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Clear Lake State Park

Dorn Nature Trail
1.5 mile loop

Clear Lake is the largest lake located entirely within the state. (Tahoe is a larger lake, but it’s partly in Nevada.) Around the lake are mountains and beyond a fruited plain of vineyards, walnut groves and, as locals boast, “the world’s largest Bartlett pear growing area.”

Clear Lake, earth scientists estimate, is 2.5 million years old; some claim it’s the oldest lake in North America. At the very least, it’s considerably older that such 5,000-year-old “infants” such as Lakes Tahoe and Superior.

Clear Lake is a natural lake, meaning that it has a set-in-nature feeling, and gives an altogether more tranquil vibe than state mega-reservoirs such as Folsom Lake or Lake Oroville.

Clear Lake State Park offers much-needed public access to the lake and preserves about two miles of lakeshore. Swimming, water skiing and hiking are popular at the park, but fishing is as big as the lake itself. “Wall to wall” catfish, bluegill, crappie and black bass lure fishermen to the lake.

Located on the lake’s south shore, the state park includes some terrific lakeshore campsites at Kelsey Creek Campground. A modern visitor center features exhibits about the lake, as well as Native America lore. Dorn Nature Trail samples the slopes above Clear Lake and offers fine Lake County vistas.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 29 in Kelseyville (just south of Lakeport) turn east on signed Soda Bay Road and follow the signs to Clear Lake State Park and the day-use parking area near the visitor center.

The hike: From the visitor center, walk back up the day use access road to the main park road; here you’ll see signed Dorn Nature Trail. The path joining Dorn Nature Trail from the left is the return leg of the loop.

The path ascends into a woodland of California buckeye and valley oak, switchbacks a bit, and soon serves up the first view of the lake.

A quarter mile climb brings you to the crest of a minor ridge and a junction with a side trail splitting to the right and leading to Upper Bayview Campground. Stay left and continue on Dorn Trail to an overlook.

Oak and manzanita frame a grand view of the lake, backdropped by vineyards, orchards, and the Mendocino Coast Range.

A bit farther down the trail, a second overlook offers another vista of the lake, as well as towering Mount Konocti.

Three-quarters of a mile out, about halfway through this walk, the path descends and passes a right-forking trail leading to Lower Bayview Campground. The descent continues over fern-covered slopes, contours west, then drops to the park road back at the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at