Discover the Lakes Basin

The Lakes Basin Recreation Area is filled with trails to hike and lakes to sit by.  You can visit the area for a week and find a new place to explore each day.  The trails are not difficult and the mileage between the lakes is very small, so in a day's walk you can visit several lakes.  One of the most frequented trails is the Bear Lakes Loop which passes by four lakes in about two miles.  Even the youngest member of your hiking party can enjoy this hike.  The most strenuous hike in the area entails hiking 1,500 feet to the top of Mt. Elwell, three miles from the campground to the summit. The view from the peak overlooks the lakes and, in the distance, you can see the Sierra Buttes, and sometimes, on very clear days, Mt. Lassen, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Tamalpais.  Visit the Lakes Basin and you will return year after year, never tiring of the beauty of this gem in the Sierra.

Mountains and Trails

Many mountains are waiting for you to discover and scale as you wander the trails of the Lakes Basin Area

Long Lake and Mt. Elwell in the late afternoon. No wind so the lake has a clear reflection of the mountain.

Mt. Elwell

Three hours from the Long Lake trailhead will get you to the top of this 7800 foot mountain. The view from the top gives you a panoramic view of the basin. The mountain had a lookout tower until the 1930's and pieces of it are still visible near the peak.

Sierra Buttes

You drive for about 20 minutes to get to the trailhead for this hike. It is a two and a half mile hike to the top at 8400 feet where an unmanned tower provides a spectacular viewing platform of the hidden lakes in this part of the Lakes Basin Recreation Area.

View of the jagged peak of the Sierra Buttes from the trail to Deer Lake.The rocky top of Haskell Peak with hikers and a tall cairn of rocks.

Haskell Peak

A two mile trail to the top of this peak takes you in and out of trees on a rocky path before you top out on this viewpoint. You look out on the Mohawk and Sierra Valleys below and to the Sierra Buttes to the west. You drive to this trailhead on a wooded unpaved road.

Eureka Peak

The trail for this mountain begins near the historic mining town of Johnsville, a half hour drive from the Lakes Basin. Two hours will take you past Eureka Lake, meandering through woods and open areas, until you break out on the peak's rocky top. You are rewarded with the view of the Sierra Buttes in the distance.

Eureka Peak in the distance. The mountain overlooks the town of Johnsville.


To protect the area from wildfires, manned lookouts were built on the mountain tops. One of the first was on Mt. Elwell at 7,818 feet in 1910. It lasted until 1932 when another station was constructed at Mills Peak, 7,311 feet, which had a better commanding view of the forests and valleys. The Sierra Buttes Lookout at 8,587 feet was built around 1915. It had a building with both living and observation space with a wooden walkway to the top.  In the 1960's it was replaced with a steel frame building and stairway that you see today. You can walk to the tops of each of these peaks and visit two of them, with Mills Peak still manned most of the summer. Mt. Elwell still has remnants of the former lookout's metal roof clinging to the boulders at the top, a small piece of the history of the Lakes Basin.

The Sierra Buttes has three sets of metal stairways before you get to the lookout.A lookout on top of Mt. Elwell in the 1920's was first manned by a woman ranger.
Sierra Buttes present day
Mt. Elwell 1920's

Photos courtesy of UCDavis Library and photo collection of Elwell Lakes Lodge

Elwell Lakes Lodge is operated under a Special Use Permit issued by the Plumas National Forest and is an equal opportunity recreation services provider