Oh my darlin’ Clementine a treasure

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn cherishes its darling Clementine. Whether hiking, paddling, fishing, swimming, camping or all of the above are your thing, Lake Clementine is a little bit of outdoor-recreation heaven made possible by the North Fork Dam. “I think the lake is very picturesque,” said Scott Liske, state park ranger with the Auburn State Recreation Area. “It’s a mixed pine forest with canopies all the way to the water’s edge, which makes it more dramatic. And the dam … I think it’s something unique to see water spilling over year-round.” The North Fork Dam, finished by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1939, was one of three pass-through dams authorized to be built in the Mother Lode to allow debris to settle out of the water as a result from hydraulic mining, Liske said. Engelbright Dam in Nevada County is the other existing dam of this type, as the third was never built. “Obviously, with the heavy mining that was in this region, that makes sense,” Liske said. The North Fork Dam basically slows the flow of water, giving time for debris to dissipate. No power is generated, and there is no control of how much water goes through the dam. “Essentially the lake is at the same elevation year-round,” Liske said. “No one goes there and lowers a lever or a door to make it flow easier or quicker.” Lake Clementine has a surface area of 280 acres, stretching roughly 3.5 miles in length. Liske said Lake Clementine is ideal for mixed watercraft use, meaning wake boarders and kayakers alike can share the water. The lake is narrow enough that the wakes created by boats and motorized water crafts dissipate quickly. “The person who’s a paddler may not want the irregular wave patterns of a larger lake, like Folsom,” he said. Tim Woodall, Protect American River Canyons board president, enjoys kayaking, water skiing and camping at the lake. “Anybody who has ever been down on Lake Clementine understands that it is an absolutely beautiful lake in the absolutely gorgeous North American River Canyon,” he said. Woodall said PARC advocates and fights for free-flowing water. “We’re not normally one to applaud dams that create lakes but Clementine is an exception to that,” he said. Both upper and lower Lake Clementine gates are accessible off of Foresthill Road, just a couple miles out of Auburn. Upper Lake is open for day use seven days a week for a $5 entrance fee. “Two miles down a dirt road and you’re in a day-use area,” Liske said. Swimming in Upper Lake Clementine is a family-friendly activity. “There’s a little bit of current but it’s pretty easy to be out there all summer,” he said. “It’s pretty popular.” The road leading to Upper Lake Clementine is graded every spring, but is best suited for trucks and vehicles with higher clearance, Liske said. Anyone with a boat might be more familiar with Lower Lake Clementine, which features a boat ramp and also views of the dam. Access to the lower parking and boat ramp is $5 for day use, with an additional $5 launch fee. Lake Clementine features 15 boat-in camping spaces, which is a unique opportunity in the area, Liske said. “That offers boat owners a chance to go out in an incredibly nice area and boat in,” he said. Lake Clementine is easy to reach by foot and bike as well. Liske said it’s a nice hike to get on the multi-use Clementine Trail at the American River Confluence and head up to the lake, passing under the Foresthill Bridge and offering views of the dam as well. “It’s very scenic,” Liske said. “The river’s right there the whole time.” Free maps are available at the Auburn State Recreation Area ranger station, located at 501 El Dorado St. just outside of Auburn city limits on Highway 49. The ability to be in the thick of Northern California’s natural beauty with such a short drive is one of the reasons Clementine, and the 42,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area, are so special, said Liske, who has been a state park ranger for 10 years, and has worked the last five in the Auburn State Recreation Area. “Auburn had a variety of reasons for me to transfer,” said Liske, who previously worked at Folsom Lake. “I really enjoy the history of this park unit, and the ruggedness. You’re a couple miles from the Interstate but when you get into the area, you don’t even really see any houses. You feel like you’re much further away than you are.” The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at, or comment online at