Lake Pillsbury, Gravelly Valley Airstrip

We go to Lake Pillsbury each year to go boating and camping, and sometimes if needed I’ll fly the 40 minutes it takes to get there (if business gets in the way, or I need to fly someone in or out).  In which case my wife drives a truck and boat there on a nasty dirt road for a total of about a five hour trip.   I know what you are thinking.   I do drive more than fly to Pillsbury, so I’m not that bad of a husband.

There is an airstrip there called Gravelly Valley, and its a bit rough, both the surface and the characters you find there. Its generally considered a “one-way” airstrip meaning you have to land one way and take off the other, because it sits right at the base of Hull Mountain.  But really you do have some room and I’ve heard of small planes landing both directions.  My plane, when considering this airstrip, isn’t small so I do land the correct way and I’m very careful to make sure I have a good stable approach.

Its rough, there is no doubt about it, and its roughest right at the beginning near the road.  So if you fly in, come in high over the road and land a little long.  Its tough to do because you are staring at Hull Mountain, but there is plenty of runway and its slightly uphill.  Its rough because of  the good size gravel, and also because yahoos like to spin doughnuts on the runway in spite of signs that say it is a runway.

But I wouldn’t call them yahoos to their face.  Right at the end of the runway is a very busy shooting range where from the noise its obvious people carry big guns here.  (actually, I’ve been shooting there myself with my brother-in-law and it was fun).

You can walk (or taxi your plane) to a campsite near the lake and if you fly in you may not have a choice, but it isn’t a very nice one (kind of hot and dry).  A better one is up the road two miles at Fuller Grove campground.

I’m parked on a road, but the runway is similar
Runway curves up, then ends at the shooting range
Famous Pillsbury Rope Swing

The famous Pillsbury rope swing.  The tree fell down a few years back.  Thank god.  Now we zip line at the same spot.

“Uncle Dave”

This is what Pillsbury is famous for.   Calm, glassy water.

5 thoughts on “Lake Pillsbury, Gravelly Valley Airstrip

  1. Patrick Calestini December, 2014 — 2:28 pm

    Dear writer,
    You are 100% in the wrong to say what you did. Yes there is a shooting range at the end of the airfield, they are not guarding meth labs, my family has a cabin there and all the family’s and locals use that to shoot an have great memories. In my opinion you don’t deserve to visit that beautiful place because you don’t respect the family’s who have been there for decades.

    1. Patrick,

      This is simply a flying blog and I love Lake Pillsbury – there isn’t any need to offend anyone so I apologize. I will edit that blog entry. I have shot at the shooting range myself with my brother in law and also have great memories there.

      However there are drugs around, there is no question about that. Once when we were there staying at Fuller Campground there was a lot of helicopter and fixed wing activity for two days. Law enforcement came by and said they made a large drug bust but a few got away, were armed and we should be wary and consider them dangerous. They were using infra-red from the air to try to track them down. Another time we woke up in the middle of the night with what sounded like a helicopter. The lady at the store (a local) said the airstrip is used all the time for drug running and that was a midnight drug run. That made no sense to me and I finally found out from law enforcement that a woman had a panic attack, couldn’t breath and was life-flighted out in the middle of the night. But your local store-keeper does your community no favors by spreading rumors.

      By the way, you should know I live in rural community in El Dorado county. I love to run on trails in the morning and two of the trails take me by the local shooting range. The community has a reputation for drugs for the same reason the lake Pillsbury area does – it is remote and secluded. That doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful and that I don’t want to live here. But it does mean I need to keep my eyes open when hiking or mountain biking. Its just a fact of life.

      Again, I apologize. – Ney

      1. My wife and I were just there and it looked like a garbage dump. Trash everywhere.

      2. That is really disappointing to hear. How hard is it to pick up your trash? There are not many dirt airstrips in California so it is pretty frustrating to know Pillsbury is trashed.

  2. I’ve recently discovered GV airstrip and loved it! Enjoyed your write-up on it too. Thanks for sharing fellow aviator.

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