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Lakes Basin Loop

Plumas National Forest

Plumas National Forest Links:

September 23rd, 2000

3.3 miles
535 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:00

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


Jean and I parked at the Long Lakes trailhead, where the lot was almost full with about a dozen cars. Facing west, there are two trailheads from the parking area -- one heading to the right toward Silver and Long Lake, and one toward the left toward Cub Lake. We were going to do a loop, so we had our pick of the two. Noting that the Cub Lake route has more lakes, I figured we'd save that for last.

It was 3:30pm by the time we started off toward Long Lake. The trail starts climbing immediately. It's not very steep, but since this was our first day at altitude (a modest 6500 feet), we had to huff and puff a bit to get up. The hiking book I had said the loop would be 5.6 miles, but looking at the Gold Lake USGS map, it looked like a lot less. So I wasn't really worried. Perhaps the book (California Hiking) was including a side trip to Round Lake. Even so, it wouldn't be 5.6 miles.

Long Lake

After three quarters of a mile, we reached a trail intersection. The trails are well-signed at all intersections, including mileage. We took the spur trail to the right; a quarter mile later, we reached beautiful Long Lake. This is by far the largest of the lakes on the loop. The lake sits at 6555 feet, backed by 7818 foot high Mt. Elwell rising from its northwest shore. To our right was a couple checking out the small boat dock. There are a half dozen small fishing boats scattered around. Must take a fair amount of work to carry them to the lake, as I don't believe there are any roads to the lake.

Mount Elwell over Long Lake

We enjoyed the late afternoon sun and the peaceful lake. Soon we had the whole lake to ourselves, though we could hear voices just over the southwestern ridge. We would run into a few people a bit later, but for the most part it was a quiet hike with few people and we hiked the last mile or two in solitude.

Jean skipping rocks on Long Lake

Jean skipping rocks on Long Lake

One of the nice features of the lake is that its shores are full of small rocks perfect for skipping. We spent a good 10 or 15 minutes skipping rocks before heading back to the trail intersection. From there, we continued south for a quarter mile to another trail intersection. Turning right, we took the spur trail to Silver Lake. The trail continues on past the lake and loops around behind Long Lake up to the top of Mt. Elwell. We'll have to save that for another day. Instead, we glanced at Silver Lake, which is tiny compared to Long Lake, and quickly scrambled back the way we came after spying thousands of tiny bugs glistening in the sun, swarming around the trees.

Mount Elwell over Long Lake

Bugs at Silver Lake

Our trip now consisted of going a quarter to a half mile between lakes on the way back to the trailhead. First up, there was Cub Lake. The sun was at just the right angle now such that the reflections in the lake were almost perfect. The lake is very small, but it has a lot of what I would consider character. The kind of character that makes you feel at ease standing on its shore, away from civilization, looking at the beautiful reflections of the trees in the late afternoon Sierra sun.

Cub Lake

Eventually we moved on to Little Bear Lake, which is just as nice. Finally, there was Big Bear Lake, bigger than all the rest except for Long Lake. We caught the last rays of the sun shining on the trees here. Tiny waves rippled in the setting sun like fish (the lake is stocked with rainbow trout).

Cub Lake

Big Bear Lake

Soon the sun set and we made our way down the trail and back to the now-empty parking lot. It's no wonder they call this the Lakes Basin. One downside (or upside, depending on your point of view) is that camping is not allowed in the areas closest to the trailhead. This beckons for a backpacking trip further in, and a trip to the top of Mount Elwell to view all these sparkling jewels.


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