July 16, 2016
The plan: Lakes Basin Loop outside of Graeagle, Calif., starting at the Round Lake trailhead, connection with the Pacific Crest Trail and looping back via near Mud Lake/Long Lake. Approximately eight miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
After the Mt. Elwell hike that Shannon and I did back in June, I had been itching to get back up to the Plumas National Forest and the Lakes Basin area. This had been on the to-do list for this summer and there’s so much to do and so much to see here.
Shannon and I were sans kids for the day and we connected with our friends Krista and Heather to plan for the hike. More so, Moose connected with his buddy Puckett. Way out here in the heart of the golden west, two dogs named after baseball players for teams in the American League Central. Who would have thunk it?
We settled on the above route because it also provided the option to shortened it if necessary. I was coming off an illness earlier in the week and Krista was dealing with a knee sprain. With so many trails through the Lakes Basin, this hike gave us flexibility. And, as I realized after the fact, this web of trails is not at all about the destination as the journey gives and gives.
We parked at the trailhead near the Gold Lakes Lodge and set off, with the two mutts on leash initially, though we gave them space to run during the course of the hike. Depending on the route taken, this is essentially a loop hike. We stayed south at the fork shortly after the trailhead and began what would be a counter-clockwise loop through the lakes basin.
Big Bear Lake appears off to the right as the you work through the forested trail, passing a small pond before hitting a three-way junction roughly a mile or a little more from the trailhead. A right trails you directly to Round Lake. A left jaunts up the ridge and connects with the Pacific Crest Trail.
This junction marked decision time for us and we chose the shorter route, which meant Round Lake and staying off the ridge. The trail takes you past an old mill and mining site and eventually to the shores of Round Lake, where the dogs took advantage of the first of a number of opportunities for a swim.
From there, the loops takes you to Silver Lake and gets you close enough for a nice vista of Long Lake and Mt. Elwell beyond. It circles back around and treks to Cub Lake, Little Bear Lake and Big Bear Lake before working back to the trailhead.
Along the way on this July Saturday, traffic picked up as the hike went on, including two different groups of mountain bikes and several families. The Lakes Basin area may have been relatively new to me but this is clearly no secret.
When I do this again. I definitely will get up the ridgeline on the PCT. I can only imagine the view from up there with these stunning blue lakes set against the trees and granite. I want to get back up here for a hiking/camping weekend. I’ve only read a little on the topic, but it sounds like backpacking in this particular area is more so reserved to the PCT. But camping at Lakes Basin or Gold Lake seems like a nice jump-off to a number of hikes.
Gear: BREAKING: I remember the hiking sticks! Beyond that, very simple today – the low-top Columbia shoes, which are very much my go-to footwear, the Osprey day-pack.
Post-hike beer: Back to The Brewing Lair, where we met with friends who happened to be in the area. Mosaic Solo was still on tap, and was again enjoyed. A selection of Ambush IPA and Acclimation Sour was also well received.