The 50 sites at this recently renovated campground in the Eldorado National Forest are big enough to build a house on and calm Gerle Creek Reservoir (no motorboats allowed) is an idyllic place to paddle a kayak or canoe. There’s even an island where the kids—and Fido—can play pirate while parents watch from the shore.
The lake is no longer stocked with fish, but you'll see plenty of folks casting their lines anyway from a wooden dock. A wheelchair-accessible trail on the far side of the lake makes for easy walking and those willing to bushwhack can hike completely around the lake's perimeter. Access to Desolation Wilderness is available from Loon Lake just up the road.
Gerle Creek Reservoir is one of a string of lakes—Ice House, Union Valley, Wrights and Loon are the others—in the Crystal Basin Recreation Area used by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for water storage and power generation. The only drawback for campers at Gerle Creek is that water levels are raised and lowered at unpredictable times, sometimes leaving a ring of sticky mud along the shoreline. Watercraft should be beached high so that a sudden rise in lake level doesn't float them away.
Bears can be a problem in this area, but bear-proof boxes for food storage are provided at every site. The well maintained campground has vault toilets and piped water, but no showers. Bring all the food and provisions you'll need; it's a long way back to civilization! Ice and sundries can be purchased at Ice House Resort about a half-hour away.
Dogs welcome in campsites and on trails but not at the swimming beach. You'll have to bushwhack a bit to find a good place to enter the water from the shore.