In the past 12 years I’ve taken three trips to the top of the Sierra Buttes lookout in the Tahoe National Forest, and on each trip I learned new – and less strenuous -ways to arrive at the destination.
I made my first trip to the lookout, because I heard of the incredible view. But as I drove up Highway 49, I didn’t realize there was more than one way to the top.
Driving north to Gold Lake Road at Bassett to Sardine Lakes, I spotted the first sign that told me the lookout was four miles up the trail.
So I started my trek up the trail with camera and lens – and a bottle of water.
When I hit the two-mile mark of the trail, I saw people walking in both directions of a connecting trail and wondered where the people came from, because I had driven the only car park at the start of the trail.
While hiking up the last two miles of the trail, I stopped a person walking down from the lookout, who told me that this is the two-mile trail to the lookout, and the parking lot where I parked my car was two more miles back down the road.
Once I found the road to the lookout, which zigzagged up the hill, it was only 1/4 mile up the road to the steps to the lookout. When I got to the base of the stairs and saw the steep steps ahead, I knew I was going to have to push myself because I wasn’t going to quit, especially after logging four miles to get there.
Finally reaching the lookout, after my apparently unnecessary four-mile hike and after climbing those steep steps, I went to work in capturing photos of that incredible view I had heard about.
Last year, while making a last minute trip in the late afternoon, I was driving up the road to the parking lot where the two mile trail starts to the lookout. Three young people were walking slowly up the steep roadway and were tired, so I stopped and asked if they needed help.
They apparently had taken the wrong turn to the four-mile trail. Their car was at the trailhead and, remembering my own first taxing trip, I gave them a ride up the hill to the car.
Walking up the hill to the gate to the lookout, it took me almost the same amount of time to walk up an extremely steep last quarter mile than it had taken me to hike the two-mile trail the lookout. I made several stops and wondered why I was doing this, again.
And, to make matters worse, when I got to the gate, I noticed another parking lot. This one brought visitors within that last quarter mile of the lookout. So I had again hiked farther with all my gear in tow.
When I reached the base of the stairs of the lookout, there were so many people at the top, I didn’t bother climbing all the way up the stairs to the lookout. I shot photos of the lookout from down below and then decided that it was getting late, and I needed to get back to the car at the start of the trail.
This past summer, I decided to take another trip to the lookout, but this time I drove up to the parking lot at the gate to the lookout.
I found the road about two miles from the two-mile trail. The road was steep with large ruts, and I had my foot to the floorboard of my RAV4 to get up hill to the parking lot.
But I overshot the parking lot because, with my foot to the floor, the car quickly accelerated when the road flattened out and just took off. I stomped on the brake and made quite a spectacle of myself for all the folks who had already arrived at the lookout lot.
I parked the car and walked up the quarter mile to the lookout with some people in front of me moving along very slowly. I later found out they were from the Grass Valley and Nevada City area.
This time I walked up the stairs to the lookout with the people that walked from the parking lot. I found a family having lunch at the base of the lookout and some other people up at the top of lookout.
After spending just less than hour on top of the world, I walked down to the parking lot where I met other three people who promptly asked me if the gray car was mine. I said it was and asked if there was a problem.
They responded by pointing out a flat tire.
A nice man from the group, Paul from Quincy, helped me change the tire.
If you want to avoid learning experiences like my own, the best way to the Sierra Buttes lookout is to take the two mile trail. And if you take the road all the way to lookout parking lot, you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Wear good hiking shoes, carry some bottles of water and just take your time walking up the trail. And when you reach the lookout, you’ll see that incredible view from the Sierra Buttes – without the type of trouble I stumbled upon.
To contact Staff Photographer John Hart, e-mail jhart@the union.com or call 477-4256.
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