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One of the major draws to the Truckee-Tahoe area is, of course, the stunning beauty of Lake Tahoe. I was fortunate to have friends with lakeside homes that I visited numerous times a year for the first three decades of my life, both in summer and winter. It was a playground I loved, but didn’t think that much about because I spent plenty of time there.

Today, living in the Lost Sierra, I don’t go to Lake Tahoe that often, but when I do, my breath still catches at the first glimpse the lake. It’s just that majestic. But the public beaches and access points have become so crowded, it’s just not an enjoyable experience for me.

What I love about living in the Lost Sierra is the sheer number of gorgeous Alpine lakes that are accessible by foot, bike or car. The hardest decision I make most days is, “Which lake shall I hike to or swim in today?” So let’s take a little tour of the Lost Sierra lakes that are right in Nakoma’s back yard. This is by no means an exhaustive list of lakes, but it will give you a sneak peek into one of the great joys of living in the Lost Sierra.





Sardine Lake – for sheer beauty, Sardine Lake is hard to beat in its forested bowl with the Sierra Buttes jutting skyward so strikingly. You can kayak or fish at Sardine, and for swimming it’s just a short hike up the hill to Upper Sardine. Or, if you have young kids, just down the road from Sardine you’ll find Sand Pond, which is aptly named for its sandy bottom and shallow depth.

 
















Bear-Round-Silver-Long Lakes – For the casual hikers both young and old, the commonly called “Bear Lakes Loop Trail” in Lakes Basin Recreation Area provides an astonishing number of gorgeous lakes per mile of hike. The basic loop is just a few miles, but there are offshoots to Round Lake and Silver Lake if you want to extend the hike and increase your lake intake. All the lakes are swimmable and make perfect picnic spots on a warm summer day.

 











Gold Lake – What I call our “Mini Tahoe” is a beautiful, crystal-clear lake nearly 2 miles long with boat launching facilities and a campground along one shore. There’s also a shallow water shoreline just a couple hundred yards from the road with plenty of parking for a long day in the water and sun and easy access for launching a kayak. One of the most special summer treats is moonlight kayaks on this beautiful lake.

Rock, Jamison, Wade Lakes – Located high in Plumas Eureka State Park, it’s a bit more strenuous hike to get to these three lakes but totally worth the effort. Rock Lake looks like an infinity pool from some angles, Jamison has a small waterfall at one end that feels so good pouring on your head on a hot day and Wade has lots of shady spots for a well-deserved picnic.

 










Lake Davis – This huge man-made reservoir was built specifically for recreation. It’s at the north end of the Sierra Valley, above the town of Portola and is on the flyway for thousands of migrating birds making it a wonderful wildlife viewing lake. You can swim, fish, kayak and bike on the bike path that goes along the south and eastern side of the lake. There are a couple boat ramps to launch fishing boats or kayaks and several campground and picnic areas along the nearly 32 miles of shoreline.

None of these lakes compare in sheer majesty with Lake Tahoe, but for plenitude and accessibility, the Lost Sierra is truly a water wonderland.

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The Sierra Valley is a natural treasure trove that lies just east of Nakoma and can be easily accessed via Hwy 70. This 120,000 acre wetlands is about the size of Lake Tahoe and supports an astonishing diversity of bird life. Over 230 species make the valley their habitat, in addition, the valley is part of the Pacific Flyway for hundreds of migratory birds who travel north-south seasonally.

Mid-March through early May are ideal times to view thousands of migratory birds making their way north. My personal favorite is the Sandhill Crane which makes a decidedly un-birdlike guttural sound and has quite the distinctive dance steps in its mating ritual. These are large birds that travel in enormous flocks that you hear coming long before you can spot them hundreds of feet overhead. It’s not unusual to find cars pulled to the side of Hwy 70 watching these magnificent birds organizing themselves into a broad V to continue their annual migration.

In the fall, the valley supports an equally enjoyable variety of raptors. Bald eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen, and Golden Eagles have also been spotted. Bird watchers report that migrating flocks of waterfowl and songbirds can also be seen in the fall.

The Valley is also home to a variety of wildlife. A herd of Pronghorn can be seen regularly along Hwy 70 and deer and coyotes are also a common sight.

The Sierra Valley has a rich history and is largely made up of privately-owned ranches, many of which have been placed into conservation through the Feather River Land Trust to preserve the land from future development. The valley forms the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Feather River, which is part of the California State Water Project, a system that provides drinking water to over 20 million Californians. The Land Trust is dedicated to protecting this water source for both drinking water and the wildlife that depend on it.

For more information, contact the East Sierra Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Photos by S. Pettengill

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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.

You’ll head to the trail with a picnic lunch and then return to Nakoma for dinner in our fantastic Frank Lloyd Wright designed building. 

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

PACKAGE INCLUDES:

  • Lodge guest room for two people for one night*
  • Dinner for two in Wigwam Restaurant & Bar on the night of arrival**
  • Bento Box lunch for two from Altitude for your second day of hiking
  • Hiking book by Tom DeMund
  • Resort Fee included
  • $389 per night

Offer valid Sunday through Thursday (May 29-Oct. 31, 2020)
*Does not including sales tax.
**Dinner includes: Side salad, choice of entree, and dessert. Does not include alcohol.
***Please note: the Wigwam is closed for dinner on Tuesday and Wednesday.

IMPORTANT: Be sure to select “SHOW RATES” below to properly select the Hike & Stay package.

 
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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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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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After disappointingly dry weather in January and February prevented the races from being held, the enthusiasm was sky high yesterday at the World Championship Longboard Races held at the historic Johnsville Ski Bowl.

For those of you who have never attended a race, I hope I can convince you to put it on your calendar for next winter. It’s such a fun day for the whole family with sledding and snowshoeing, great old-timey music, food, and of course, Brewing Lair beer.

The races are competitive, but the atmosphere is one of camaraderie and good cheer among competitors. There are always some exciting close races and some hilarious “Keystone Cop” type comedies with fallen racers doing everything in their power to get across the finish line.

Here’s how it works. Anyone who wants to can race. Plumas Ski Club has extra skis, so you will be able to rent skis for the race, until they are all claimed. Period clothing is requested for all competitors and footwear must be leather. No modern ski boots are allowed. Around 11:30, each competitor is assigned a start number by random drawing. The competitors then race in twos, with the winner moving onto the next round. Men and women race separately. It then comes down to the last race of 3 to determine 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.

There is a groomed sledding hill for kids of all ages to enjoy. A simple fare of grilled burgers and dogs is available for purchase along with an endless flow of Brewing Lair Beer. Spectators can set up anywhere they’d like and many folks bring outdoor chairs and a picnic lunch to make a day of it. Bring your snowshoes or backcountry skis and head up to Eureka Lake or Eureka Peak for added adventure.

For more information and the history of the ski bowl and the Longboard Races, visit the Plumas Ski Club website. The races are held the third Sunday in January, February and March each year.




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Winter has hit the Lost Sierra at last. It’s been snowing off and on for the last couple weeks. We’re not talking a dusting or few paltry inches here and there, this is the real deal – FEET of snow throughout the area.

Get your cross-country skis or snowshoes out or fire up your snowmobile and come explore Lakes Basin in all its winter wondrousness.

I only had a short timeframe available today so I took my cross-country skis to a private road I have access to near my house. As you can see from the photos, it was just gorgeous, making for a happy human and an even happier pup.

When I have more time, some of my favorite places for cross-country skiing are:

Mohawk-Chapman road off Gold Lake Highway – This is a gently inclining road that offers fabulous views just a couple miles in.

Lake Davis – Lake Davis is north of Portola off Highway 70. I usually ski from the unplowed dirt road on the west shore.  You can park where Lake Davis Road turns east at the south end of the lake, head north on the road, then ski the wide open terrain that lies between the road and the lake itself. There’s miles and miles of open skiing to enjoy.

Plumas-Eureka State Park – A group of dedicated volunteers groom a set of trails in and around the campground at the State Park. You can access these trails from the Mohawk-Johnsville Rd. and the Campground Rd. behind the Museum. The volunteers produce a grooming report that you can find on the volunteer website. If you use the trails please consider making a donation. No park funds are available to keep the groomers in fuel.

 

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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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