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Moderate terrain, 4 mile loop

The Round Lake hike is one that I usually do in early summer because the flowers in the first section of the hike can be lovely. But this year I didn’t get to the hike until today, and even past the wildflower prime, it’s still a great hike.

The first section winds through the forest and passes a seasonal pond (which now seems to bear a name, which I can’t seem to recall since it’s never had a name before!) and then heads up at a slightly greater incline and into more sun exposure. You’ll want good trail running shoes or light hiking boots for the loose rock you’ll encounter.

After a bit of a climb, you’ll be able to see down onto Round Lake and you’ll come across remnants of a prior mine. Take the fork down to the lake where I highly recommend a swim. The water is delicious!

The trail winds around the east side of the lake before departing for the eastern edge of Silver Lake, which has some great picnic spots in the shade. From there, take the right hand turn toward the Bear Lakes and you’ll be treated to three more crystal clear alpine lakes. Follow the signs to the right at Bear Lake, cross the creek and wind your way back toward the trailhead.

Treat yourself to a cold beverage and a rest in the Adirondack chairs at Gold Lake Lodge, just a few hundred yards from the trailhead. Or better yet, plan your hike for later in the day and enjoy a family-style dinner at the Lodge (reservations recommended). Gold Lake Lodge is owned and operated by the Remlinger family who are friendly, inviting and very gracious hosts. Dad, Rob, cooked at Gold Lake Beach resort for many years before purchasing Gold Lake Lodge. It’s a step back in time to old-fashioned hospitality and with the family-style seating, there’s always someone interesting to meet and share stories with.

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Soaring peaks, sparkling alpine lakes and pine-scented forest: The Lost Sierra is your respite from the daily grind. Whether you’re exploring a section of the Pacific Crest Trail or swimming in Gold Lake, Nakoma is your base camp for adventure. 

When not out on the trail, you’ll have exclusive access to Altitude, Nakoma’s brand new recreation center complete with climbing wall, pool, hot tub — and much more fun.

The Hike-&-Stay package includes the latest edition of “Feather River Country Adventure Trails”, a guide book with maps, descriptions and photos of 101 hikes in the greater Lost Sierra region. 

*Offer valid Sunday through Thursday, June 1-Sept. 30.

$349 Double Occupancy Sunday-Thursday

  • 1 Night at the Lodge at Nakoma
  • 2 Dinners
  • 2 Picnic Lunches
  • 1 Tom DeMund Hiking Book

 

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It was a Sunday afternoon, my day off after a long work week, and I just had to get up to Lakes Basin and soak in some of that quiet beauty. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, I just headed up Gold Lake Highway to see what attracted me. I had a vague plan to walk up to Upper Sardine, but when I passed the small sign indicating Fern Falls, I decided to go exploring. I’d seen the sign for the past few years, but had never checked it out before.

The trail from the pullout is very clear and immediately crosses the East Fork of Graeagle Creek. From there, the trail parallels the creek for a few hundred yards until it comes to what the Lilliputians might have considered a waterfall, but to my eye was just a very pretty set of rapids. The topography indicated there might be more dramatic falls further on, so I decided to explore.

This is where things got fuzzy. I followed what I thought was a trail, but after a short while wondered if it was simply a dry creek bed since it ended at the creek. However, after some backtracking, bushwacking and using downed trees as raised walkways to traverse the scrub, I did find a couple of true waterfalls that were gorgeous. The craggy rocks gave a dramatic flair to the shooting water, which settled in inviting pools before dropping into another fall.

On the way back toward the trailhead, I did some side exploring of a lovely hunk of granite that was great fun to scrabble up. The view at the top was delightful. From there I could see some folks atop another hill of granite so went to check it out after they had disappeared, and voila, discovered a picnic table in a particularly lovely setting. From there, the trail was very obvious back to the trailhead.

I’m guessing there’s more to this trail than I was able to find. Even without a good trail, if you’re sure-footed and adventuresome, you can have a lot of fun exploring the area.

Follow-Up: Back at home, I checked Tom DeMund’s classic trail book and discovered that there is in fact, a trail and it does have various forks that go to overlooks on the creek, so perhaps I really was on parts of the trail. One day I’ll go back with the book in hand to see if I can actually find the trail.

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With the recent warm weather, I decided to head up to Lakes Basin this morning to see what’s hikeable. I’ve been out of town for a week and before I left, we were cross-country skiing in Lakes Basin, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was happy to discover the road in to the Lakes Basin trailhead is in great shape with just a small amount of easily passable snow on the road. I decided to do what I call the “Bear Lakes Loop” and chose to do it counter-clockwise, heading up to Long Lake first, then around to the Bears.

The first third up to Long Lake was wet, but I encountered no snow. As I ascended though, I ran into a pretty solid snow pack. I had enough traction with my heavy-weight hiking boots (they have very good soles) to make traversing the snow pretty easy. I didn’t sink in more than six inches or so as long as I stayed away from any exposed rocks and Manzanita where unexpected air pockets can twist an ankle in a heartbeat.

And what a beautiful panorama greeted me when I reached the lake. Half the lake was still covered in snow and the surrounding walls of granite are dappled with white. There is something about those granite walls at Long Lake that always takes my breath away. This morning was no exception.

Heading up past Long Lake I ran into more snow which continued until I got down to Cub Lake. From there to about Big Bear, there was little snow on the ground. Heading back down toward the trailhead from Big Bear, however, there were large patches of deep snow, but again, I found the footing quite doable in just hiking boots.

I suspect the snow will disappear pretty quickly with the warm weather predicted for this week. If you get a chance to do some hiking this week, you’ll be in for a visual treat.

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Approximately 2 miles round trip, gentle incline, snow on the trail.

One of the first trails to be accessible in the spring is the Smith Lake trail. That would be reason enough to hike it, but it also offers a gorgeous lake set in a volcanic bowl with a rim trail above from which one can see for miles to the north and east. There is also a lovely area for camping or picnicking on the south side of the lake, shaded by massive, moss-covered firs and pines. And the final bonus is that a short, fairly gentle hike provides access to all this beauty.

The trailhead is accessed from the Gray Eagle Lodge road, which is off Gold Lake highway. There is ample parking and a bathroom at the trailhead. The first part of the hike has southeast exposure, which is why the snow melts so quickly there. It’s a steady incline on the side of the mountain offering wonderful views and a nice warm start to the hike.

About half way to the lake, you’ll enter trees and shade, which is where I encountered snow this morning. It was passable, but a hiking pole or a sturdy stick would have been nice to have.

The trail winds around behind the mountain so there was snow for a few hundred yards until the bridge over Smith Creek, which was running with wild abandon as you would imagine in the spring

Just another short quarter mile or so and you’re at the lake, shimmering in all it’s blue-green beauty. I love swimming in the lake in the summer, but today, only my trusty 4-legged companion found the water enjoyable.

If you want more of a hike with spectacular views, backtrack an eighth of a mile or so and you’ll see a turn-off to the north. A few switchbacks will take you gently to the rim of the bowl where you’ll be greeted with expansive views. This time of year the ridge trail is an out-and-back hike because the south side of the lake, which is in shade all year, is still covered in snow and fast-moving creeks cross the trail.
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I’ve certainly enjoyed the late season hiking in Lakes Basin this winter due to the lack of snow, but I was overjoyed to awaken yesterday to a few inches of snow on the ground in the valley and a heavy white layer on Mills Peak and the trees leading up to it.

This morning I decided to go exploring to see what’s still accessible. Gold Lake Highway is now closed so we parked in the staging area parking lot conveniently located at the road closure point. There’s a pretty little trail that runs about a mile from the parking lot through the forest and comes out on the Gray Eagle Lodge road.

It’s a fun trail on skis when there’s more snow, but today it was totally enjoyable in hiking boots. There’s a slight elevation gain, which is much more noticeable on skis or snowshoes. On foot, it’s a gentle climb, suitable for any level hiker. This is also a great summer trail because it’s short with lots of shade – perfect for families with young kids or people who lack the stamina for longer hikes. Come on out and get your winter wonderland fix and check out this little slice of nature’s beauty.

Update: 1/21/18 This trail was one of the last ones built by the Forest Service about a decade ago before budget cuts took the USFS out of the trail creation and maintenance business. We’re fortunate to have the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship in our backyard to maintain the myriad trails that wind through Plumas and Sierra counties and build new ones for us to enjoy.

On yesterday’s hike we found a fairly large downed tree that was easy to climb over in boots, but would be very challenging in snowshoes and impossible on skis. I happened to run into Greg Williams, the brain and heart behind SBTS, last night and asked him if he could take care of the downed tree sometime. I received these pictures from him today after he and his son had taken care of the tree. Now that’s some amazing trail maintenance response time! If you enjoy hiking or mountain biking in this area, please check out the work of Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and consider supporting their efforts.

 

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One positive aspect of this strangely dry winter is the fact that Gold Lake Highway is still open and hiking is still abundant. With a couple hours available before a late afternoon shift at work I was feeling the urge to get out and explore before forecasted rains start up again tomorrow. With recent rain and very cold overnight temperatures I was concerned about encountering icy trails at high elevations. I hadn’t been on the Graeagle Creek trail for awhile so I thought I’d take that route to the Smith Lake trailhead. It would all be fairly low elevation so shouldn’t be icy.

Entering the woods from the parking area just off Gold Lake Highway is like entering a totally new world. The ground is softly carpeted with beautiful red pine needles, florescent green moss adorns the north facing side of the trees and the rush of Graeagle Creek is an alluring siren.


Just a quarter mile from the road lies the beautiful Graeagle Creek crossing. I was struck by the beauty of the frost-encased exposed tree roots that looked like multi-media pieces of art. The rails of the bridge were still frosty yet I lingered to take in the dynamic energy of the coursing creek. The colors of the rocks seemed so vibrant with the overcast sky and clear, clear water. It’s really a glorious spot.

After crossing the creek I stayed on the path to the Smith Lake trailhead, but a short distance up the trail I encountered a new option. The very new sign indicated the Smith Creek Trail was a mile away off to the right. I’d never been on this stretch of trail before, so off I went to explore.

The trail is beautiful, opening onto land I’d never experienced. Initially the trail heads north and slightly west with views to the east of endless pines and towering Beckwourth Peak in the distance. Continuing on, the trail crests the ridgeline and crosses it to head more westward and slightly south offering breathtaking views of Eureka Peak in the foreground and the towering white boulder that is Mt. Lassen in the distance.

After crossing the ridgeline, the trail begins to descend and the wide open expanse gives way to the forest. Initially, the forest feels spacious but as the trail continues to descend, the density of the trees made it increasingly dark and a bit foreboding. It will be a great, cool hike in the heat of the summer. Since I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to let out and a looming deadline to make it to work, I decided to head back to civilization without reaching the end of the trail. I suspect it ends in the Smith Creek subdivision somewhere. I didn’t track time or distance, but my guess is that the turn onto this trail is about a half mile from the Graeagle Creek Trailhead, and walked about a mile or a little more before turning back.

I’ll definitely explore this surprising new trail when I have more time. It’s a great elevation for early and late season hiking.

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Holiday Greetings to all from the Lost Sierra. It’s a gorgeous Christmas day, made that much better by a walk in the snow by a lake. There is just something about large bodies of water that draw me like a gravitational pull, and today Gold Lake did the pulling.

After being under the weather I was desperate for some fresh air and my dog needed a good romp so off we went with another friend and her dog. It’s unusual for Gold Lake Highway to be open and dry this time of year, but it makes easy access to the high country. We drove to the Gold Lake Campground road once again for a lovely walk. The snow is about 5 inches deep with a light, crunchy layer on top. Someone had driven down the campground road making the walking very easy going.

We wandered down the road and back through the campground to the dam where my friend’s Golden decided that no water is too cold for her. My dog, after barely tolerating the Santa hat, was having no part of that cold water.

The patterns of snow and ice on the lake were fascinating, and with the light haze of cloud cover, the lake had a silvery reflective glow that was stunning. It was as if the lake had been covered with frosting that had been whipped up and then partially melted. Every angle offered a unique perspective.

While it had been cool at the start of the hike, the temperature climbed into the forties and the clouds steadily cleared leaving us plenty warm and sun-drenched by the time we wandered back up the road to the car. What a spectacular way to spend Christmas day.

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The snow has been falling in the Lost Sierra in fits and starts. Way back in September Lakes Basin got 4-5 inches, which was not necessarily a welcome weather change for my friends who were camping at Gold Lake. October also delivered a couple small, early-season snow drops, but the weather warmed up between them so there has been little accumulation and Gold Lake Highway has remained open. However, last week’s snowfall and this week’s cold temps may change that trend.

It’s lovely to be able to get up to Lakes Basin this late in the season. There’s still great hiking to be had and the beauty factor is off the charts! The light covering of snow completely transforms the area and makes it feel like you’re discovering familiar terrain for the very first time. Even roads that you typically drive on become beautiful forest walks, like today’s walk on the Gold Lake campground road. Some of the lower elevation hikes are still hikable such as the Graeagle Creek and Smith Lake trails. The few inches of snow create a bit more of a workout, but hey, that’s one of the reasons we all go hiking, right?

Take advantage of the mild late season and get some wintertime hiking in. You’ll be happy you did.

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It’s that gorgeous time of year in the Lost Sierra… crisp nights, warm days and foliage making its magical transformation from green to all shades of yellow, orange and red.

There’s a leisurely pace to the color changes this year. During the drought years the color changes were unspectacular and lasted a short time. But this year nature is putting on quite a show.

You don’t have to go off the beaten path to find bright colors. Downtown Quincy is full of deep reds and oranges on the main drag and on the streets surrounding the courthouse. Graeagle has some bright spots of red in the Graeagle Meadows complex and the aspens all over town are shimmering in bright yellow. Along the Feather River you’ll find more aspens in all shades of yellow, cottonwoods in deep gold and willow bushes glimmering burnt orange in the setting sun.


Further into the mountains and in the forest, the colors are often more subtle, but no less beautiful. Wind through your favorite parts of Lakes Basin and take in the oranges, yellows and reds you’ll find from large aspen trees to smaller gooseberry bushes and a host of varieties in between.

For those of you who, like me, have wondered why leaves change color, this article provides a succinct explanation. There are additional article suggestions following the article.

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3.75 miles for the full loop, beginner to moderate
Approximately 2.5 miles to the lake and back, which is a great beginner hike 

There are so many good reasons to hike Smith Lake! The photos below are from today’s hike, but it’s equally beautiful in the spring and full summer. Here are my top five reasons for loving this hike.
  1. Because of its full sun exposure at the start of the hike and its relatively low elevation (lake elevation is 6100’) this hike is one of the first to be accessible in the spring and one of the last to remain accessible once the snow starts to fall. The trailhead is also one of the lowest, making it a shorter drive to start the hike.
  2. The exposed rocky ridge on the northern rim (accessed via what was called the Jamison Connector trail, which is supposed to be renamed by the Forest Service to Smith Lake trail) offer views for miles and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world without a strenuous hike (highest elevation is 6300’).
  3. It’s a great loop hike, which is my favorite kind, enjoyable in either direction. Counter-clockwise, you get your climb in at the beginning and finish in the cool shade of the south side. Clockwise, you get the magic of the forest, crossing the creek on a log and the cool shade at the beginning and then end with the fabulous vistas from the northern rim followed by a long downhill.
  4. I’m not sure why the color of Smith Lake is so unusual, but it has a blue-green color that is different from all the other lakes in the area. Some days (or some times of day, I can’t figure out which) the color is nearly emerald from the ridge overlooking the lake. I just love the color of this lake!
  5. You can get a good workout if you go at the uphills with gusto but it can also be a leisurely hike when you’re in the mood to simply commune with nature. When time is short and I want to bust out some quick exercise, I blast up the face, then take the switchbacks to the rim full steam. But sometimes I just want to drink in all the views and the hike is more of a meander. I love the flexibility of the hike!
Note: The trail on the back (west) end of the lake is not maintained. A few of us locals go out periodically with clippers to keep the Manzanita back, but the trail itself is fairly steep with loose rock and not in the same good shape as other trails in Lakes Basin. Also, despite our efforts this year, the south side is massively overgrown due to the plentiful water and warm summer. Hopefully we’ll get back up there before the snow falls to clear some of the brush back.

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One of the great end of summer treats in the Lost Sierra is Thimbleberries. They are delicious! Sweet with just the right amount of tart, almost imperceptible  seeds, and they grow in patches all over Lakes Basin in the cool, shady, forest understory.

Last week’s electrical storms in the Basin delayed my annual berry-picking, but today I thought I’d check a couple of patches that lie just off the trail from the Lakes Basin campground toward Long Lake. Typically, the ripening season is just after Labor Day so I knew I was a little late, but I had my fingers crossed that I might get lucky since everything bloomed late this year.

Thimbleberries are a member of the Rubus family (think blackberries, raspberries, etc.) and like raspberries they have no thorns so they’re fun to pick and eat. They grow low to the ground and are easily identified by their large, palm-shaped leaves.

The lower elevation patches had passed their prime and I found very few berries, but I headed to higher elevation to test my luck. Fortunately, I found a big patch with many berries still left on the vine. Some of the bright red berries were dried out, but I managed to find enough juicy berries to sate my seasonal appetite.

An added bonus was the discovery of late season wildflowers!

Be sure to add the search for Thimbleberries to next summer’s list of Lost Sierra adventures. It’s a great outing for the whole family.

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Approx. 5 miles round trip, moderate to strenuous. 

Mt. Elwell is the second highest peak in the area, topping out at 7,818 ft. It can be a strenuous hike but the views from the top make it so worthwhile. I usually prefer this hike in the fall when it’s cooler, but the temps in the Lost Sierra have dropped this week and I felt like flexing my muscles, so off we went to the Smith Lake trailhead just 15 minutes from Nakoma.

There are a couple of ways to access the peak, but today I chose to go up and back on the cooler north side which has more shade plus two ponds and a small lake near the top for my black dog to cool off.

Starting at the Smith Lake trailhead, accessed off the Gray Eagle Lodge road, the trail is in full sun for the first 1/2 mile or so. After you cross the rather oversized bridge, stay to the left toward Smith Lake and about a 1/4 mile on, go left where the sign indicates the turn for Mt. Elwell. You’ll immediately cross Smith Creek again, this time with no bridge. (If you want to see Smith Lake, go 1/4 mile past the turn to Mt. Elwell and you’ll encounter the beautiful green-blue water of Smith Lake.)

The forest of moss-covered firs you encounter shortly after crossing Smith Creek is one of my favorite places in Lakes Basin. There’s just something about that section of forest that feels enchanted to me. Every time I hike through I expect to see elves and fairies peeking out from behind the trees.

The trail gets a little steeper near the top, and even in mid-August we encountered a large patch of snow that obscured the trail. Past the patch of snow we arrived at the saddle which runs between two rocky uprisings. The one to the west is the actual peak. If you have no fear of heights and don’t mind a rocky scramble, I highly recommend ascending the peak. It provides great views down the Little Jamison Creek basin on one side and views of Long, Silver and Round lakes on the other side.

We weren’t fortunate enough to see Mt. Lassen on this particular day, but that’s another reward for ascending the peak on clear days.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch, then headed back down the way we came. The entire hike with lunch took about 4 hours. This hike is best attempted in the morning so you’re off the peak long before any afternoon thunder storms roll through.

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Easy hike, approximately 2.5 miles. 

It’s been a warmer than usual summer in the Lost Sierra so I decided to take my hike before work this morning while it was cool. With just 2 hours available, my friend Patty and I chose one of the many Long Lake loops from the Lakes Basin trailhead, which is about 20 minutes from Nakoma.

Our route was: Bear Lakes Loop, starting toward Long Lake. Take the right fork toward Long Lake, then the next right fork to the connector trail to the dam, across the dam and down to the Lakes Basin campground, through the campground, back to the trailhead.

Almost immediately we began to encounter wildflowers galore! Prime time for wildflowers is typically mid- to late-June but the entire area was still buried in snow at that time. I’d been afraid that the snow would negatively affect this year’s bloom, but it was the exact opposite. Apparently all the late moisture had a positive effect because we were dazzled by bright spots of color from the beginning to the end of the hike.

At the beginning, it was Tiger Lilies, Indian Paintbrush and Columbines in the shade along the creek. As we rose in elevation and got into more sunshine, we saw what I think is Bitter Dogbane, Mountain Spirea, Fireweed, Corn Lily, more Tiger Lilies and something in the Daisy family.

As we descended, I was feeling completely satisfied by the hike and the diversity of flowers we’d seen, but there was yet another bountiful surprise awaiting us.

When we made the cut from the campground onto the little dirt path that leads back to the trailhead road we encountered what can only be described as a magical wildflower wonderland. Lilies, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemon, Daisies, Fireweed, Checker Mallow, Columbine and so many more varieties lined the trail and extended back into the dense forest as far as we could see. It was truly an explosion of color that my photos cannot fully capture.

If you’re in the area in the next week or two and enjoy the beauty of wildflowers, be sure to add this hike to your list of “must sees.

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Soaring peaks, sparkling alpine lakes and pine-scented forest: The Lost Sierra is your respite from the daily grind. Bag a peak, swim in a mountain lake, after your explorations the Lodge at Nakoma offers you a luxurious evening.

Join us for a Lost Sierra adventure.

$259 Double, Sunday through Thursday.

$349 Double, Friday and Saturday.

  • One-night stay in the Lodge at Nakoma
  • Two dinners included
  • Two picnic lunches provided
  • One Lost Sierra guide book

Available May 1st through November 1st, 2017
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