Guide to Sierra County Recreation: Mountains
The Mountains of Sierra County offer year-round recreation, rugged scenic beauty, and a wealth of cultural attractions and historic sites.
The Middle Yuba River forms the southwestern border of Sierra County. This untamed river provides exceptional fishing and beautiful views. Highway 49 parallels the North Yuba River from the bridge at Indian Valley to near Yuba Pass, giving recreationists easy access to sight-seeing, fishing, camping, and swimming.
On the Trail:
Hiking, biking, and backpacking: Easy to extreme level hiking trails abound in this region of Sierra County. A fully accessible trail passes gently through 500 feet of terrain from the Fiddle Creek Campground to the North Yuba River just off Highway 49. The Saddleback Trail climbs up mountainous terrain to the Saddleback Lookout where spectacular views can be seen and photographed. Lavezzola Road in Downieville accesses moderate to very technical mountain bike trails. This nationally recognized trail system has been featured in mountain biking magazines as having some of the best and most scenic trails in the world. The Jackson Meadows Reservoir area features the Woodcamp Creek Interpretive Trail, which provides an educational and moderately difficult hike with 18 points of interest spelled out in a brochure. The Pacific Crest Trail can be accessed from the Jackson Meadow trail head.
Ride the epic trails. The trails are sublime and seem endless, climbing from rivers to peaks, and snaking invisibly through trees. You can ride for hours in places that are truly “quiet” and “empty”. This is a rare fortune, possibly worth more than any gold taken from these hills. In Downieville, ride the North Yuba Trail with Halls Ranch and Fiddle Creek Ridge, and the Downie River Trail and 1st , 2nd, and 3rd Divide trails.
The Lafayette Ridge OHV Trail near Alleghany leads adventurers through heavy brush that gradually opens up to a panoramic view of the Middle Yuba River. Many of the off-road vehicle trails in the area were once the trails of miners, traders, and mule teams.
Boating, fishing & swimming: Lakes in the Mountain Region of Sierra County offer a variety of activities. Jackson Meadows is a very popular, highly prized for fishing, swimming, camping, wildlife viewing, water skiing, jet skiing, and sailing. There are over 130 campsites, 5 group campsites, and a disposal station available here. Independence Lake offers fee-use camping and fishing in a more secluded setting. Rivers and streams provide exceptional fishing and swimming. The Lafayette Ridge OHV Trail ends near Kanaka Creek and the Middle Yuba River where stream fishing is at its best.
The Fiddle Creek Campground near the North Yuba River bridge is easily accessed from Highway 49 and has excellent river access. Rocky Rest Campground is less developed but also offers access to the river for swimming and fishing. Many additional campsites are available throughout the mountains in a variety of settings and levels of access.
Gold panning is open to the public at the Union Flat campground, and in Downieville just behind the Riverview Pizzeria. Gold pans and panning instructions are available at the Sierra Gold Shop in Downieville.
This region of Sierra County is covered with evergreen forests and oak woodlands. Rugged river canyons cut by the Middle and North Yuba Rivers illustrate the power of nature to carve solid rock. The canyon walls and forested hillsides provide dramatic backdrops to the rivers and waterfalls.
Wildflowers and Fall Colors:
In spring, dogwood blooms profusely along the banks of rivers and massive patches of monkey flowers invade the wet seeps of canyon walls. Scotch broom adds brilliant patches of yellow. The dogwood puts on a second display in the fall with vibrant colored leaves of fiery orange and deep pink.
Hunting: Deer, pigeon, quail and deer hunting are available on public lands. Please contact the California Department Fish and Game for information about hunting seasons. 530-227-2242.
Viewing: At dusk, bridges in Downieville are likely to produce bats and swallows foraging for food. Kingfishers and osprey also feed in the vicinity. The Empire Creek Trail near Downieville passes through large areas of older forests inhabited by pileated woodpeckers, northern goshawks, pine marten, and California spotted owl. In the spring, the Downieville deer herd moves to the higher elevations to fawn. Jackson Meadows Reservoir entertains broods of Canada geese, mergansers, mallards, and green-winged teal. Several meadows offer good evening views of mule deer and bald eagles visit in the late fall. Black bears, foxes, and racoons are also present but not so visible.
Guide to Sierra County Recreation: Lakes Basin
The Lakes Basin Recreation area of Sierra County features some of the most pristine lakes in North America. Warm summer camp-outs and winter sports await visitors in this Sierra County wonderland.
The craggy peaks, waterfalls, and rivers of the Sierra Buttes are a spectacular site, especially in the winter and spring when adorned with a tapestry of snow.
Glacially formed lakes add to the unique beauty of the landscape and offer recreation in its most luxuriously primitive form.
Out on the Trail:
Hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and horse packing in this region are what dreams are made of. The Pacific Crest Trail can be reached from Packer Saddle or the Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail and also at Loves Falls just north of Sierra City. The Lakes Basin Campground contains three trail-heads that provide access to the many lakes in this area. Sand Pond Interpretive Trail describes the flora and fauna of a riparian habitat and is accessible to wheelchairs. It provides a wonderful experience for those who cannot hike the typical mountainous trail.
The Lakes Basin Recreation Area contains numerous off-road vehicle trails from moderate to most difficult. The trails pass through a variety of terrain and offer fishing, wildlife viewing, and exceptional scenery.
Small resorts tucked in among trees and lakes offer comfort and amenities for those wishing to forgo the “sleeping bag.” Resorts also provide different levels of services such as prepared meals and housecleaning. Please see the lodging section of this guide for more information.
Fishing and Boating:
Fishing licenses are available at Bassetts Station, Highway 49 and Gold Lake Highway in Sierra city, and Sierra Hardware on Main Street in Downieville. The unspoiled lakes in this region are highly prized by fly fishermen and those who prefer to fish from the shore or small boats. Over fifteen lakes provide ample space for recreationists to enjoy solitude and comfort. Boating is restricted to small boats with small or no motors.
Campgrounds offer several levels of amenities including boating, swimming, fishing, piped and stream water, camping stoves, travel trailer spaces, and sites for horse trailers. The Wild Plum Campground, located just east of Sierra City, has a beautiful waterfall as an added attraction. Nearby Loves Falls is also beautiful and easily accessible.
Purchase Sno-park permits at Bassett’s Station or at Sierraville Service and Country Store, or call 530-324-4442.Winter is a beautiful time to explore the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Miles of groomed roads and trails offer excellent cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Bassett’s Station at the intersection of Highway 49 and Gold Lake Road is a favorite staging area for snowmobilers and cross country skiers. It is complete with a general store, cafe, restrooms, and gas station. Gold Lake Road is the main access route to many miles of trails. The trip to Graeagle is a favorite among local snowmobilers. Yuba Pass Snow Park, 13 miles north of Sierra City, accesses trails that reach the Little Truckee Summit staging area and Jackson Meadows reservoir. Tubing, sledding, snowshoeing, and snow camping round out the winter fun in this large snowpark facility.
The drive from Sierra City to Yuba Pass provides a kaleidoscope of terrain and plant communities. There are several excellent views of the Sierra Buttes from Gold Lake Road and along Highway 49. During the winter, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers have a unique opportunity to explore a winter wonderland made more beautiful by the rugged mountainous backdrop.
When the snow melts, the Lakes Basin area abounds in a variety of wildflowers. Orange masses of lilies bloom in the wet creek drainages and wild azaleas are scattered about the hillsides. At the summit of Yuba Pass, magenta colored penstemon and lacy white yampa decorate the landscape. In the marshy areas, marigolds, elephant heads, corn lilies, and several species of monkey flowers flourish in the spring sun.
Viewing: The Sand Pond Interpretive Trail features wheel chair accessible wooden boardwalks that follow fern-lined paths and cross stretches of shallow, clear water. This trail near Sardine Lake Campground is barrier-free and provides viewing opportunities of a wetland that has been enlarged by a family of beavers. The path also allows visitors to view trout and summer mallard broods close up. Bald eagles and osprey fish on the many lakes, and pine martens forage in nearby meadows. The Yuba Pass area provides excellent bird-watching opportunities. The Wild Plum Loop Trail meanders through riparian hardwood communities that provide a rich birding experience.
Hunting: Deer, pigeon, and quail hunting in Sierra County are available on Forest Service lands. Please contact the California Department of Fish and Game for information about hunting seasons 530-227-2242.
Recreation in the Valley
Panoramic views and miles of open space highlight this region of Sierra County. Country charm and friendly people combine to make this spot ideal for family recreation in summer and winter.
Sierra Valley is a large sub-alpine in the Sierra Nevadas. It is part of the continental crust that was dropped by the same faulting that raised the Sierra Nevada. The Overlook on Highway 49, east of Yuba Pass, provides a spectacular panoramic view of this beautiful valley and surrounding mountains.
On the Trail:
Hiking: Trails in the Sierra Valley area range from easy walks to rigorous climbs through thick conifer forests. The Cottonwood Overlook Trail is light to moderately difficult and provides panoramic views of the valley in several places along the trail. Dedicated hikers can climb the steep Badenaugh Trail up to the Babbit Peak lookout for an outstanding panoramic view of the local area of eastern California and western Nevada. Mountain bikers and equestrians share this trail with hikers.
The Bear Valley Loop OHV Trail near Loyalton is 18 miles of pure exhilaration and scenic beauty. The trail is open late spring to fall.
Lunch and Learn: The Cottonwood Creek Botanical Trail uses trail markers and a corresponding brochure to identify and describe trees and other plants on this easy walk. The Kyburz Flat interpretive area on Henness Pass Road east of Highway 89 explains the history of three different peoples who inhabited this beautiful mountain meadow starting 2,000 years ago. Maps and brochures are available free of charge. The Donner Camp Picnic Site located 5 miles south of the Sierra County line along Highway 89 looks out onto a meadow where members of the Donner Party camped through the winter of 1846. The picnic area and restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
There are numerous campgrounds from Yuba Pass to Truckee along Highways 49 and 89. These campgrounds range from single sites to large group areas with parking lots that can accommodate horse trailers as well as snowmobile trailers. Some campgrounds are near rivers and streams; some are at the edges of alpine lakes; and some are tucked into the forest and meadow lands. Groups of up to 50 people can be accommodated at the Prosser Group Campground, which offers swimming and cooking stoves as well as space for trailers.
Winter trails for skiers, snowmobilers, and snowshoers wind through valleys and hills and around beautiful alpine lakes. The Little Truckee Summit area located between Sierraville and Truckee on Highway 89 provides six winter trails, restrooms, and plenty of parking. From here you can follow groomed trails up to the Gold Lakes Recreation Area. There is also excellent skiing on Henness Pass Road east of Highway 89. The Treasure Mountain Loop in the Little Truckee Summit area provides groomed trails for both snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Other groomed trails in this area include the Pass Creek Loop, which leads to Jackson Meadows Reservoir, and the Prosser Creek Connection Trail, which travels from the Summit along Prosser Creek downhill into Nevada County, where it ends near Prosser Lake.
The scenery in Sierra Valley varies from conifer and aspen forests, to drier woodland forests, to a large valley covered with crops, pastures, and wildflowers in the spring. Smaller valleys and meadows are laced with meandering streams. Old platy-barked ponderosa pine trees are a special feature in the landscape along the upper stretches of Highway 89 near Truckee.
Fields of blue and orange flowers flow with the breeze during springtime in the valley. Along the waterways, many marshland plants and several species of buttercups paint a picture of color and serenity.
Fishing and Hunting: The Sierra Valley has more German brown trout, mile for mile, than anywhere else in California. Smithneck Creek is a favorite among fishermen seeking this elusive trout. This area is also home to Nevada mule deer, grouse, chucker, and California mountain quail. Please contact the California Department of Fish and Game for information about hunting seasons.
Viewing: The Carman Valley north of Calpine has 30 to 40 acres of vernal habitat during spring and early summer. This area is an excellent place to view nesting waterfowl, including wood ducks and shorebirds. Steel Bridge, located over the headwaters of the Feather River, provides an opportunity to view Canadian geese, great blue heron, sandhill cranes, numerous ducks and songbirds. This is private property, so please do not explore on foot. Antelope Valley is an excellent place to observe deer fawning areas. The Smithneck Creek area off Smithneck Road travels through extensive aspen groves with scenes of beaver activitydams, stick lodges, and beaver-logged timber. Kyburz Marsh off Highway 89 is approximately 200 acres and provides wildlife viewing for waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, numerous species of hawks, osprey, and bald eagles. Several waterfowl nesting islands are located within the area.