Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout

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The hike to the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout is about 5 miles (out and back) with a climb of 1500 feet (or more if you start at a different trailhead).  It’s a pretty cool destination!  We went with a group of 14 people and even the non-hikers seemed to enjoy the lookout!  The top (at 8587-ft) provides views down to Upper/Lower Sardine Lakes, the surrounding Sierra Buttes and many miles of Tahoe National Forest.

Directions to Trailhead:  From Sierra City, head northeast on Highway 49 for about 5 miles.  Turn left on Gold Lake Highway.  After 1.3 miles, turn left again on Packer Lake Road.  Follow signs for Packer Lake, turning right at the split.  Shortly before reaching Packer Lake, turn left on Co Rte 621 (marked with a sign reading: Sierra Buttes).  Follow this road up a steep grade until you reach a wide junction with many parking spots (Packer Saddle).  Turn left on Butcher Ranch Road and follow it south for 0.6 more miles, ignoring the split to the right.  The trailhead has a wide dirt area for parking and is marked with trail signs for both the Sierra Buttes Lookout and the PCT.  Google Map link to trailhead.

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Trail Description:  I don’t have any entertaining stories or tales of woe from this hike.  All I can say is there was 14 of us humans plus one rockstar chihuahua.  There were some blisters, but everyone made it to the top.  Success!  I will let the photos do the rest of the talking:

The Downieville Classic (mountain bike race) had the trailhead more or less blocked off, so we hiked up the road from Packer Saddle.
The Downieville Classic (mountain bike race) had the trailhead more or less blocked off, so we hiked up the road from Packer Saddle.
Following the PCT for the first part of the hike.
Following the PCT for the first part of the hike.
At the beginning...
At the beginning…
Easy hiking along the ridge.  The lookout was visible from here (but it's too far to the left to be in this shot).
Easy hiking along the ridge. The lookout was visible from here (but it’s too far to the left to be in this shot).
This is where the PCT splits off from our trail.
This is where the PCT split off from our trail.
Getting closer to the top!
Getting closer to the top!
There it is!
There it is!
Only 100+ steps to the top.
Only 100+ more steps to the top.
Little climber!
Little climber!
And we made it!
And we made it!
Upper and Lower Sardine Lakes in the distance below us.
Upper and Lower Sardine Lakes in the distance below us.

In reading other trail logs/descriptions, I noticed that a few people have gotten a bit lost on this trail.  This route gets pretty crowded; if you’re totally lost, simply follow the people in front of you and hope that they are not southbound PCT hikers.  Otherwise, here is a very dry description of the hike:

  • From the trailhead on Butcher Ranch Road, hike uphill along either the PCT or the OHV road until you reach an obvious junction (0.5 miles in).  Turn right and hike along the PCT.  Do not take the left trail heading downhill.
  • At just over a mile from the trailhead, the PCT splits to the right.  Take the trail to the left, heading uphill along the ridge towards the lookout.
  • Less than a mile further, the trail joins back up with the OHV road.  Follow this wider road up the switchbacks to the top of the peak.
And heading back down...
And heading back down… time to go swim in Packer Lake!

3 thoughts on “Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout”

  1. On my 8X, I ran into three guys doing the PCT. They gave me a website name so I could follow their posts. I think one or some of them dropped out about Oregon, as by them it wasn’t fun anymore. I offered to give a ride into Reno, but couldn’t drop them back off where they left off. I’ve have treated them to steak and lobster or given them the op but they seemed to prefer tortillas with peanut butter, pretty dedicated hikers.

Any thoughts?