Seeking solitude: Lakes Basin Recreation Area worth paying a visit
Summer road trips just don’t have the same appeal during penny-pinching times.
With the price of gas and other daily necessities inching further into absurdity ” not to mention the ever-frightening prospect of climate change on the horizon ” these indeed are times to cut back and tread lightly.
Truckee-Tahoe residents have myriad options for outdoor recreation ” arguably as much or more so than any place on the planet.
But in the heat of the summer months, when swarms of visitors and second-home owners pour into this vacation destination, it’s nice to escape the masses on occasion.
In some instances less than a half-tank of gas will get you to escape land and back (in a Subaru). Like Lakes Basin Recreation Area, a scenic, lake-strewn high-country playground about 45 miles north of Truckee, just south of Graeagle in Plumas County.
Bordering the middle-of-nowhere northeast corner of California, there’s a different feel in the air up there, like Tahoe during shoulder season but with even fewer humans. Much fewer.
It’s worth a visit.
From Highway 89 north turn left on Gold Lake Road.
Highlight quick-hit stops for day trippers include Frazier Falls and Gold Lake, while those wishing to soak in the serenity may post up at one of the 40-plus campsites or venture onto one of the 30-plus trails that sprawl through the Lakes Basin Recreation Area.
Frazier Falls is an impressive sight, especially during spring and early summer when the 176-foot vertical drop and 250-foot cascade are at peak flow. It’s easy to reach, too.
About 1 3/4 miles from the intersection of Gold Lake Road and Highway 89, turn left on Frazier Falls Road. Follow the narrow, sometimes bumpy, paved road about four miles till it dead ends at the Frazier Falls trailhead.
From there it’s easy strolling, as a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail snakes through undulating terrain less than a half-mile to the scenic overlook. For those who like frequent rests, the trail is dotted with what may be a record number of benches. They’re everywhere.
The falls also can be approached by way of a 1 1/2-mile trail across the street from Gold Lake, about seven miles from Highway 89 at an elevation around 6,400 feet.
Gold Lake itself ” the largest of 30 lakes in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area ” is picturesque body of water flanked by copper-toned granite. Fishing is rumored to be hot at times, with a diverse population of brook, rainbow and brown trout as well as mackinaw. A launch ramp is available for small-boat access.
On the return trip, continue south along Gold Lake Road past Goose, Haven and Snag lakes toward Highway 49.
Several miles downhill the craggy Sierra Buttes, seemingly out of place towering over the surrounding landscape, appear without warning. Don’t crash. Turnouts are available, so pull over and let your eyes absorb the brilliance of this 8,587-foot peak.
Several miles later Gold Lake Road meets Highway 49 at Bassetts Station, a cafe, motel and general store that dates back to the Gold Rush. It’s got character and is worth paying a visit, for nostagia’s sake if not to purchase a snack.
Take Highway 49 east to 89, then head south toward more familiar grounds.
While driving through the Sierra Valley, try to envision its ancient past. With some imagination, it’s easy to picture the valley floor as it once was ” a lake bed.
According to a 1976 study by the California Department of Biology, the Sierra Valley Lake filled over millions of years with sediment up to 2,000 feet thick, leaving behind a valley that covers more than 100,000 acres. In comparison, the surface area of Lake Tahoe, which formed under similar conditions, is about 122,000 acres.
Once home, deal with the masses. It comes with the territory. And there still may not be a better place to reside.