Hiking the Sierra Buttes Trail wins you one of the best views in the Northern Sierra Nevada, ranging from Lassen Peak in the north to the Desolation Wilderness in the south. You’ll have to do some steep climbing, and you’ll have to mount steep stairs to get to the lookout, where people with acrophobia will be challenged by the grated walkway extending out into open space.
Note: this is Hike 22 in my book 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California. fourth edition. The book has 27 hikes in the Northern Sierra Nevada. Also check out my posts, all with full trail description, map, and photos, of the Pacific Crest Trail from Echo Lake to Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness, the Lake Margaret Trail in Eldorado National Forest, the Ellis Peak Trail near Lake Tahoe, and the Feather Falls Trail and Big Bald Rock Trail east of Oroville.
Sierra Buttes Trail Key Data
Distance: 5.2 miles roundtrip
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: 1500 feet
High point: 8475 feet
Season: July to October
Contact: Tahoe National Forest, Yuba River Ranger District
Maps: USGS Sierra City
HIKE NAME Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 39 36.690 W 120 39.919
Notes: Dogs allowed. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can access a point below the Sierra Buttes lookout, but you never have to share a trail with them.
Sierra Buttes Trailhead Directions
Take paved Packer Lake Road, which leaves Gold Lake Highway (Forest Road 24) 1.3 miles northwest of CA Highway 49 and 14.4 miles south of CA Highway 89. Bear right at 0.2 mile and then go left at 2.9 miles where a Sierra Buttes sign directs you onto Forest Road 93. Go left at 4.4 miles and stay on the paved road. Drive past a large parking area on the left at 4.8 miles and turn left just beyond onto gravel FR 93-02. Reach the large trailhead on the left at 5.1 miles, signed for the Pacific Crest Trail and the Sierra Buttes Lookout.
Starting Hike to Sierra Buttes
Start hiking on land acquired and managed in part by the Sierra County Land Trust, so give the organization a mental thank-you as you begin your trek. The tread here is a dirt road. (Note: this used to be the Pacific Crest Trail, which was recently rerouted). Climb south and southeast in a forest of red fir and western white pine to reach an open ridge at 0.5 mile.
View the Sierra Buttes Lookout From a Ridge
The path now runs south and nearly level along the spine of an open ridge. Mule’s ear and paintbrush are the most common flowers, adding visual counterpoint to the varied hues of the metamorphic boulders. The outstanding views also begin here, only surpassed by the 360-degree view you’ll get at the Sierra Buttes Lookout. The Lakes Basin lies below to the north, and you’ll have extensive southward views of the Sierra Nevada range.
Vista: Young American Lake and Upper Sardine Lake
Reach a junction with the recently re-routed Pacific Crest Trail at 0.8 mile. Go straight on the middle, broadest path and resume steep climbing through forest, with a dirt road joining the route from the right at 1.1 miles. Welcome a short level stretch at 1.6 miles where you have a good view down on Young America Lake and Upper Sardine Lake and up at the Sierra Buttes Lookout, perched on a rocky metamorphic outcrop that was once ocean seafloor.
Steep Climb to the Sierra Buttes Lookout
Meet a dirt road and a parking area at 1.8 miles that marks the end of the line for four-wheel-drive vehicles. You now start the steep summit push on a trail that parallels the now-closed dirt road, and then joins it at 2.2 miles. The forest thins as the trees grow smaller and more gnarled, eventually dropping away as you reach the base of the stairs at 2.6 miles. Carefully negotiate the steep stairs and make good use of the hand rails.
Sierra Buttes Lookout: The Views!
Finally you reach the lookout and win the spectacular view stretching away in all directions. (Again, if you’re sensitive to heights, don’t look down!) First look north at Young America Lake, the Sardine Lakes, and beyond to the Lakes Basin, and far, far beyond to Lassen Peak anchoring the southern part of the Cascade Mountains. To the west forested ridges give way to the Sacramento Valley and the Sutter Buttes, with the Coast Range on the western edge of the valley. The Yuba River drainage lies just to the south, with the mighty peaks of the Crystal Range and Desolation Wilderness beyond, along with Round Top in the Mokelumne Wilderness to the far south; you’ll also see high peaks that surround Lake Tahoe. To the east, mountains stretch off to Nevada.
Been? Wanna go? Thoughts! Let us know in the comments.