Mary West: Hiking adventures along the Sierra Buttes Trail
On a clear day you can see Lassen Peak! The views are just one of the many reasons to make the climb to the top of the Sierra Buttes Lookout Tower. Being the tallest peak in the Sierra Basin in Sierra County you get a bird’s eye view of the nearby Sardine, Packer and other mountain lakes. With the 1,600 feet elevation gain over 2.5 miles of hiking trail you get a good workout. In the spring the wildflowers, including Mule’s Ear, Paintbrush and many others grow lush close to the trail. The higher elevation also means cooler temperatures. The Sierra Buttes trail is varied, going from exposed rocky switchbacks to pine and brush forest.
I always prefer hiking uphill first to get to the destination. It means it’s downhill on the way out. This is true of this five-mile round trip in and out trail. The last 150 feet to the tower is easily managed by climbing a sturdy metal staircase. At the top is the locked up lookout tower. You can look inside at the basic accommodations the lookouts had back in the day when this tower was in use. After taking in the 360 degree view, and all the pictures and video you want, it is time to make your decent. On the way out, the tower gets smaller. You may be amazed that you were all the way up at the very top in that tiny square building once back at the parking area.
How to get there
To get there from Auburn, take Highway 49 north toward Grass Valley/Nevada City. Stay on 49 to Sierra City. From Sierra City, head northeast on Highway 49 for about 5 miles. Turn left on Gold Lake Highway.
After 1.3 miles, turn left again on Packer Lake Road. Follow signs for Packer Lake, turning right at the split. Shortly before reaching Packer Lake, turn left on Co Rte 621 (marked with a sign reading ‘Sierra Buttes’). Follow this road up a steep grade until you reach a wide junction with many parking spots (Packer Saddle). Turn left on Butcher Ranch Road and follow it south for 0.6 more miles. The trail head has a wide dirt area for parking and is marked with trail signs for both the Sierra Buttes Lookout and the PCT. Start your hike around the green gate and you are on your way.
Mary West is the author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide. The books are a collection of Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, and favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond (Available on Amazon). West was the recipient of the CRAFT Award in 2017 and 2019 for Best Outdoor Newspaper Column by the Outdoor Writers Association of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.
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