Summer at Lake Tahoe is stunning, but Big Blue can sure get crowded. Head just an hour north of Interstate 80 into Tahoe’s “backyard” and visit the alpine lakes, lodges, breweries, and bars of Plumas and Sierra Counties.
Sierra County includes the area around Sierraville, the towering Sierra Buttes, the former Gold Rush towns of Downieville and Sierra City, and the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Plumas County includes charming Graeagle, Quincy and Greenville and stretches up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. In the middle of both areas are lakes for kayaking and summer swimming, hundreds of hiking and mountain bike trails, uncrowded Forest Service campgrounds, and both rustic and luxurious lodges and restaurants.
Pet-Friendly Lodges and Island Barbecues
Various mountain and lakeside lodges dot the two counties, but for easy luxury try the pet-friendly new Chalet View Lodge, which includes a fishing pond with hammocks and a fire pit, a swimming pool, a lovely greenhouse, and the Eureka Peak Brewing tasting room. The Sardine Lake Lodge offers cabins with views of Lower Sardine Lake and the Sierra Buttes and the Salmon Lake Lodge (accessible only by boat, kayak, or a trail hike) rents out rustic wood cabins that overlook Upper Salmon Lake. Every Thursday through Labor Day the Lodge serves a barbecue dinner on one of the lake’s islands. Yum!
Sierra Brews and Dockside Bars
The Brewing Lair, a new brewery in the small town of Blairsden near Graeagle, creates batches of ales with clever names such as the sweet and hoppy Take a Hike India Red Ale and the amber Odd Job Ale. The Lair also has outdoor tables to enjoy a picnic and courts for a round of disc golf or corn-hole. The best bar in the entire area might be Poor George’s Playpen on the boat dock of the Sardine Lake Resort. Hovering over the surface of the lake, this tiny bar with no windows has incredible views of the nearby Sierra Buttes and nightly specials.
Hiking the Buttes and Biking the Stewardship
The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship has built, restored and maintained much of the hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails in the area. One of the most popular and picturesque is the 5-mile round trip hike along the Pacific Crest Trail to the lookout tower at the top of the Sierra Buttes. Several steel staircases take hikers up to over 8,500 feet with 360 degree views of the lakes basin, and on a clear day you might be able to see Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. Other great trails include the 7.5 mile Tamarack Lakes Trail and the 4.5 mile Long Lake Loop. If you mountain bike, you are in for a treat with the world-famous Downieville Downhill track which boasts 17 miles of downhill and a 5,000-foot vertical drop.
Kayaking in Alpine Heaven
Kayaking and paddleboarding the clear Tahoe waters can be beautiful, but those afternoon winds can also make it treacherous. The alpine lakes of the Lakes Basin Recreation Area are more protected and have easy launching beaches and rules. You don’t need a sticker to launch your boat or board — you just need to fill out a form that it is clean and free of any invasive mussels. Gold Lake is one of the largest in the area and surrounded by granite peaks, Upper Salmon has some great cliff jumping and a floating dock, and the tried-and-true Lower Sardine Lake is the place for some glorious sunset fishing beneath the Buttes.