Celebrating 50 years of the PCT
as a National Scenic Trail.

A new section of the Pacific Crest Trail is open in the Sierra Buttes, Calif.

I’m thrilled to announce that a new section of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Buttes, built over the last four summers, is now open. This 6.5-mile section of trail takes PCT hikers and horseback riders past beautiful lakes and it has great camping. Plus, it avoids a long-standing road walk and gets you further away from vehicle noises.

The new section of PCT in Sierra Buttes and Lakes Basin is fantastic. Photo by Conor Swift

The new section of PCT is fantastic. Photo by Conor Swift

I was out there walking the new trail yesterday and it really hit me how much of an accomplishment opening this segment is. For many of us who worked hard on this project, it’s an amazing feeling to officially be welcoming people to this new segment of trail. We did it!

Building this new section of PCT involved multiple years of pulling roots and rocks out of the ground. Photo by Clare Major.

Building this new section of PCT involved multiple years of pulling roots and rocks out of the ground. Photo by Clare “Bucket” Major

Opening the new PCT in the Sierra Buttes has been nearly a decade in the making

This project really started in the summer of 2008, not long after I began working for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Mike Dawson, PCTA’s director of trail operations, told me about this section of the PCT in the Tahoe National Forest. Yuba River Ranger District Public Services Staff Officer Joe Chavez, a passionate trails manager, had concerns about various user conflicts in the area—some legal and some illegal. Mike and I committed to spending time with Joe and other Tahoe National Forest staff to consider this section of trail and evaluate how to solve the problems. We spent two and a half days studying maps and conducting field work with the agency staff, and we all felt this section of trail warranted a deeper analysis.

You'll have the chance to visit Deer Lake and take in the grand view of the Sierra Buttes.

You’ll have the chance to visit Deer Lake and take in the grand view of the Sierra Buttes.

In 2009, the Tahoe National Forest and the PCTA began an Optimal Location Review (OLR) to take a careful look at a 16-mile stretch of the PCT from the Sierra Buttes north to the A-Tree, a prominent road/trail junction. An OLR is joint study undertaken by the Forest Service and the PCTA before relocating a section of the trail. The objective of this OLR was to determine whether the PCT was in its best location or if there was another alignment that would offer a superior experience.

That summer, Joe Chavez and David Michael of the Forest Service and I spent many hours together pushing through brush, traversing ridges and hiking through areas to determine whether other routes for the PCT existed and were better suited for the experience. We determined the PCT experience in the original location was degraded for several reasons, including conflicts with other recreation groups and road walks. We identified the new route during this intense field work and were sure that it would provide a superior experience for future PCT users.

Of the 16 miles we studied, we agreed that realigning a 6.5-mile section of the PCT would solve the problems. That required that we build 3.9 miles of new trail and connect the PCT to 2.6 miles of existing trail.

Map of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Buttes. 2017

Download a PDF version of this 2017 Sierra Buttes PCT map here.

Four years of hard, hard work to build 3.9 miles of trail

In 2014, the PCTA supervised an American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew and broke ground on the new section of trail. Each year since we managed to build one-half to three quarters mile of new trail. The terrain is rocky, steep, and downright rough to work in. And we build the PCT to a very high standard compared to some other trails. Each new piece of trail tread was hard work.

The ACE crew, dirty and smiling, during the July-August 2016 season in the Sierra Buttes. Photo courtesy of Clare "Bucket" Major.

The ACE crew, dirty and smiling, during the July-August 2016 season in the Sierra Buttes. Photo by Clare “Bucket” Major

This year, we made a massive push on the project. With the combined efforts of the PCTA, ACE crews, led by our Technical Advisors Connor Swift and Tyler Lau, a Tahoe National Forest trail crew, and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, we finished the southern section of the trail from Pack Saddle Campground south to the existing PCT alignment.

The new PCT in the Sierra Buttes is simply fantastic

The new PCT route travels north of the Sierra Buttes and swings down from the ridge to Tamarack Lakes. The upper lake will provide a beautiful location for PCT users to refill water and camp for the night. Vehicle access to the upper lake will be blocked, providing a newly quiet place to visit. The trail will then travel past Pack Saddle campground, which provide more water access and facilities.

Heading out for a day of trail building in 2015. Photo by Jack Haskel

Heading out for a day of trail building in 2015. Photo by Jack Haskel

The newly built 3.9-mile section of the PCT up to Tamarack Lakes is sure to be a popular day hike and horseback ride. Of note: there is one section between Upper and Lower Tamarack Lakes that requires some technical rock work. We plan to complete that next year. Meanwhile, there is a clear and easy walk around using a dirt road below Lower Tamarack Lake that provides a continuous path, which many people already are using. This new section, including the temporary route below Lower Tamarack Lake, will be clearly signed for people to follow.

Heading north from Pack Saddle Campground, hikers and equestrians will use the old Deer Lake trail, which is now officially the PCT, and this is a continuous path that ties back to the PCT above and just north of Deer Lake. This 2.6-mile northern portion of the project still needs some improvements. Short sections need to be realigned, we need to lower the grade to PCT standards, and we need to improve switchbacks and drainage features to make the trail more durable and sustainable. We will be tackling this work in the coming year. If you are interested in being a part of this project, PCTA will be hosting volunteer work parties in 2018.

Cutting trail through one of the forested segments. Photo by Angie Williamson

Cutting trail through one of the forested segments. Photo by Angie Williamson

It takes a community to build and protect the PCT

As this is now a continuous path, we are excited to be opening it up for hikers, horseback riders and PCT enthusiasts to enjoy. It could not have been accomplished without the dedication of PCTA volunteers, staff, our Forest Service partners, and all the other partners and volunteers who gave their time, energy and hard work to making the new trail a reality.

We’d also like to extend our community’s gratitude to the donors who made this work possible. Thank you to all of the PCTA members and donors, the National Forest Foundation for a large grant, Wells Fargo, the U.S. Forest Service for continued funding of the trail and to all others who pitched in their dollars.

So, head out and enjoy the newest section of the PCT! Download a map of the new segment.

Author: Justin Kooyman

Justin Kooyman is PCTA’s Northern Sierra Regional Representative. He's in charge of the PCT from the northern boundary of Yosemite National Park north approximately 450 miles to Burney Falls State Park. Justin partners with seven National Forests, one National Park and one CA State Park in the maintenance and management of the PCT. His regional office is located in Portola, CA. When not working, Justin can be found exploring the Northern Sierras or looking for uncommon birds in Plumas County.