Exploring the Lakes Basin Recreation Area
The Lakes Basin Recreation Area gets its name from the multitude of lakes found within a fairly small geographical area. At the center is the town of Graeagle in Plumas County, a nice place with plenty to offer in its own right. It even has four 18 hole golf courses and two 9 holers. Numerous lodges and resorts supplement that offering. Nearby is the Middle Fork of the Feather River (designated a Wild & Scenic River), a popular spot with fly fishermen. The Pacific Crest Trail passes nearby.
For campers the attraction is pretty country, lakes for fishing and swimming, hiking trails of all sorts and proximity to Plumas Eureka State Park. Of the 30 or so lakes in the region several can be reached by vehicle but most beckon hikers and backpackers. We will discuss several of the lakes accessed by vehicle shortly. Graeagle sits at 4,300 feet and most of the lakes lie between 5,000 & 6,000 feet. Nearby Sierra Buttes hits 8,587 feet and Eureka Peak (in Plumas Eureka State Park) 7,447 feet. The area straddles the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests.
Just up the road from Graeagle sits Plumas Eureka State Park on the site of a once-productive hard rock gold mining operation. It is well worth a visit for educational as well as outdoor activities. Click on the link for more information.
Of the lakes in the area that you can drive to, the largest is Gold Lake. You get there by driving the Gold Lake Highway, which runs from Graeagle to Bassetts. But large is a relative term. It's a medium sized lake suitable for 12-15 foot fishing boats with small outboards. Kayaks and canoes work too, but winds can come up and make those craft vulnerable. Fishing is for rainbow, brown and brook trout plus Mackinaw. Click the link for more information about Gold Lake.
Driving from Graeagle along the Gold Lake Hwy. and before you reach Gold Lake, you will pass trailheads leading to several remote lakes, including Grassy lake, Big Bear Lake, Mud Lake and Long Lake. You will also pass a trailhead to Frazier Falls, a local attraction. But note that in the late summer it can be reduced to a shadow of its springtime self. After you pass Gold Lake you will come to Goose Lake, Haven Lake, Snag Lake and Salmon & Sardine Lakes. All are rather pretty and allow lakeside (or nearly so) camping. The campground at Goose Lake is right next to the road, as is the campground at Snag Lake. The latter has a very primitive campground but you can't beat the access; the forest service has plans for an upgrade in 2015 or so. Sardine Lake has a resort with boat rentals and a short-wheelbase 4WD road into the backcountry.
Directions: From the San Francisco Bay Area you can get there 2 ways. The least scenic would be to drive Interstate 80 east to Truckee, turn north onto Hwy. 89 and drive toward Graeagle, and just before that village turning left on the well-marked Gold Lake Highway. The more scenic route would be to drive east on Int. 80 to Auburn, turn north on Hwy. 49 toward Downieville (not Placerville), and when Hwy. 49 intersects Hwy. 89 go north as noted above to just before Graeagle. This route has more twists and turns but passes many forest service campgrounds plus the gold-rush era towns of Downieville and Sierra City.
Photos, left to right: Sardine Lake, Sardine Lake 4WD Rd., Lower Sardine Lake, Sardine Lake Resort. Click to enlarge.
Photos, left to right: Snag Lake, Goose Lake, Gold Lake, Gold Lake Ramp. Click to enlarge.