When you vacation at picturesque Shaver Lake—a sapphire gem hugged by pine forest in the granite-studded Sierra Nevada Mountains—megawatts will be the furthest thing from your mind. But this boulder-lined reservoir 50 miles northeast of Fresno is a critical link in one of California’s oldest hydroelectric chains, built by Southern California Edison in 1927 to supply Los Angeles with power.
While the lake is busy generating electricity, you’ll occupy yourself with jet-skiing, swimming, and fishing. Rent a Waverunner or a ski boat at Shaver Lake Water Sports or Sierra Marina, then rev up the horsepower and zoom around the lake’s placid surface. If you’re just learning how to get up on one ski, losing your balance is a pleasure. Shaver’s temperature warms up nicely by mid-summer, thanks to a mid-level elevation of 5,200 feet. Sun-worshippers pick their spots on the beach and cool off with long, leisurely swims.
Kayakers and canoeists seek out Shaver’s quiet coves for paddling, while anglers troll their boats around the deep inlets or cast a line from shore, hoping to hook into a rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon, or smallmouth bass. Most are pan-sized, but 10-pound trout are not uncommon. If your family is new to fishing, book a trip with Dick’s Fishing Charters—Captain Dick will make sure your kids catch fish.
On Shaver’s western shore, Camp Edison’s 252 campsites provide easy access to the water and an unusual bonus: electricity, cable television, and high-speed wifi, courtesy of the hydroelectric project. (Don’t tell your boss that you can receive emails on vacation.) A small general store provides everything you might have forgotten when you left home. Thirty-five miles of trails surround the lake, and even more are found “up the hill” at Huntington Lake, a 20-mile drive. Set out for a hike, or let Trigger do the walking—Shaver Stable offers one-hour, two-hour, and longer guided horseback rides.
Non-campers can book a cabin or room at the Shaver Lake Village Hotel or Elliott House Bed and Breakfast. Shaver Lake Village is tiny, but you’ll find great food at the surprisingly epicurean Seasons Bistro and Tavern or the family favorite, Shaver Lake Pizza.
Sooner or later, you’ll need a break from lake-based fun, so visit the open-air Central Sierra Historical Society Museum to learn about the region’s logging history and see a vintage “steam donkey,” a contraption that pulled freshly cut logs from the woods to the mill. Then go see some amazing trees that escaped the loggers’ saws. A 15-mile drive leads to the isolated McKinley Grove, where gargantuan giant sequoias thrive among leafy dogwood trees and thick-canopied sugar and Jeffrey pines. A short paved path travels near two dozen of the grove’s largest trees, including the General Washington Tree, which measures a whopping 65 feet in circumference and has a small creek flowing beneath its root system. Although the grove is small—about 170 giant sequoias spread out over 100 acres—it’s one of only a handful of sequoia groves where solitude is easy to come by.
If you feel like venturing farther into these mountains, the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness lies 20 miles north of the McKinley Grove (plan on an hour for the winding drive). On the wilderness area’s eastern boundary, the Dusy/Ershim Off-Highway Vehicle Route provides rough-and-tumble fun for off-road vehicle drivers. This 31-mile route is the “back road” to Courtright Reservoir, an alpine-elevation lake surrounded by spectacular granite domes.