After scoring our fire tower lookout overnight in January (remember, sleeping in a fire tower in California requires much of the planning ahead), I continued my research and found a hike that ended with a fire tower AND had a couple of campsites located not too far from the trailhead. We quickly added on another night of camping at Salmon Creek Campground, and I think this pairing turned into one of our most serendipitous combinations of the whole trip.
Salmon Creek Campground is part of Tahoe National Forest, located in the Lakes Basin Recreational Area. I had never been here before, but it’s definitely worth checking out. The campgrounds were spacious and the addition of Salmon Creek running alongside the campground created pleasure for the ear as well as a good place for the kiddos to splash around. If you decide to go to Salmon Creek, best campsites are probably #33 and #6 for privacy and backing up to the creek. Google map it, though– I didn’t and we ended up at a perfectly serviceable campsite that was also closest to Gold Lake Highway, which is not what I would have chosen.
Anyway, after a relatively chilly night (we forgot sleeping bags- not our finest camping moment), we headed up to the Sierra Buttes trailhead. For directions, we followed this blog, and they were perfectly serviceable.
This hike is spectacular but pretty tough. It’s definitely not for just-on-their-own-feet hikers, and if you have hikers who are prone to collapsing in whining when there is some uphill, be forewarned– it’s ALL uphill to the fire tower. That said, because there is a clear goal (the fire tower!) that can be seen from much of the trail, much motivation was gained for our smallest hiker (just 5 years old). Bring many snacks.
When you finally get to the fire tower, there are a series of sweaty-palm-inducing stairs that caused me to send the children up with Mr. Bay Area Families Outside. However, we still had delightful views from the top, and a beautiful hike down. On the way down, the trail joins up with the Pacific Crest Trail briefly, and we got to meet these two delightful hikers, on their way north. This is another great aspect to this trail– it led to some good conversations with the kiddos about how long the PCT is, and where the hikers were from (Australia & New Zealand). I’d really like to go back with some trail angel supplies, maybe hang out and feed people at the trailhead for a while.
In all, this is a hike worth making time for, and the Lakes Basin seems worth exploring further. There are a number of campgrounds and various lakes, offering plenty of hiking and lake swimming. The hike and campground are both dog-friendly (but bring water, because there’s not so much water on the hike), but your pooch might not want to climb the stairs (ours most definitely didn’t).
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