Expeditions, Photography Spots, Trails

Fordyce Lake Road and Signal Peak

Updated 7/25/18 / Read Time: 7 mins

Fordyce Lake Road and the Front Side of Signal Peak

Fordyce Lake Road (Not the Trail) to Fordyce Lake & Signal Peak Lookout

Signal Peak 4x4 Trail - Signal Peak Lookout

Fordyce Lake Camping and Signal Peak Lookout 4×4 Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Stock: OK, but may rub running boards
  • Preferred Time of Year: May through September with snow during the winter months

One of the great adventures in Tahoe’s National Forest is the 4×4 Trail to Signal Peak and camping Fordyce Lake. The Fordyce Lake area also offers the famous Fordyce Creek Trail. The well-known Fordyce Creek Trail is an extremely difficult rock crawling destination in California, known to most of the off-roading experts as just as difficult if not more difficult than the further West, Rubicon Trail. While the entrance to Fordyce Creek Trail is off I-80 via Eagle Lakes Rd, Fordyce Lake Road to Signal Peak is located at I-80 via Cisco Road Exit to the Cisco Grove Campground & RV area. When it comes to California 4×4 Trails, the options are virtually endless. It is hard to pick just one when you head out. For this weekend, we selected Signal Peak & Fordyce Lake.

Fordyce Lake Road to Signal Peak & Back Down to Fordyce Lake

Signal Peak 4x4 Trail Lookout

A quick overview of our trip before we get into it. 

We started off by airing down our tires with the ARB E-Z Deflator and then headed up Fordyce Lake Road to Signal Peak, we then meandered about the Signal Peak Lookout. After we had our fill of true nature and stunning views of Tahoe’s National Forest, we headed back down. We then traversed over to Fordyce Lake where we were welcomed with surreal landscapes, subtle yet echoing waterfalls, tall lush valley grass, and calm water with rainbow trout jumping.

We set up camp, ate too much food, drink the perfect amount of adult beverages and proceeded to drift away. After we woke, we trailed out on Fordyce Lake Road back to I-80. Upon our exit, we found a perfect camp site that had been completely disregarded the night before by a set of humans who clearly had no outdoor upbringing whatsoever. Beer cans and trash everywhere. We cleaned up their site, packed out and headed up. Tread Lightly, my friends!

Fordyce Lake Road to Signal Peak

Fordyce Lake Road to Signal Peak

We started at Cisco Grove Campground & RV and continued up 85 onto Fordyce Lake Road. For the first few miles of Fordyce Lake Road, you hug Rattle Snake Creek until you reach the cut off for Magonigia Road, just after Woodchuck Campground. Continue left or straight onto Fordyce Lake Road. At this section of the trail, the terrain is still gravel, very easy and stock vehicles have more than enough room to cruise around.

Turn Off to Sterling Lake (Sterling Lake Road)

Turn Off to Sterling Lake (Sterling Lake Road)

Fordyce Lake Road to Signal Peak

As you head up Fordyce Lake Road a bit further, you will come across the turn off for Sterling Lake which is Sterling Lake Road. It is important to note here, that before this turn off is another turn off for upper and lower Lola Montez Lake. Sterling Lake Road will take you Camp Robert Cole and the Sterling Lake Campground. Sterling Lake sits above Fordyce Lake and drains run-off into Fordyce Lake through the spring and well into the summer. During our visit in early August, we were climbing all over the mild flowing waterfall from Sterling Lake to the South East side of Fordyce Lake.

Heading Up to Signal Peak 4×4 Trail

Fordyce Lake Rd Signal Peak Lookout - The Y

Just past the turn off to Sterling Lake, you will come to a Y. Take a left at the Y and you will start your journey up to Signal Peak and onto the Signal Peak Lookout. The Signal Peak 4×4 Trail is a very cool, mild in summer, sketchy in winter, one-lane 4×4 Trail that traverses stunning views of Tahoe’s National Forest.  From the Y, the  Signal Peak 4×4 Trail is about 1.5 miles to the top.

There a few spots on Signal Peak 4×4 Trail that were rocky, with dips here and there. As a whole, Signal Peak 4×4 Trail can be tackled with stock SUV with 4wd. Just take it slow. If you were to hit this trail covered in snow, we wouldn’t recommend stock anything. You would need a vehicle with lockers, and preferably 3″+ in clearance. And even then it would be sketchy. In any case, Signal Peak 4×4 Trail is a great spring, summer and fall trail with much to offer your outdoor enthusiast.

The Stunning Views of Signal Peak 4×4 Trail

Signal Peak 4x4 Trail

Fordyce Lake Rd - Signal Peak 4x4 Trail

Once you reach the top of the Signal Peak 4×4 Trail, your eyes are blessed with breathtaking views in every direction. Look to the North and you will see the Black Buttes, Old Man Mountain and wild wonders of Tahoe’s National Forest. Towards the East, you will glimpse down on I-80 and Lake Spaulding. South, you will oversee Turtle Lake, Devils Peak, Snow Mountain, Forest Hill Divide and many other peaks. This is one of those areas where you can sit, eat and stare for hours. But why would you when there is so much more to explore.

Signal Peak 4×4 Trail Lookout

Signal Peak 4x4 Trail Lookout

Getting to the Signal Peak 4×4 Trail Lookout is a matter of a few steps. Once you reach the top of Signal Peak 4×4 Trail, the lookout is along the crest of the peak and down the hill about 600 ft. It might take another 10 minutes to walk there from the top of the Signal Peak 4×4 Trail.

Signal Peak Lookout is an old building that sits on the crest of Signal Peak that is surrounded by an immense amount of wild flowers and somewhat exotic looking bushes and brush. With the high contrast of bright yellows, reds, oranges, and magentas in the jagged rocky landscape, the Signal Peak Lookout is one to be seen and appreciated in person only.

Signal Peak 4×4 Trail Lookout History

Signal Peak Lookout Building - Inside Views

Signal Peak was started as a fire lookout in 1909. With a complete view of Donner Pass to Blue Canyon, Signal Peak lookout was not for forest fires but fires that were threatening the wooden sheds covering the railroads. The railroad would keep watchman in the Signal Peak Lookout to inform local fire fighting locomotive’s through a phone line to Cisco that a fire had started. The fire fighting locomotives would then head out to save the wooden sheds covering and protecting the railroads. Signal Peak Lookout was last used in 1934-1935 but remains heavily trafficked today by your local outdoor enthusiasts.

Heading Down to Fordyce Lake

Heading Down to Fordyce Lake

After soaking in the beauty Signal Peak 4×4 Trail and Signal Peak Lookout had to offer, we proceed back down the hill. Once you come back to the Y, take a left down the hill towards Fordyce Lake. Here is where things may a bit more tricky for the stock SUV or truck. There are a few spots on the trail where you may need a spotter to clear minor drops and slightly rocky terrain.

Once you pass over the bridge on Fordyce Lake Road and head down, there is a mild stretch of boulders and sharp rocks. Airing down is highly recommend for this trail, it will make your life much easier, comfortable and a little smooth all the way around.

The trail continues to the end, the Fordyce Lake Damn. This is where the road ends, you can turn around and head back to find your camp site of choice. There are only a hand full of campsites available on the water. If you want a good campsite, arrive early to get a good spot.

An Afterthought on Fordyce Lake & Signal Peak 4×4 Trail?

A little early morning coffee for the french press.

An amazing little challenge for the average stock SUV, truck or even 4Runners with a level kit. On this weekend I ran the 2014 Trail 4Runner with a basic leveling kit (front and rear), another 4Runner ran completely stock clearance and another with a 3″ suspension lift, while Jimmy ran his Toyota pickup with 37’s. Needless to say, the stock 4Runner hit a couple rocks here and there but who really cares about running boards right?

If you are looking for a great little weekend adventure, this trail is perfect. The Signal Peak 4×4 Trail Lookout and Fordyce Lake Road offer the basics along with challenges here and there.

In a perfect world, you want a suspension lift but it is not needed for this trail.

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May 23, 2020 8:45 pm

Thank you so much for the detailed report! I’d been looking at CalTopo, saw this trail, googled it, and found your write-up. Hoping to be able to do this trail sometime this year!

Salsita Joe
Salsita Joe
August 6, 2018 5:40 pm


How far out did you go? I’m curious about the NF-85 and logging during week (currently has an OHV restriction, only licensed vehicles and drivers). I’d like to see this, but want to keep going up past the split to White Rock lake and up to Burn Flat or Paradise Valley. Some concern about locked gates. Of course I’ll check with Forest Service for their latest news.

July 24, 2018 3:32 am

What you described as Signal Peak 4×4 trail is not the Signal Peak trail. The actual Signal Peak 4×4 trail is also off Eagle Lakes Road. It literally forks off from Fordyce. You went up the Cisco Grove side which is just a dirt road because of all the logging that is going on. Literally anyone could go up that way.

July 1, 2018 6:07 am

wow those are some really cool pics i would have no problem running my 4runner out there i ditched my running boards a long time ago. all i have is a 21/4 ” lift with bilstein shocks and struts and big tires the only thing i haven’t done yet is put in a rear locker it’s not cheap. but i can keep up with most of the newer 4runners just like to keep my rig dent free if you see it you will know why its 19 years old but it looks new very proud of how nice it has… Read more »

June 28, 2018 10:23 pm

hey, I’ve been camping at the reservoir for 20 years.. and if you want a nice secluded spot…
Off of the beaten trail and motorhomes and moron’s.. then this is a Gr8 spot. I appreciated
your cleaning up after the moron’s.. and can only ask.. that people remember.. some folks
camp to get away from blaring radio’s and dip-chits. Camp nice during the week.. but the
4×4 dip-chits show up Friday night… I usually LEAVE Friday day… Break a leggie and enjoy nature… let the kids n muts run naked, and be kind to the Rangers…

August 12, 2017 5:48 pm

Amazing photos! Looks like a great trail.

August 10, 2017 4:04 pm

Gorgeous photos! Loved reading this story, makes me want to get out into nature asap!

James Black
James Black
August 9, 2017 11:46 pm

Looks like an awesome trip, love reading the blog. Keep up the great work!
Did you air your tires down?

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