Lakes Basin Recreation Area, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Gold Country -

Also known as:  Gold Lake, Bear Lake, Round Lake, Salmon Lake, Sardine Lake, Long Lake

The many small lakes in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area of California’s Gold Country never fail to please. The 20+ named lakes draw outdoor adventurers on a regular basis, often as repeat visitors. The Lakes Basin Recreation Area occupies a spot within the million-acre Plumas National Forest about an hour and a half north of Lake Tahoe. Plumas National Forest is bordered by Lassen Volcanic National Park and Lassen National Forest on the north and El Dorado National Forest on the south, so the area offers millions of acres of public lands protected within the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Within the Lakes Basin Recreation Area, many small lakes draw campers, hikers and fishermen. Among them are Big Bear Lake, Little Bear Lake, Cub Lake, Gold lake, Deer Lake, Round Lake, Helgramite Lake, Hidden Lake, Salmon Lake, Sardine Lake, Veronica Lake, Long Lake, Glacier Lake, Squaw Lake, Haven Lake, Rock Lake, Jamison Lake, Silver Lake, Grassy Lake and Mud Lake. Among the largest are Gold Lake, Bear Lake, Round Lake, Salmon Lake, Sardine Lake and Long Lake, although no size statistics are given for any of them. Many are accessible only on foot. The area averages around 6,000 feet in elevation.

The Lakes Basin Recreation Area provides a variety of outdoor activities. Trout fishing is available in nearly all of the lakes, although only Gold Lake is currently stocked. Gold Lake also has a boat dock and launch, and motorized boating is allowed. Most other lakes appear to be no-motors lakes and require boats that can be carried in. Float tubes are likely the best option. Four of the six campgrounds in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area have fishing and swimming available. One of the campgrounds is designated for 4 X 4 camping, and plenty of riding trails will keep the family riders happy. The only campground with drinking water available is Lakes Basin Campground. Most offer vault toilets and few other amenities. The area is available year-round for bicycling, horseback riding, snowmobiling, snow-shoeing and cross-country-skiing. Nearby Sierra Buttes is a popular, scenic cross-country skiing area.

Over 30 miles of hiking trails are available within the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. In addition, the Pacific Crest Trail can be reached from some of the trails, so hiking opportunities are almost endless. The mountainous terrain allows for easy and strenuous hikes from some of the trailheads. The terrain includes dry rocky ledges and wetland meadows that are covered with wildflowers in the spring and much of the summer. Self-guided wildflower hiking tours can be accomplished without much difficulty. Local botanists recommend the Grassy Lake Trail, starting at the Lakes Basin Campground parking lot as a good slow-walking tour through wildflower meadows in June and July.

Two spectacular waterfalls can be viewed from other trails, including Halsey Falls and Frazier Falls. The trail to Halsey Falls is a bit hard to find, so visitors may want to head to the Grey Eagle Lodge and ask for directions. One of the tallest waterfalls in California, Frazier Falls drops 176 feet with the best water flow in the spring. Located on Frazier Creek five miles downstream from Gold Lake, the signed trailhead is off Gold Lake Road. Several former fire tower sites are accessible via trails and offer spectacular views of the area.

Lest visitors think they will have to ‘rough it’ on any visit to Lakes Basin Recreation Area, they will be pleasantly surprised to find the surrounding area well supplied with all sorts of lodges and resort facilities. A few are within the recreation area itself, including one at Gold Lake. Several of these lodges have been in existence since early in the 20th century, when interest in enjoying remote natural areas became popular. The area itself was first explored in conjunction with the Gold Rush expeditions which actively prospected the basin, often based on rumors and speculative stories. Several collections of gold mining stories have been complied, and most include the tale of the lost miner who swore he had found a lake lined with gold nuggets available for the taking. If Gold Lake was the subject of the expeditions, the prospectors didn’t find what they were looking for but left some very colorful tales and folk stories behind for posterity. All sorts of remnants of that early exploration remain in the area and can be viewed at several local museums.

One of the better-known locations for gold rush artifacts is at Plumas Eureka State Park, less than 20 miles from the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. The historic site preserves a blacksmith shop, stamping mills, a stable and a miner’s home named Moriarty House. A museum and visitors center put the exhibits in context and provide information on the area’s history. The Plumas County Museum in Quincy is about 30 miles from the recreation area and holds a great collection of logging, mining, agriculture and railroad history, pioneer weaponry, a collection of Maidu Indian baskets and examples of miners’ cabins and tools. The Coburn-Variel Home, a three-story Victorian next door, is furnished from the museum’s collections. Twenty miles from Lakes Basin Recreation Area, the town of Portola holds the Portola Railroad Museum. The Feather River Rail Society exhibits photographs, rail equipment and artifacts from the days of rail travel. Train rides are offered in summer.

The little town of Graeagle is the closest village to the Lakes Basin Recreation Area and becomes the home base for supplies and information clearinghouse for lodgings in the area. Some private properties still exist within the Plumas National Forest, including guest cabins, vacation lodges, private rentals and commercial campgrounds. Interesting eating establishments and unique craft shops can be found tucked away on the roads in the area and in nearby towns. Some real estate can usually be found in a wide range of prices. There are many reasons why many visitors return to the Lakes Basin Recreation Area time and time again. Come and discover the reasons you want to return.

Things to do at Lakes Basin Recreation Area

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lakes Basin Recreation Area

  • Salmon
  • Trout

Lakes Basin Recreation Area Photo Gallery

Lakes Basin Recreation Area Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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