay the night at a site and start out again each morning for a multiday riding experience, just like our ancestors did! Not sure which trail to choose? Click here to see reviews, photos, and driving directions to the best horse trails in Eldorado National Forest from the people who have already ridden each one, then decide which path is best for you and your horse. Spoiler alert; they’re all gorgeous!  

Horseback riding - a popular activity in Eldorado National Forest
Horseback riding is a popular activity in Eldorado National Forest – Photo by Jack Park on Unsplash

Wilderness Areas in Eldorado National Forest

Eldorado National Forest helps oversee two large wilderness areas: The Desolation Wilderness at 63,960 acres, and The Mokelumne Wilderness at 105,165 acres. Now, you may be wondering what a wilderness area is, because isn’t the entire forest, ya know, wilderness?

In USDA terms, a designated wilderness area is a set piece of land that, unlike the rest of the forest, cannot be developed, logged, or altered in any way for human recreation or habitation. The rest of the forest can be logged and otherwise managed for its resources. It can have cabins built on it and accommodations installed, but a wilderness area is preserved in its original, untouched state.

Visit Eldorado National Forest

Whether you’re looking for winter sports or water sports, hiking and camping or riding and driving, look no further. Eldorado National Forest’s magnificent beauty and tremendous array of trails, campgrounds, and lakes are here to satisfy your every need for woodland adventure and sooth your city-tired soul. Strap on your hiking boots and grab your camera before heading out. We guarantee that if you visit this forest for a single day, you’ll want to look back on it again and again every day after.

Are you a local who already loves Eldorado as much as we do? Are you looking for a way to contribute to your outdoor home away from home? Download a volunteer application  here and email it to kristi.schroeder@usda.gov.  

-By Heaven Morrow

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