In May of last year we visited Graeagle, California, in the northern Sierra Mountains courtesy of the Eastern Plumas County Chamber of Commerce. This year, because we were going to the Sierra for the Death Ride, we thought we'd make a detour and come back for more adventures. This area, also known as the Lost Sierra, offers amazing scenery that includes the Sierra Buttes and national forests, lakes and rivers. It's a place to go and relax or be as active as we want. We chose to be active this time.
Graeagle is surrounded by the Plumas National Forest, the Tahoe National Forest, and Plumas Eureka State Park. A river runs through the area, as well: The Feather River (one of the first nationally designated wild and scenic rivers). There are a wealth of activities year-around: winter sports like downhill and cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Then there is hiking, biking, camping, fishing, rafting, and golfing the rest of the year.
Although tiny, Graeagle has pretty much anything you need: a small general store, restaurants, a well-stocked bike shop, places to get a good cup of coffee, lodging and myriad campsites. While there, we stayed at the River Pines Resort, on Highway 89, the main road through town. We also found that the nearby towns of Clio and Blairsden are wonders of interesting experiences in food and drink, but more about that later.
Here are six reasons to get away for an active vacation in the Lost Sierra.
Road Bike Riding
If you like riding organized events, the summer has the July 4 Patriot 16 Ride that starts off from Howling Dogs Bike & Ski in town. There are also long distance rides such as the Graeagle Century, that takes riders up to the Lakes Basin Recreation Area along the Gold Lakes Highway, up Yuba Pass and back to Graeagle via Sierra Valley and Mohawk Valley.
Since we weren't there during any organized rides, we took our road bikes out and made little loops on the roads around Graeagle, visiting the nearby towns of Blairsden and Clio and venturing toward Plumas Eureka State Park.
A favorite local ride is out Gold Lakes Highway into the Lakes Basin Recreation Area, a very scenic road ride with one of the most iconic features of the Lost Sierra, the Sierra Buttes.
The Lost Sierra also hosts organized mountain bike and trail riding events: The annual Lost Sierra Triple Crown, a series of three off-road events: The Lost & Found Gravel Grinder, which takes place in June; the Downieville Classic on August 6; and Grinduro, a gravel road race combined with a mountain bike-style enduro that takes place on Oct. 8.
For the DIY mountain biker, the trail riding is pretty great as well. One of the more popular mountain bike rides in the area is along the Mills Peak Lookout Trail. This ride is on a mostly singletrack trail, about 8.5 miles, out and back. The trail winds through the pine trees and connects with a few logging roads on the way to Mills Peak at 7,300 feet.
To get to the trailhead from Graeagle, take Highway 89 south to Gold Lake Highway and turn right. Go 1.2 miles and turn left at a sign for Mills Peak. At about a half-mile, there is a dirt pullout where you can park. Not feeling like doing the uphill required? Drive up Gold Lake Highway to Church Meadow Road and onto Mills Peak Rd. to the lookout and ride the exhilarating downhill back to Gold Lake Highway.
Need other suggestions about trail riding in the area? The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship is an excellent resource.
For other suggestions for both road bike and mountain bike routes and trails in the area, Howling Dogs Bike & Ski is the place to learn more. Howling Dogs' owners, Phil and Kimberly Kaznowski, are bike riders and have lived in the area for years.
The Lost Sierra is surrounded by national forest and state park land so there is no shortage of trails nearby for hikers of all levels of experience.
Because I like to visit waterfalls, we took a couple of hours to do a short, but steep hike up a rocky trail to view the Little Jamison Falls in Plumas Eureka State Park.
The park butts up to Plumas National Forest and the trails will take you there and to Lakes Basin Recreation Area as well.
Plumas Eureka is located a mere 6 miles from Graeagle’s three block-long downtown, just off Graeagle-Johnsville Rd.
The Middle Fork of the Feather River is suitable for beginners who want to try their hand at canoeing. You can access to the water in Clio, about three miles from Graeagle off Highway 89. In July, the Middle Fork of the Feather River runs very low.
For still water canoeing or kayaking, nothing beats Gold Lake in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. The area is a short distance south of Graeagle on the Gold Lakes Highway off of Highway 89.
There is free camping at the Gold Lake 4×4 campground, which requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. The campground has tables and fire rings in most of the sites and pit toilets nearby. Campsites are on a first come, first served basis. If you don’t have a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, there is Gold Lake Campground near the entrance to Gold Lake. The fee to camp is $10 per night.
We're not golfers, so can’t really say too much about these courses. The Graeagle area has several to choose from, so here is a sampler of what's available:
Nakoma Golf Resort sports an 18 hole championship course on a hilltop that overlooks the Sierra Buttes.
Grizzly Ranch Golf Club was rated as the Sierra Nevada's primero public course. It also offers duffers an 18 hole championship golf course designed by Bob Cupp.
Plumas Pines Golf Resort boasts being rated the one of the top four best greens in the Sierra Nevada.
Eats & Drinks
Obviously, for all these activities you have to fuel up. Here is our bonus reason to visit: For the unique dining and drinking experiences. A word of caution, however:
The Lost Sierra is popular, particularly during the summer months and more particularly on weekends. Because we were there starting on a Tuesday, we found that several of the restaurants are closed Mondays and/or Tuesdays, and because of this, the restaurants that are open on those days need reservations for dinner. If you're not camping and hauling your own food, be forewarned!
Here is the short list of places we were able to visit on our two trips to Graeagle:
Graeagle Restaurant. Good, diner-style breakfasts with the standard American fare: eggs, omelettes, pancakes, toast, coffee, bacon and/or sausage. Open 7 a.m.-2 p.m., 7 days a week. 7430 Highway 89, Graeagle. (530) 836-2393
Food + Drink. As of this writing, this establishment had been open about two months and offers tacos and Liege waffles for breakfast and gourmet pizzas for lunch. The dough for the tacos, pizzas and waffles is made from scratch each day. You can get the food to go. Open Thursday - Monday for breakfast, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.; for lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The owner hasn't decided whether he will keep Food + Drink open year-around or not. 250A Bonta St., Blairsden. firstname.lastname@example.org
Food On the Go
Bread and Butter. Not exactly a food truck, more like a food trailer, Bread and Butter's offerings range from the healthy and delicious Quinoa and Kale Salad to the other end of the spectrum, the delicious Trailer Trash Burger and HotDawgs. The portions are BIG, and the sandwiches like the pulled pork, could easily feed two people. There are picnic tables and Adirondack chairs or you can take your food to go. Open Wednesday-Monday, 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. 21 Bonta St., Blairsden.
The Village Baker. A few doors down the street from Bread and Butter and Food + Drink, this bakery has freshly baked breads, bear claws and Danishes along with coffee to go, or sit at the spacious tables and socialize with the locals. Open beginning at 7 a.m. 340 Bonta St., Blairsden. (530) 836-4064
Coyote Bar & Grille. Attached to the River Pines Resort, this eatery offers decent Mexican food, steaks, pastas, fish dishes, hearty salads and stocks a full bar. We’ve had good service, but have heard it can be iffy at times. Also open for dinner. Open Monday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. 8296 Highway 89, Graeagle. (530) 836-2002
The Blackbird Inn. We're always open to suggestions from locals, so when Phil Kaznowski, Howling Dogs Bike & Ski's owner, said that we might want to visit this place for dinner, we made reservations. As it turned out, the reservations weren't necessary, and we enjoyed a simple caprese pizza with a local green salad with edible flowers and a honey-lemon vinaigrette. The Blackbird Inn has guest rooms for overnight accommodations upstairs from the restaurant and its patio is dog-friendly. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 276 Lower Main St., Clio. (530) 836-7325
FLoW Bar & Lounge, Nakoma Golf Resort. On our first trip to the area, we were hosted for an exquisite dinner in this restaurant. The menu changes frequently but currently has leg of duck confit, wild mushroom meatloaf, filet mignon among several other entrees. The staff will recommend wine pairings with the meal and the atmosphere is enhanced by the beautiful views of the surrounding forests with the golf course in the foreground. It is a place to go for a truly special meal. Open daily, breakfast, 7-11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.-5 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Brunch on Sunday, 7 a.m.-noon. 348 Bear Run, Clio. (877) 462-5662
The Brewing Lair of the Lost Sierra. This is as chill as it gets, folks. Craft beers that change occasionally, light food (chips & dips, salami for slicing, cheese) and an atmosphere unlike any other taproom you’ve visited. Set among the trees of the Plumas National Forest, the Brewing Lair is all outdoors, with comfortable Adirondack chairs just meant for relaxing with the latest offering, hula hoops for kids (or adults who play like kids), corn hole, and disc golf. Dogs are allowed on the patio and lawn. Open noon- 8 p.m. 67007 Highway 70, Blairsden. (530) 394-0940
Graeagle Outpost & Yacht Club. Gourmet coffee, mochas, chai tea, hot chocolate, frozen coffee drinks. The Outpost also serves hotdogs, nachos, soft serve ice cream. Because of its location, they rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboats and inner tubes that you can take out on the adjacent Graeagle Mill Pond. Open daily, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. 7358 Highway 89, Graeagle. (530) 836-2414