The Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout is a must see if you are in the Gold Highway area just out of Graeagle California. Several weeks ago I rode the Mills Peak Lookout Trail and fell in love with the area. After my ride on Mills Peak, I was reliving the experience on the Internet looking at other pictures of it on Google and I found pictures of the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout. I could not get the images out of my head and decided to go there as soon as possible.
They say pictures tell a thousand words but not with this landmark. A picture only diminishes the magnitude of this amazing geological feature. We accessed the area from the Gold Lake Highway just out of Graeagle Ca, and this would arguably be the best way to get a first look at the Sierra Buttes. The Gold Lake Highway climbs steadily from Highway 89 until it crests just after Gold Lake Boat Launch turn, the Sierra Buttes dramatically come into view at this point. A first impression would probably be it is impossible to get on top, but it is accessible from the backside. Five miles roundtrip and 1600 feet of ascent will bag this jewel from the trailhead.
We started the journey at the Packers Saddle staging area, the beginning of the Downieville Downhill. A quick run downhill and we were at the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout Trailhead. About 100 feet into the trail and the climb begins at a steep but rideable pitch that yields to a rideable ridgeline traverse. Before the final ascent, at the end of the traverse, there is a great vista point to view the Sardine Lakes as well as the backside of Sierra Buttes with the lookout.
The next part of the trail is steep, rocky, and difficult to climb on a bike for any length. Hike a bike takes the stage here until the single track hits the steep OHV trail that goes to the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout. A look down the OHV Trail may provide a view of parked cars, proving there is an easier way to get to the top. We did not come for easy we came for the adventure.
The climb up the OHV Trail is pretty short and rideable for the most part and comes in right at the base of a crazy set of stairs that climb to the Lookout. The stairs are steep and it is hard to believe five men built them. Once on the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout, the 360-degree view is awesome, but the 300-foot vertical view down on one side provides its own measure of awe.
We did not bring the bikes all this way for nothing and it was time to start the descent. Seatposts dropped as far as possible is the recipe for this run, especially on the first section of trail just off of the OHV Trail. We must have met 30 hikers on their way up so we had to yield the trail, everyone was nice and we had some conversation with most of them.
Once we accomplished the steep technical descent it was time to cruise the ridgeline and the steep to the parking lot. This section of trail is fast so it is over before you know it, and the little climb up to Packers Saddle starts. What a climb, what a ride, Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout is definitely an item for the bucket list of high places.
Route: Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout
Distance: 5.04 miles