Lookout for This View!
Hike to the Sierra Buttes Lookout in the Lakes Basin, Sierra Nevada
Fire lookouts are like the lighthouses of the mountains: perched at great vantages and providing the best panoramas of the surrounding area. And the Sierra Buttes Lookout, at a lofty 8,591 feet, is a memory maker for its pucker-worthy stairway to the tower’s balcony. And the reward? Epic. Ready? Look up! Wayyy up. There’s the lookout, perched on the tippy-top of the Sierra Buttes, and yep—you’re hiking to it.
It’s a 5-mile (round-trip) moderate ascent that can feel a little more challenging with the altitude. But take your time and take breaks—plenty of people of all ages do this trek. The wide dirt trail winds up through high mountain terrain. A few wildflowers, more of a spring sensation, cling to summer days. The higher you climb, the better your perspective of the Lakes Basin, including Young America Lake, with Mount Elwell to the north.
Now comes the big OMG: that stairway! The multi-tiered steps to the lookout require a bit of a head for heights. They’re steep but sturdy, and if you look down you’ll see a lot of craggy rock and granite beneath. Deep breath … slow and steady and …. you’re up! And whoa, the wind. And whoa-wow: the view!
The panorama of the Sierra Buttes races all the way out to Mount Lassen on clear days. To the west is the Yuba River Canyon and Sacramento Valley, while the south showcases Bowman Lakes and the peaks surrounding Tahoe. Upper Sardine Lake glints in the golden sun, and just beyond it, Lower Sardine Lake appears heart-shaped (marriage proposal spot? Don’t drop the ring!). Simply Butte-iful!
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: In the episode “Secret Sierra” Weekend Sherpa co-founders discuss their trip to the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout and the Lakes Basin.
CAMPING TIP: There’s great lakeside camping nearby in the Lakes Basin. Goose Lake Campground is a nice one with only 14 sites. There’s also Gold Lake, Snag Lake, Haven Lake, and others.
From Gold Lake Hwy. turn onto Packer Lake Rd. following the signs to Packer Lake. Shortly before reaching Packer Lake, turn left following the road and sign to Sierra Buttes. Go up a steep grade and continue left again following the sign to Sierra Buttes. Within about half a mile you’ll reach a wide parking area, but continue a bit further to reach more parking and the trailhead for hiking up to Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout.
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