So you want to hike to a view where you can see for miles in all directions? Great! Now, get ready to work for it. By definition, fire lookout stations have some of the grandest views you can find in the mountains, and the Sierra Buttes is no exception. Set at 8,587 feet, this lookout offers one of the most dramatic and panoramic views you can find in California. The 6-mile (round-trip) hike is no walk in the park, but the reward is well worth the effort. Starting from Packer Lake in the Lakes Basin, climb an old jeep road for the first mile to the tranquil Tamarack Lake. Stop at its shore before taking on the task ahead. In all, you’ll ascend 2,500 feet in 3 miles. This leg of the hike is the toughest; exposed switchbacks sparsely dotted in wildflowers lead you up to the Pacific Crest Trail. The higher you go, the better the views! Stay on the PCT for a short distance before veering left to begin weaving through a pine forest en route to the lookout. You’ll have to climb a steep set of stairs to reach the lookout’s balcony platform, where the view is nothing short of epic. You may feel butterflies in your stomach or be inspired to burst into song at this scene of Sierra splendor—from Lassen Peak to the north, the Coast Range to the west, and Castle Peak to the south. Below, a half-dozen oases, including Sardine Lake and Gold Lake, seem as if they’re winking at you.
The Lakes Basin and Sierra Buttes are 90 minutes northwest of Lake Tahoe. Take Hwy. 49 north from I-80 going through Nevada City, Downieville, and Sierra City. Turn left (north) on the Gold Lake Hwy. in Bassets. Within 1.5 miles you’ll turn left following the signs to Packer Lake on Packer Lake Rd. The parking is just past Packer Lake on the right side of the road; the trailhead is on the left side of the road. You’ll see a sign for Tamarack Lakes. It starts as a jeep road for the first mile to Tamarack Lakes. At the lake follow the sign for the look out. In 0.25-mile come to an unsigned 4-way junction, go uphill and straight. Keep going uphill until you reach a “T” junction for the PCT. Turn left and follow the signs to the lookout. We recommend picking up the map “Lakes Basin Sierra Buttes Recreation Guide” put out by the Forest Service (Bassets Station sometimes has them). Dog-friendly!