Saturday, August 31, 2013

Backpacking in Bucks Lake Wilderness

Located a bit south of Mount Lassen is the Bucks Lake Wilderness, a seldom visited part of the Sierras, which makes it perfect for finding a spot of your own away from the crowds. We embarked on a 22 mile loop trail over a four day period. This enabled us to take advantage of some side trips to some nice spots which turned out to be the highlights of the overall trip.

Our launching point was intended to be Bucks Lake itself. Upon arrival, we discovered that the lake is a somewhat popular recreational destination, and the nearby campgrounds were filled to capacity. So we drove our Subaru Outback up a dirt road and slept in the back near the Mill Creek Trailhead. As it turns out, this was a nice way to go. There was no camp to break in the morning and we bypassed a very steep climb out of Bucks Lake, which would not have been very pleasant with full packs.

The Mill Creek trail consisted of a steady, but gradual climb through a conifer forest. Even though it was a Saturday, we did not see another soul. This made for some nice solitude, but it also meant the trail was a bit rough and hard to follow at times. However, when we did lose the trail, we were able to find it again after a minute or so.

After a few miles, we connected to the Pacific Crest Trail. What a difference that made. The PCT is well defined, well signed, and very well maintained. There's not much chance of getting off track here. Rather than follow the loop at the junction, we took our first diversion to Three Lakes to enjoy a cool plunge and make camp for the night. Although we had hiked in quite a ways, Three Lakes is also accessible by a dirt road coming in from another direction. As a result, we encountered a couple groups of people here. By sunset, however, everyone had left for the day and all was quiet.

three lakes

The next morning, we made our way back to the PCT, and enjoyed a nice trek through the woods. At this point, we had gotten somewhat high in elevation, so we were intermittently treated to sweeping views as the trail meandered out of the forest towards the edge of the ridge.

lakes view

We pushed on, looking for the junction that would mark our next side trip to Rock Lake. It's part of a small chain of four lakes, so the trail was actually signed for Silver Lake, the largest in the chain. A steep descent brought us down in elevation quickly, and we veered right to find Rock Lake. It was getting late in the day, so we only had time to make camp and get a meal going.

rock lake

We had planned to spend the following day relaxing at Rock Lake, and it was a perfect spot for it. We had the lake to ourselves for the entire day. The water was cool, but not cold, and the warm sun heated up the boulders which were scattered about the lake, making for perfect lounging spots. This was the sort of day that makes strapping a load of gear to your back all worth it.

rock lake frog

At night, we ambled out onto one of the boulders that extended into the lake and had a perfect, clear view of the night sky. It was a new moon, so the milky way burst across the entire scene, and we watched satellites and meteors go whizzing by.

The next morning, we set out to rejoin the PCT and continue the loop. The climb out from Rock Lake was steep, but hiking in the cooler morning hours made it tolerable.


Before long, we were back on the PCT and heading towards our next trail junction. Once we had reached it, we decided to take one more side trip to Spanish Peak, a high point overlook with a fantastic view of the area. There used to be a lookout tower here, but it's completely gone save for a bit of foundation. A metal box held notes and other trinkets left by other hikers, and we contributed an entry to the notebook before heading back to the loop.

spanish peak view

When we got back to the junction, we departed the PCT for good and began a descent down the Right Hand Branch Mill Creek Trail, which would take us back to Bucks Lake. Here again, the trail was little used, and we lost track of it at one point, but our time off track was brief. We saw only one other person on this trail. He was an older guy and local to the area, and he was amazingly fast and spry. He passed us on the way up to Spanish Peak, and then again on the way down. I hope I am in half as good of shape when I get to be that age.

bucks lake

Finally, we made it back to Bucks Lake, and took a boat-in campsite by the water's edge to spend one last night out. Things were busier here, with hikers going by and boats buzzing around the lake. Here again, things quieted down at night. The next morning, we hiked back to the main campground where I dropped my pack and proceed to climb the steep ascent back to the original Mill Creek trailhead to retrieve our car. It was right where we had left it, and was undisturbed save for some smears on the rear window that appeared to have been left by the curious nose of one of the local cows.


  1. It is important for your things to be organized and bring all the basic things you will need for backpacking.

    backpacking tips

  2. I'm thinking of doing this next year. thank you for the write up.

  3. Getting ready to take this trek next weekend, but we will only have 2 days one night. Thanks for the awesome write up!