The Lakes Basin Story

By Leah West

Where else can contemporary seekers of scenic solitude lay claim to a blue-green tiara of over thirty natural, sapphire lakes encrusted in a setting of granite grandeur, framed by pine, fir and cedar-scented forest?

Steeped in the lore and legend of the California gold rush, the crowning jewel of the Lakes Basin is GOLD LAKE.  Largest of the lakes, its name was attributed to the antics of Thomas Robertson Stoddard, a member of His Majesty’s Royal Navy who emigrated to Philadelphia, then west to California upon President Polk’s official announcement that gold had been found in California.

Stoddard’s story was that, while lost in the Sierra, he stumbled upon a lake whose shores were lined with gold.  However after stuffing his pockets with nuggets, he was forced to flee a band of hostile Indians the following day, causing his nasty, uncharted escape across the wilderness and water of the Feather River.

Upon his return to civilization, Stoddard displayed his pure gold nuggets, eliciting the expected response, “Where?”  Suffice it to say a subsequent expedition the following spring seeking the “lake of gold” led a long and fruitless search to the shores of this, one of many named Gold Lake.Mr. Stoddard was given his immortal appendage of “Crazy” Stoddard, and threatened with hangings for his unfound “Gold” Lake.  History records that Stoddard then stepped off into the night, escaping both the wrath of his benefactors, and their noose.

Within a decade of the discovery of gold, the Lakes Basin Area was appreciated by naturalists.  As early as the mid-1850’s nature lovers came to relax on the shores of its lakes and to climb its mountains and trails.  Although T.C. Coleman built a lodge at Gold Lake about that time, camping remains the favorite of families and sportsmen alike.

A century later recreationists are rediscovering the treasure that is the Lakes Basin Area, surrounded by parts of Plumas and Tahoe National forests, and spilling from Plumas into Sierra County.  It is a land for all seasons and all ages.  Rising from the verdant Mohawk Valley, elevation 4,300 feet, most of the more than thirty lakes lie between 5,000 and 6,000 feet with Eureka Peak at 7,447 and the Sierra Buttes at 8,587 silent north-south sentinels overlooking their basin brood.

While there are roads to several of the lakes, most can only be reached by hiking trails, affording the intrepid outdoorsmen the exhilarating experience of unspoiled surroundings relatively unchanged from the time when Maidu Indians poised summer villages on their shores.

At the bottom of the hill lies Mohawk Valley and the charming former lumber town of GRAEAGLE.   Today it is a very popular destination resort, and full-time community:  “GRAEAGLE The Gift of a Lifetime” is a planned community with custom homes, homesite parcels, condominiums and a year round attraction for young and old.  Swim at the Mill Pond, play miniature golf, go horse-back riding and shop in the many specialty shops and boutiques. You are invited to come for a day, stay for a week…. Or stay for a Lifetime!

One of the big attractions to the Lakes Basin Recreation Area and GRAEAGLE are the fabulous golf courses.  Four 18-hole championship courses as well as two Nine-hole courses.  Premiere and the original course to the area is the championship GRAEAGLE MEADOWS Golf Course offering 6,668 yards built along the Middle Fork of the Feather River; Plumas Pines, a challenging course totaling 6,293 yards; Whitehawk Ranch Golf Course a good test of golf at 6,940 yards; and the newer Nakoma Golf Course in Gold Mountain.  The Old Feather River Inn, granddaddy of the area sports 9 holes totaling 2,880 yards.  The Feather River Park Resort, a family-type 9 hole course built originally for the pleasure of the guests at the resort is a fun experience as well.

This is an area to attract the angler, as well as the hiker, skier, hunter, golfer, camper and snowmobile enthusiast (in the winter season!).  As soon as the spring snows melt and the lakes thaw, rainbow, brown and brook trout challenge the skill of rod and reel.

It is a land of abundant animal life, from chattering chipmunks to docile deer, raccoons, hawks and occasional black bear or bobcat, these are the inhabitants of the friendly forest that will help you enjoy your mountain experience.  Bring your camera.  From dawn to sunset, spring or fall, the Lakes Basin is an ever changing color-wheel of nature.

The Lakes Basin Recreation Area can be reached by several routes; from the San Francisco Bay area north to Sacramento, on I-80 to Truckee then taking Highway 89 to Graeagle, or State Route 70 thru the Feather River Canyon to Graeagle.  The southern gateway is at Bassetss on Highway 49 via Auburn, Grass Valley and Downieville.

The serenity of the imposing Sierra Buttes, overlooking several of the area’s lakes, is a marked contract to the glittering hubbub of Reno, only an hour away to the east.

This short synopsis only scratches the surface of the many attractions awaiting present-day prospectors.  Today, as it was nearly a century and-a-half-ago, this picturesque area is one of “golden” opportunity.