Backpacking Bucks Lake Wilderness

Man, this post is SO overdue! Earlier this summer the husband and I were looking for a new place to explore over the 4th of July weekend. Wanting to find a place that wasn’t going to be overly crowded over the holiday weekend, we settled on a portion of the far-northern Sierra; Bucks Lake Wilderness. A part of the Plumas National Forest, the Wilderness sits about 2 hours north-east of Chico, CA.

We set out late in the morning on July 4 (after I ran the annual Independence Day 5K). Driving south of Chico and north-east of Oroville on the Oro-Quincy Highway, we quickly climbed into the mountains and arrived at the Bucks Summit Trailhead, where we found ample parking.


Contemplating the trail ahead.

We began the climb up the Bucks Summit Trail (also a part of the Pacific Crest Trail) at about noon. Our plan was to hike up to Spanish Peak, about 4 miles up the trail and stop for lunch. The trail was beautiful with tons of wildflowers (surprising, being that it was already so late in the season) lining both sides and big views of the surrounding mountains.

up, up, up, we go.

up, up, up, we go.

The majority of the portion of the trail was pretty exposed, and the mid-day sun relentlessly beat down on us for the majority of the first 4 miles. Even though we were up at about 5,500 ft. of elevation, it was in the high 80s or low 90s that day. We slowly made our way up the almost 1,500 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to Spanish Peak, hiking slowly and stopping often to catch our breath, drink water, and eat snacks. At about 3:00pm we made it up to a spur trail that leads to Spanish Peak. We took the short detour and emerged on the site of an old fire lookout. We stopped to have a leisurely lunch, sign the peak register, and take in the views.


Frolicking on top of Spanish Peak.


Signing the Spanish Peak registry.

view from sp

The views from atop Spanish Peak.

After about an hour, and realizing we still had a few miles to go until we got to our planned campsite for the night, we reluctantly headed back to the Bucks Summit Trail.

From the junction with the spur trail to Spanish Peak, Bucks Summit Trail continues through a shaded forest. After about 1 mile on Bucks Summit Trail, we hit the spur trail for Granite Gap. Oh, and granite it was! We emerged from the forested trail to an area that resembled the High Sierra. We descended a couple of hundred feet down granite slabs to our destination for the night, Rock Lake. The picturesque granite lake made a great base for the night and we were delighted to see that we had the entire lake to ourselves. After setting up camp in an already established site (leave no trace ethics!) we spent the rest of the day fishing, lounging near the lake, and scrambling up and exploring the granite slabs above the lake.

nick rock lake

rock lake

The next morning, we got up early and watched the alpenglow on the mountains while we made breakfast. We considered staying at Rock Lake for another night, but decided we should stick to our planned itinerary and head down to Bucks Lake. After packing up our camp we headed back up the Granite Gap trail to the PCT. We had to backtrack a bit to reach the Right Hand Branch Trail that heads down to Bucks Lake. A few minutes before we reached this junction, the husband stopped in his tracks and called me over to where he was standing. Right next to his foot was a very clear set of bear paw tracks! They were clearly fresh as no foot prints had covered or disturbed them yet. Very cool!


Look closely…

Soon, we reached the junction to the Right Hand Branch Trail, and almost missed it as it wasn’t well signed! We hiked downhill along the mostly forested trail, passing through small meadows here and there.

trail skiing

Trail skiing for entertainment.

furry trees

The trail follows a branch of Mill Creek and though we didn’t see the creek for several miles, we heard it the majority of the time. After almost 5 miles, we hit the junction to the Bucks Creek Trail, crossed over Mill Creek, and emerged onto Bucks Lake.


The wilderness boundary ends right above the lakeshore of Bucks Lake, and dispersed camping is not allowed along the lakeshore. There are, however, established campsites available along the shore on a first-come, first-served basis. Several of the sites were already occupied by boaters but we didn’t have any problem finding a suitable site for the night. We ended up arriving at Bucks Lake at mid-day and spent the rest of the day lounging, fishing, reading, and watching the sunset over the lake. Two perfect lakeside camps can’t be beat!

bucks lake

The next morning, knowing that we had a long drive back to Sonoma County, we packed up camp before 6am and headed out on Bucks Creek Trail. The trail intermittently followed the lakeshore and while passing next to a nice rocky portion of the lakeshore, the husband announced that he wanted to take a short break to get in some last minute fishing. Needing my caffeine fix, I happily obliged and took the opportunity to brew up some coffee, lakeside.

lakeside fishing

Early morning fishing on Bucks Lake.

About an hour later, and having had no success fishing, we threw our packs back on and continued on the trail. In no time, we were at the Bucks Creek Trailhead. We crossed the main road and found the continuation of the trail. We continued on, passing through Whitehorse Campground and emerged back onto the main road and down a little ways from where we had parked our car. We road walked the last few minutes and made it back to the car by 10 am.

All in all, this was the perfect holiday weekend getaway. During our whole time on the trail we saw very few people (the majority were at Bucks Lake itself, a popular recreational lake) and were able to enjoy many of the sights and sounds of Bucks Lake Wilderness in solitude.


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