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Sierra Buttes and Lakes Basin Recreation Area

Sierra Buttes in wintertime. The Buttes are at the southwest border of the Lakes Basin.

Photo © Darby Hayes

The Sierra Buttes and Lakes Basin Recreation Area is located along Gold Lake Road just west of Bassetts, the gateway town to this outdoor wonderland. Numerous, glacially formed lakes add to the unique beauty of the landscape and offer recreation in its most pristine form. Upper and Lower Sardine Lakes, Packer Lake and Gold Lake are just a few of the largest lakes in the area.

The craggy peaks of the Sierra Buttes are a spectacular sight, especially in the winter and spring when adorned with a tapestry of snow. There are several excellent views of the Sierra Buttes from Gold Lake Road and along Highway 49. During the winter, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers have opportunity to explore a winter wonderland made more beautiful by the rugged, mountainous backdrop.

Recreational Opportunities

This is an area for amazing, year-round recreation including cross-country-skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, alpine touring, swimming, hiking, fishing, kayaking, sailing, boating, camping, bicycling, horse-back riding, and 4-wheel driving.

The Lakes Basin is a combination of active recreational opportunities and quiet relaxation. It is one of the few areas in California where you can have incredibly majestic nature all to yourself, camp lakeside, swim, and hike up into snowdrifts all within the same area. The unique nature and the elevation makes for an unusually rich wildflower experience from spring  throughout summer into fall, with new types of flowers appearing each week.

Development of communities and recreational attractions in Sierra County were the direct result of the discovery and search for gold in California. As the roads improved, travelers began to stop and enjoy the beauty and wildlife. Californians in the late 1800s were very interested in primitive environments for recreation and relaxation. Wilderness camping and mountain climbing were important aspects of this movement with a special appeal to city people as a temporary relief from the frantic pace of urban life. A form of medical treatment known as the “wilderness cure” enjoyed considerable popularity in California during the late nineteenth century and brought many explorers to Sierra County. By 1926, the Lakes Basin area boasted a number of popular resorts with fishing, swimming, boating, and lodging available.

The lodge at Sardine Lake was first constructed in 1941. Six guest cabins were added between 1945-46. Packer Lake was on an early mule-pack trail. In 1926, a lodge was built, along with platform tents and log cabins. Shortly after the mid 1950s, a recreation lodge was built at Gold Lake.

Gold Lake Road was constructed in 1913 providing easier access to the resorts. Bassetts Station, at the intersection of Highway 49 and Gold Lake Road, began as a way station over 125 years ago. It continues to provide a rest stop and supply point for travelers.

The unspoiled lakes in this region are highly prized by fly fishermen and those who prefer to fish from the shore or small boats. Dozens of lakes provide ample space for explorers to enjoy solitude and comfort. Boating is restricted to small boats with small or no motors. Also, kayaking at the many lakes has become a great outdoor sport. You can paddle and work on your techniques for the river, or paddle just for exercise!

Numerous campgrounds offer several levels of amenities including boating, swimming, fishing, piped and stream water, camping stoves, travel trailer spaces, and sites for horse trailers. Imagine a place where you can have a whole lake to yourself on a summer’s night.

Small resorts among trees and lakes offer comfort and amenities for those wishing to forgo the “sleeping bag.” Resorts also provide different levels of services such as prepared meals and housekeeping.

Hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and horse packing in this region are what dreams are made of. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Sierra Buttes and can be reached from Packer Saddle or the Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail. Numerous campgrounds have trailheads accessing the many lakes. The Sand Pond Interpretive Trail shows the flora and fauna of a riparian habitat and is wheelchair accessible.  There is horseback riding along Gold Lake.  Biking trails originate in the Sierra Buttes, accessible from Packer Saddle.

The Lakes Basin Recreation Area has numerous off-road vehicle and 4-wheel drive trails from moderate to difficult. The trails offer fishing, wildlife viewing, and exceptional scenery. The area around Gold Lake is a favorite for ATVs and snowmobiles.

Winter is a great time to explore the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Miles of groomed roads and trails offer excellent cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Bassetts Station  is a favorite staging area. It has a general store, cafe, restrooms, and gas station. Gold Lake Road is the main access route to many miles of trails. The trip to Graeagle is a favorite among local snowmobilers. Yuba Pass Snow Park, 13 miles north of Sierra City, accesses trails that reach the Little Truckee Summit staging area, Jackson Meadows reservoir and Bassetts staging area. Lunch Creek Trail is a cross-country skiing only trail. Tubing, sledding, snowshoeing, and snow camping round out the winter fun in this large snowpark facility. Snowpark permits are required. Purchase them at Bassetts Station or call 530-324-4442.

Seasons Accessible

Year round with distinctively different activities for each season.

 ADA Accessibility Notes

Sand Pond Interpretive Trail is wheelchair accessible. Other areas vary wildly, with easy drive up to a lake side in some places.

 Pet Friendly Notes

This is a pet wonderland.

For More Information, Contact:

Sierra County Chamber of Commerce
P. O. Box 436, Sierra City, CA 96125
toll-free 800-200-4949

Yuba River Ranger District

Tahoe National Forest
15924 Highway 49, Camptonville, CA 95922
(530) 288-3231

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Boundaries and names shown do not necessarily reflect the map policy of National Geographic.

Longitude: -120.700607300
Latitude: 39.688695400
Elevation: 7262 FT (2213 M)
Isabelle Englund-Geiger
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Isabelle Englund-Geiger
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