by Annette Lucido

Sierra City hides from tourists at the north end of Highway 49. For a spot that’s less than an hour from Lake Tahoe or Reno it doesn’t get nearly as much action as it should. It does get rather more snow than the rest of the Highway 49 towns that cluster at about 2,500 feet in elevation at the bottom edge of the snow line. It’s nearly 2,000 feet higher and, as a result, offers a longer spring, earlier fall and cooler summer than the typical foothill community.

It is that, restaurants, a store and a handful of motels and inns offer convenient services just down the hill from Gold Lakes Basin. Of course, you can, if you like stay in town, visit the small Sierra County Historical Museum a quarter mile east of town or take a tour of the Kentucky Mine and Stamp Mill during summer.

Wiser folks chug on up the pass, turn north at Bassets Station onto Gold Lakes Road and whomp up the hill to a dozen drive in and hike in lakes under the mass of the Sierra Buttes to the west. Lower Sardine lake has a nifty resort and rental boats and three hearty meals a day.. The road to Upper Sardine Lakes offers rather better fishing and a challenge for 2WD vehicles.

If you want to swim on a hot day, try Sand Pond. Anglers do better at Packer Lake, or either Upper or Lower Salmon Lake. Lower Salmon Lake and Packer Lake both have rustic lodges. The former rents cabins and such and each includes a rowboat with three meals a day available. Salmon Lake Lodge has boats and bi-weekly barbecues plus a ferry over on a barge.

Campers find Sand Pond’s Lower Sardine Campground worth a look, and there are a number of campgrounds without running waters. It’s first come, first served, so look before you leap.

However the best part of Gold Lakes Basin hides behind the trail signs. The Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada passes just west of road access, and laterals are particularly nice. So are the half-dozen or so lakes within an hour’s walk. Deer, Tamarack, Saxonia and Volcano Lakes are all easy hikes for first time backpackers.

Best of all, this area attracts more backpackers, tenters and hikers than most so you can meet people around campfires and enjoy a Sierra experience that’s sadly out of day in these RV days.

Do, if you like push the summer season. May’s wonderful and, if you don’t mind sharing camps with hunters, September or even October offer accessible isolation.

GETTING THERE: Interstate 80 to Truckee, north on Highway 89 and west on Highway 49’s the fast way. I-80 to Placerville and Highway 49 through Nevada City and Downieville offers superior scenery.

USGS Topographical Map -- Sierra City Quadrangle

Information: North Yuba Ranger Station, Star Route 1, Camptonville 95922 916-288-3231

Salmon Lake Lodge, Sierra City 96125 415-771-0150

Packer Lake Lodge , Sierra City 96125 916-862-1221

Lower Sardine Lake, Box 216, Sierra City 96125 916-862-1196

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