Summer in the Sierras: Plumas County CA with kids

For the Pit Stops for Kids family, writing about summer vacations in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and in particular, Plumas and Sierra counties in California, is quite literally like writing about home. My husband and I both grew up in this alpine area, and love sharing it with other traveling families.

Plumas County is located one hour west of Reno, Nevada and 2.5 hours north of Sacramento, California. Past the foothills of the Gold Country, this summer playground offers alpine recreation in the form of hiking, lake and river swimming, fishing, golfing, and wildlife viewing. If you’re looking for expensive resorts and polished kids’ programs, look elsewhere. Plumas County is steeped in true wilderness: you’ll find rustic lodges, comfortable inns, ample camping, and gorgeous scenery (but the first Starbucks and the first stop light just went in the past few years).

We suggest families make Graeagle, California their home base, as this tiny town east of Quincy on Highway 89 is centrally located to the best hiking, fishing, and golfing. (Plus, it has a frostee freeze to die for on a hot summer day.) From there, explore the network of hiking trails and lakes in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area, go antiquing or hit award-winning links, schedule a horseback ride, or just float lazily in the town’s popular Mill Pond on an inflatable raft. Whatever you do, don’t plan to leave for at least a week!

Where to stay: This depends on the type of vacation you’re looking for. If you’re camping, expect only bare bones amenities (pit toilets and communal running water are the standard), a drawback that’s more than made up for by the total immersion in your wilderness surroundings. Our favorite campground is Lakes Basin, a short drive from Graeagle up Gold Lake Highway. If you’re looking for a motel, the River Pines Resort offers both motel rooms and weekly home rentals.

What to do: Where to start?!

Hiking and lakes: Families will love exploring all the beautiful alpine lakes this region offers. The gateway to our favorite lakes (connected by a network of hiking trails) starts from Lakes Basin Campground at the Lakes Basin Recreational Area (seven miles up Gold Lake Highway from Graeagle, follow signs). From there you’ll find trails ranging from easy to moderate to a variety of great swimming lakes. Pack a lunch and towels in a backpack and make an afternoon of it!

For lakes accessed by car, consider Sand Pond (five additional miles up Gold Lake Road near the intersection of Highway 40), where the shallow depths and sandy bottom are perfect for younger kids. A few miles away via surface road (follow signs from Gold Lake Road) lies Packer Lake, which boasts picnic sites, a swimming platform, and a lodge from which families can order lunch to go. (Order their milk shakes!)

Right in town, you’ll find the Mill Pond, a local swimming favorite surrounded by grass, quaint shops, and a snow-cone hut. Bring your inflatables and sunscreen!

Local history:

Twenty minutes away from Graeagle by car lies the historical gold mining town of Johnsville, CA (up the Graeagle/Johnsville Road). Tour the stamp mill and a period home at Plumas Eureka State Park, then learn about the area’s mining past at the museum.

If you have kids interested in trains, drive ten minutes from Graeagle up Highway 70 to Portola, where you’ll find the

Family fun: Graeagle is known for its golfing and fishing. Anyone in town can point you in the direction of the best courses, and the same goes for fishing holes. Our favorite places to drop a line with kids are the Feather River (near Portola) and the Yuba River (near Bassett’s Station on Highway 49).

Where to eat: For family fare, Gumba’s Pizza in nearby Blairsden CA can’t be beat. In summer, sit on the deck while the kids play air hockey in the game room. The Graeagle Frostee is also a hot spot in summer (plan for a line during the lunch rush), and a fun miniature golf course is located right next door. For a nice night out, try the dining room at Graeagle Lodge (20 minutes up Gold Lake Road).

Find more information on area lodges and campgrounds!

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. Patty Hubbert says:

    Amy, this couldn’t be more timely for us. We are planning a trip in September to go back country four wheelin’. Plumas county is where we have been looking and also along the Yuba and Feather Rivers. So all your ideas as well as the lodge recommendations are just perfect!

  2. Jeff Luke Titcomb says:

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