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Utica Reservoir in California - Weekend Trip Report

by  vcmtthws

A self-supported trip created by vcmtthws

Trip Overview

After departing for New Spicer Reservoir, the supposed to be mild weekend temperatures, soared to 104+. The entire population of Central California (except for one family with a sick little girl, a grumpy old man, and three�no�four stray dogs that were too ugly to get a ride) went to the lakes. We arrived to find absolutely no place to stay at a destination that "always had open campsites". We consulted a park Law Enforcement Officer and she told us that since we were self contained, we should go to Utica Reservoir. Also full, with an exception. She gave us directions to a campsite that only a small handful of people know about. We're talking real world directions�My kind of directions. Look for the rocks that look like a pile of junk cars. You should see a silver Jeep on a shelf to your right. Be sure to go right when it looks like you should go left. What a gold mine. We stayed an extra night. It was worth it, but there was a compromise. Spicer Meadows is a challenging lake. This normally keeps crowds at bay.

Utica, except for a stiff afternoon breeze, is both a novice Godsend and kayakers/Canoe heaven (no powerboats allowed). I don�t think we've ever seen that many canoes and kayaks on any lake at the same time. Utica is small and can be circled by experienced paddlers in a couple of hours or less, but it takes a couple of days to actually explore the seemingly endless hidden passages and landscapes. Having a very secluded campsite made it all worth it.

Special necessities - Drinking water and a way to carry out your sewage (nothing new there), and polarized sun glasses. This little beauty hides countless hazards just below its shining reflective surface. Think massive herds of rockapotomi. Typically, during the summer, this lake is known for its crisscrossing hiking and cattle trails. An unusually wet and mild spring allowed us to paddle Utica in late June.

Don't let this one get by you. Every corner, every slip through hole in the wall country, left you with a new miniature adventure. Babbling brooks, large rock islands rising out of t he water, high cliffs, jungles, straight runs and confusing turns, and lily ponds nearly an acre in size� make this one special. Great for beginners. Great for the curious. But go with your eyes open.

We were told that this was a party lake during the weekends. We never saw anything but families and lovers. Still, I pass this on to you. Also, check water levels before you head out. This lake is shallow in many places, and the granite ridges below the water are unforgiving (polarized sun glasses solved this problem for us). Don't expect a lot of privacy unless you find our hidden oasis. And watch where you step in the woods. Not everybody hikes out their sewage. As we were leaving we were told that there were plans to put in chemical toilets and charge a minimal fee. Don't know if the budget cuts stopped that or not.


Primarily primitive camping. Pack it in, then pack it back out..All of it! May be some improvements since we went, so check with the USFS for updates. No fees when we went, but no reservations either. First come, first served. Most sites have great views, but little privacy.


Wenonah Itasca, Wenonah Voyager, and just about every size and shape kayak and a few canoes ranging from Old Towns to Mohawks.


Campfire permit through the USFS (free). Pay attention to fire restrictions. They can vary from year to year.


About 88 miles from Highway 4 to Bear Valley from the 99. Turn right onto Spicer Meadow Rd. Another 10 to 15 minutes you should see the USFS sign for Utica Reservoir. At the Union/Utica intersection (about 6 miles), go left on FS 7N38 to Utica. This will take you to the reservoir.


Google earth.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location