Nestled in the heart of Plumas County, near the charming town of Quincy, California, the Bucks Lake Wilderness beckons adventurers to immerse themselves in a realm of unspoiled beauty. With a landscape as diverse as it is awe-inspiring, this wilderness area is an homage to both its historic legacy and the conservation efforts that have shaped its existence.
This past August, we made our first visit to this corner of the Sierra. Bucks Lake has long been circled on my bucket list, but for whatever circumstance occurred each time I traveled by its route, I passed it by, thinking the journey was too hard for that present day. But on this day, I prioritized it as we left our favorite little B&B lodge in Chester, Ca. St Bernard Lodge. Turning off Hwy 89 in Quincy and heading West I quickly became surprised as I found a well-maintained highway leaving Quincy for the 17-mile scenic route to Buck Lake. I had always assumed on my map that a Plumas National Forest dirt road led to the lodge and wilderness areas.
An enjoyable drive with some history behind it, it culminates in a very steep grade climb and drops into Bucks Lake with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crossing the highway at the high point.
Bucks Lake wilderness is located along the southern shores of Bucks Lake, this enchanting region may be compact in size, but it offers a captivating tapestry of natural wonders. Here, you’ll encounter a diverse array of plant life, including brush fields, towering conifers, stately oaks, and pristine stands of red fir. The terrain is equally varied, featuring rugged rocky slopes, dramatic cliffs, quaking bogs, and charming alpine meadows. Elevations span a wide range, from approximately 2,000 feet in the Feather River Canyon to the majestic 7,017-foot summit of Spanish Peak.
A dramatic geological escarpment stretches across the landscape, dividing the higher elevations from the lower ones. Along this escarpment, you’ll find the renowned Pacific Crest Trail, tracing its path for roughly 13 miles. This unique vantage point offers occasional breathtaking vistas to the east and north, revealing the untamed beauty of the region. Scattered throughout the area, hidden gems in the form of serene lakes and ponds can be discovered, especially near the base of the escarpment.
The Bucks Lake Wilderness Story
The 23,578 acre Wilderness protects a rich diversity of habitats near the Northern end of the Sierra Nevada. Sometimes lovingly referred to as Bucks Lake “Wilburness” because one man’s efforts stood out in the passionate pursuit of saving this wonderful area. Wilbur Vaughan and his family have a long history in the Bucks Lake region. The family spent summers camping in the range as early as 1917. Throughout his life he enjoyed many seasons of recreating in Bucks Lake and the surrounding countryside.
It was Vaughan who started the Friends of Plumas Wilderness in 1970. The Friends of Plumas Wilderness, a group of dedicated conservationists, played a pivotal role in shaping the Bucks Lake Wilderness as we know it today. Through advocacy, preservation efforts, and collaboration with local communities, they ensured the protection of this natural haven for generations to come. The result is a testament to their passion, a sanctuary where nature thrives and history echoes in the rustle of leaves.
A notable aspect of Bucks Lake Wilderness is its integral relationship with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). As the PCT winds through this captivating region, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts find themselves entering a crossroads of breathtaking natural wonders. The PCT serves as a gateway to the heart of the wilderness, offering a pathway to explore the rugged terrain, immerse oneself in the serenity of mountain lakes, and be surrounded by the splendor of untamed landscapes. This synergy between the PCT and Bucks Lake Wilderness allows hikers to embark on an odyssey of discovery, where each step unveils a new facet of the Sierra Nevada’s allure.
Bucks Lake Lodge
Adding to the allure is the iconic Bucks Lake Lodge, a historic haven that has welcomed visitors since the early 1920s. Nestled on the shores of Bucks Lake, this lodge captures the essence of rustic elegance. It offers a unique opportunity to experience the wilderness without sacrificing comfort. Whether savoring gourmet meals or unwinding in cozy cabins, the lodge provides an intimate connection to nature while pampering guests with modern amenities. Unfortunately, the winter of 2023 did significant damage to the lodge and repairs will be needed before it opens again to the public.
Quincy, California: A Hub for Outdoor Adventures
Quincy, California, nestled in the heart of the picturesque Plumas County, is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains and crisscrossed by the meandering Feather River, Quincy offers a myriad of outdoor lifestyle options for visitors. Hiking enthusiasts can explore an extensive network of trails, from leisurely walks through lush forests to challenging backcountry treks with panoramic vistas. The area boasts several pristine lakes and rivers, perfect for fishing, kayaking, or simply lounging by the water’s edge. In the winter months, the region transforms into a snow sports wonderland, with opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Quincy’s charming downtown, with its historic buildings and friendly locals, provides a cozy base camp for adventurers, offering a taste of small-town hospitality amidst the vast wilderness. Whether you seek tranquility in nature or an adrenaline rush, Quincy is a captivating destination for those eager to embrace the great outdoors.
Bucks Lake and Wilderness proximity to Quincy, California, provides practical convenience for adventurers seeking supplies, making it an ideal starting point for explorations. From leisurely hikes along meandering trails to challenging treks that lead to panoramic vistas, Bucks Lake Wilderness caters to all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.
Bucks Lake Wilderness Trails and Backpacking Destinations
There are 131 miles of trails on the Mt. Hough Ranger District in Plumas National Forest. Two-thirds are within the Bucks Lake Wilderness area.
Recreation areas with activity Day Hiking:
- Bucks Lake Wilderness Trails
- Gold Lake Trail – This trail leads to Gold Lake, a crystal clear lake within a majestic granite basin. The lake lies on the eastern side of the Bucks Lake Wilderness. The lake provides a lovely spot for swimming or picnicking. The hike to Gold Lake climbs through granite steps and walkways, and provides wonderful views of Jack’s Meadow below. There are some wilderness campsites. 1.5 mile long trail from the silver lake campground trailhead.
- Granite Gap Trail – The Granite Gap Trail connects the Gold Lake Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail climb up through granite steps and accesses Mud Lake and Rock Lake on its way to the PCT. As you climb, there are beautiful views looking back over Silver Lake and Gold Lake. There are a few wilderness campsites at Mud Lake and Rock Lake. Please Leave No Trace of your presence in the wilderness. .9 miles in length
- Mill Creek Trail -There are three trailheads for the Mill Creek Trail. One is located approximately 1/2 mile west of Whitehorse Campground off Bucks Lake Road. From here, the trail follows the northeast shore of Bucks Lake. This stretch of the trail is a great place to find a swimming spot, and is also a wonderful place to see wildflowers in June and July. The second trailhead is at Mill Creek Campground. (There is limited parking here.) From here, you can parallel Bucks Lake to the east, or hike uphill into the wilderness along the banks of Mill Creek. There are several waterfalls along this stretch. The third trailhead is just north of Chuck’s Rock along the 24N33 Road. From this trailhead, you can hike north into the Bucks Lake Wilderness to meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. 11 miles in total length on this trail. Out and back, Easy trail conditions
- Right Hand Branch Trail– The Right Hand Branch Trail begins at a junction along the Mill Creek Trail, 2.5 miles west of the Mill Creek Trailhead along Bucks Lake Road. This trail climbs up along the Right Hand Branch of Mill Creek and connects to the PCT along the crest of the Bucks Lake Wilderness. There are lovely meadows near the top and lots of nice places to stop for lunch along the creek. 6 miles total Moderate terrain
- Three Lakes PCT Tie – This short connector trail ties the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to Three Lakes. These three lakes lie on the edge of the Bucks Lake Wilderness and provide a beautiful place for primitive camping or picnicking. It is an easy 1/2 mile hike from the PCT to the lakes.
- Three Lakes Trail -The trailhead is located at Lower Three Lakes and the trail follows the shoreline of all three lakes. The trail lies mostly within the Bucks Lake Wilderness and offers views of the lakes and plenty of solitude. Primitive camping is available.
Recreation areas with activity Backpacking:
- Bucks Lake Wilderness Trails
- Gold Lake Trail
- Granite Gap Trail
- Mill Creek Trail
- Three Lakes PCT Tie
- Three Lakes Trail
Wilderness permits are not required to enter the wilderness, but we do ask you to sign in at each trailhead you are hiking.
Campfire permits are requires when campfires are permitted.
As you step into Bucks Lake Wilderness, you’re stepping into a living legacy, a tribute to pioneers, preservationists, and the harmonious coexistence of nature and humanity. It’s a canvas where history, conservation, and adventure intertwine, inviting you to create your own narrative within the tapestry of this wild wonderland.