Pacific Southwest Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Lakes Basin Recreation Area
Forest: Plumas National Forest
District: Beckwourth Ranger District
Description: A network of over 30 miles of maintained trails branch out across several trailheads. The trails offer a variety of difficulty levels from the leisurely stroll to an adventurous challenge. The trail network encompasses many of the serene lakes, as well as wildflower meadows. A stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail can be easily reached from the trail system. Equestrians and mountain bikers may enjoy miles of riding on many of the trails.
Lakes Basin Camp has 23 sites, one group site, and is operated by a concessionaire. Sites are first come/first serve and also by reservation. Reservations can be made on-line on Reserve America or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Gold, Goose and Haven Lakes are designated fee campsites. Weather permitting; camping is available from June through November. Backpack camping is only allowed at Smith, Grass, Rock, Jamison and Wades Lakes. Supplies are available in nearby Graeagle.
Viewing Information: Along the Gold Lakes Road the bright pink flowers of mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi) stand out in sharp contrast to grey rock outcrops.
Lakes Basin Campground: The trailhead at the Lakes Basin Campground provides easy access to Grass Lake just 0.2 mile from the trailhead. In the wet peat soil at the edge of the lake buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) is usually in bloom throughout July. In the wet open areas around Grass Lake elephant’s heads (Pedicularis groenlandica) and bog asphodel (Narthecium californicum) are special attractions. Follow that trail toward Graeagle Creek and pass several small creeks where there are colorful wildflower displays throughout the summer. There are yellow monkey flowers (Mimulus guttatus), white bog orchids (Platanthera leucostachys), and blue monkshood (Aconitum columbianum). About 0.7 miles from the trailhead cross Graeagle Creek right above Halsey Falls. At this point one trail heads downstream to the north along the creek to Gray Eagle Lodge and another goes to Long Lake and Mt. Elwell. The trail toward Gray Eagle Lodge provides views of Fern Falls and riparian plants. The trail toward Mount Elwell leads to higher alpine plant communities punctuated by weathered Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), and several species of paint brush (Castilleja species) and buckwheat (Eriogonum species).
Smith Lake Trailhead: From the trailhead it is a moderately strenuous but short 1.1 mile hike to Smith Lake. Along the first 0.5 mile several species of penstemon (Penstemon species) create colorful displays of blue, bright pink and yellow flowers that grow beside and below flowering shrubs. Silk tassel bush (Garrya fremontii), huckleberry oak (Quercus vacciniifolia), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) and greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) create a dense cover of chaparral. The trail soon reaches Smith Creek in a shaded red fir (Abies magnifica var. magnifica) forest. Follow the trail along the creek to see a rich mixture of colorful flowers including: blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense), Bigelow’s sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii), ranger’s buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellatum), swamp onion (Allium validum), Scouler’s St. John’s wort (Hypericum scouleri), and western coneflower (Rudbeckia occidentalis). On the south side of the lake is a campground in a beautiful red fir forest that offers view of gnarled old sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana), Jeffrey pines and incense cedars (Calocedrus decurrens) on the rocky slopes across the lake to the north.
Information: The nearby office of the Beckwourth Ranger District has maps for sale and information on hiking, camping and other recreation opportunities in the area.
Directions: From Quincy, California, travel approximately 23 miles east on Highway 70/89 to Blairsden, California, where the two highways separate, turn right on highway 89. Continue on State Highway 89 through the town of Graeagle and turn right on the well-marked Gold Lakes Highway. For the Smith Lake Trailhead, continue southwest on Gold Lakes Highway for approximately 5 miles and turn right on the Gray Eagle Lodge Road (Forest Road 22N10). The trailhead and parking area will be on the right about 0.5 miles from Gold Lakes Highway. For the Lakes Basin Campground, continue on approximately 7 miles. The trailhead is on the west side of the campground and is marked with a trailhead sign.
Safety First: Always be prepared for rapid changes in the weather. In the summer months, days are typically hot and sunny so carry plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, Plumas National Forest, Beckwourth Ranger District, and Tahoe National Forest, Downieville Ranger District.
Closest Town: About 9 miles (25 minutes) from Graeagle and Blairsden, California.