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The Mountain High: Sailing on Scotts Flat Lake

It’s not too often that we venture far from saltwater, but an opportunity to go from the 70° Bay Area to the 100° Sierra foothills to visit our daughter in Nevada City was a good reason to stray from the coast. We were looking for an early-morning mountain bike ride and found a trail called Scotts Flat Lake Mountain Bike Trail, which sounded fun. ‘Early’ turned out to be not quite early enough, as by the time we finished our 12-mile loop, the temperature was already reaching 95°. However, one of the fun things about the ride was that after we emerged from the sculpted, winding, downhill trail, we came across a dry storage area filled with sailboats.

Scott's Flat Lake Dry Storage
Emerging from the woods we found a hot and very dry storage area in the mountains where sailboats outnumbered powerboats.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

We know California is big and there’s always more to discover around every corner, but we continue to be amazed at the places we find sailors when we aren’t looking. Scotts Flat Reservoir is home to the Gold Country Yacht Club, which, judging by their website, looks like a fun, active sailing community in the scenic mountain setting. Though the impact of our drought was apparent, there was still plenty of water to provide warm, breezy afternoon sails.

The club hosts junior programs, club racing, and all the other popular activities of the ‘yachting’ life, though they do it 3,000 feet up in the air in freshwater. If you keep your showers short it will help more kids go sailing.

Bikes and boats at the lake
You can see the water is down, but the boats are afloat and you can choose to ride, or sail, in and around this lake.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Besides Lake Tahoe, there are dozens of idyllic inland sailing areas frequented by dinghy sailors, and, like Scotts Flat and Huntington Lake, they host some pretty serious racing. Climate change is taking a toll on many of these locations, but given their utility and beauty, they’re well worth preserving and exploring.

Scott's Flat sailing swimming water
The lake looked delicious from above on the mountain bike trail.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

One would think you’d capture more water if you built a dam in a place named Scotts Canyon rather than Scotts Flat, but this 1948 water project does provide water for farming, domestic use in Nevada City and Grass Valley, and sailing. Despite the surface’s being flat, the water behind the 300-ft-tall dam is plenty deep.

Sailing from Scott's Flat dam
Just like the Bay. As we rode across the dam later in the morning we saw the first signs of a westerly filling in.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The only thing that really prevents us from seeing and experiencing more of the many sailing opportunities California offers is time. However, we’re always happy when we serendipitously discover sailing at the end of a dusty mountain bike trail, or any other random corner of California.


  1. Teresa Gaman 1 year ago

    Excellent article about our lake. It is stunning and fun to sail. It’s been nicknamed “The Squirrel Cage” by fleets who race in our Regatta. Thank you, Teresa Gaman, Commodore

  2. Bill O'Connor 12 months ago

    Lake sailing in the Sierras goes back a long ways and many of us got started that way as kids…I launched my first sailboat, an El Toro, made in our garage by my father (sail number in the 100’s) on Pinecrest Lake near Dodge Ridge, east of Sonora, in 1948. My Dad started a Labor Day race back in the 50s that at one time attracted close to a hundred boats, that closed out the lake racing season. Some of the best SF Bay racers have done the same thing…Hank Easom sailed Pinecrest Lake up until just a few years ago and Gordy Nash and his family are still sailing El Toros….The term “pinecrested” was coined there which meant you were bested by the impossible to predict wind-shifts and went from first to last in a minute or two. We were so fortunate to have had these kinds of opportunities when we were young and need to pass them on!

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