Gold Lake California

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Hike-in only Gold Lake, Bucks Lake Wilderness.

California has more than one Gold Lake!

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Gold Lake, CA

(Sierra Co)
6409′ elev.

The biggest Gold Lake, California is the well-known one, along the Gold Lake Highway in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Plumas meets Tahoe National Forest. North of Gold Country Hwy 49, Downieville & the Yuba River. Right where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic lava rock of NorCal.

Packer Lake

Lakes Wilderness Map

Impressive jagged spires known as The Sierra Buttes (8591′) tower above the stunning lake scenery. This big Gold Lake is surrounded by a dozen smaller alpine lakes which make up the popular region called Lakes Basin. Easy access paved highway, which closes in winter for deep snow and winter recreation. The Gold Lake Highway is also referred to as Plumas County Road #S620

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the sierra buttes

Sardine Peak Fire Lookout lodgeranger rentals
NFS fire tower – overnight rental overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country CaliforniaUSFS

LAKES BASIN RECREATION AREA:
Cabins, camping, lake fishing, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, snow-mobiling.

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California Lakes

mini gold lake

 

Mini Gold Lake

(Plumas Co)
6000′ elev.

Another smaller Gold Lake exist on the granite slopes in Bucks Lake Wilderness – E of Oroville & W of Quincy, CA.

gold lake trailheadThis hidden gem is a hike-in only lake – and well worth the effort. A somewhat short hike, great ridge line views to the east, although the last half mile of this route is a doozie (moderately strenuous).

The main trailhead departs from Silver Lake and climbs a ridge line that heads over to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). An off-shoot trail goes another mile to the miniature Gold Lake, a granite bowl of sheer beauty. A great day hike for those wishing to see the backcountry. Pack your picnic lunch, camera, and make a whole darn day of it!

Swimming & skinning dipping seem quite natural at this alpine lake, since it is a pretty remote location (without a lot of visitors) and there is absolutely no swimming allowed at neighboring Silver Lake.

bucks trailhead

The steep, overgrown, rocky shoreline leads one to bush whack through old trails, only to be met by a rock slide. Many dead ends and obstacles to climb around, or over. Some way… maybe, or maybe not!

Boulder and rock scrambling is the key phrase to remember, once you reach this lake. Knees may be sore from climbing, up and over the boulder ledge surrounding the lake bowl.

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Bucks Lake Wilderness Map

A few primitive camp sites are scattered about on the edge of the lake for those backpacking in, but be warned – they can be very difficult to reach. Much more suitable campsites can be found scattered throughout the area.

Warning: there are no flat, lush meadows to lounge in up at the lake, so pick yourself a side route (on the walk in) to find real seclusion and privacy.

view to Quincy

This mile-long-ridge hiking trail to mini Gold Lake has some amazing views down to the east side – Jacks Meadow right below; then Meadow Valley & Quincy off in the distant hills. Plumas County from above.

jacks meadow

jacks meadow, way below

Sierra Nevada Lakes

High Sierra, California

hike-in only lakes

hike

Golden Bear Lake
(Tulare Co)
12,000′ elev

High Sierra – Kings Canyon National Park
Center Basin / Center Peak 12,760′
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA

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Golden Trout Lake
(Inyo Co)
11,500′ elev

Trail #3306 from Onion Valley Campground
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA

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onion valley trail views

Mineral King Camping

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Mineral King is a magnificent canyon in the southern portion of Sequoia National Park, east of  Visalia, CA. So magical indeed that Disney tried to purchase the rugged scenic lands for a wilderness ski theme park in 1960. Thankfully that project never happened, due to strong opposition from preservationists. Mineral King became part of Sequoia National Park in 1978.

Mineral King is the Great Western Divide, where high peaks separate the foothills from the taller Eastern Sierra range. Upper Kern River Canyon lies beneath as the main south drainage from the very tallest peak, Mount Whitney @ 14,494′

Mineral King Road is a paved off shoot from Highway 198, just to the east of the town of  Three Rivers, CA. The road is steep and curvy and 25 miles long. No gasoline at all. No RV motorhomes or trailers are permitted to travel this scenic and amazing back road. Certain portions of the road are dirt and usually graded, but most of the route is paved.  Snow closes the road in winter months – NOV-MAY.

We usually get less than a half year to enjoy this special place, so make plans in advance to fit this destination into your schedule JUNE-JULY-AUG-SEPT.

And do not even think of trying to cram spectacular Mineral King into an already packed Sequoia Park weekend trip. The Giant tree Sequoia groves, Hume Lake and Kings Canyon are over an hour north (hwy 198), to other side of the park.

If you have a full week to hang out in the Sequoia National Park area, then obviously Crystal Cave and Mineral King should be on the list, but keep in mind taht each destination will take a full day to drive to and explore.

Driving the distance on Mineral King Road, the wonders abound on every curve. Wildlife, waterfalls, water flowing and the dense forests.

Atwell Mill Campground is located at an old wood mill site and has a good hike to a footbridge at Kaweah River. There is a small cabin community called Silver City which caters to summer crowds and family campers. Only open during the warm season.

At the very end of Mineral King Road is the gravel parking. Step out into high elevation (7830′ above sea level), breathe deep and enjoy the granite bowl of alpine bliss with creeks, meadows, wildflowers, picnic spots, hiking trails and scenery everywhere. Mid day sunshine can be bright. Black bears and marmots are very common.

Cold Springs Campground is the last developed campground, located next to a raging creek. The hike-in sites are the best choice for seclusion at this camp.

South Fork Campground is the smallest of the campgrounds in this area; located in the foothills at 3600′ elevation, open all year. From Highway 198 (W of the town of Three Rivers), take South Fork Drive 13 paved miles to camp.

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mineral king backpacking

Mineral King is a favorite destination among backpackers as it gives instant access to many high country trailheads with mostly paved road driving. Located deep in the forest at end of a long road, near the center of the Sierra Nevada range gives ample hiking in every direction. The hikes are steep and challenging, but the rewards are solitude, true wildness and grandeur scenery. Although inviting, these steep passes might not be adequate for beginner backpackers, so please keep that in mind when planning. Fishing lakes, day hikes, horseback trails, waterfalls, creeks, and jagged mountain peaks.

From Mineral King you can access the these popular spots – PCT, the Great Western Divide, the Golden Trout Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon High Country, Keasarge Pass, John Muir Wilderness.

top maps for the region –

Balch Park

Balch Park / Sequoia Park

Balch Park Campground

BALCH PARK campground is on a first come basis; no campground reservations needed.

Balch Park open May to October
Park info # 559 539-3896

Hedrick Pond lined w/ Sequoia trees

Balch County Park is right in the middle of Mountain Home State Forest, which is within the bigger Sequoia National Forest (aka Giant Sequoia National Monument). But don’t let all the bureaucracy mislead you, this is an ideal park and location, well worth your trip. The campground is the most developed one within the area – with paved roads, RV spaces, flush toilets and a fee to go along with all that. Even gotta fishing pond.

  • Bears are a big deal in these neck of the woods. Please store all your food properly to avoid a un-welcomed visitor
  • A Sequoia Grove is nearby with plenty of creeks & meadows.
  • Trailers not recommended due to the long curvy road leading up the mountain.

Balch Park & Campground NOT TO BE CONFUSED with utility company residences of BALCH CAMP between Pine Flat & Blackrock Reservoirs


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Nearby cities & towns:

campground elev. spots veg toilet water fee
Balch Park
559-539-3896
6500′ 71 pines flush piped yes no reservations
first come basis

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