The Lakes Basin area is really two recreational areas dissected by the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and accessed via two different entrances. The Jamison Lake side is heavily used by day hikers and backpackers while the Gold Lake side is used by day hikers, campers, horseback riders and boaters. In many ways this popular place reminds me of the Trinity Alps on a smaller scale. It certainly receives similar trail use and possesses a similar morphology characterized by glaciated valleys and lakes. The geology is different, however, in that volcanism has overlain much of the granitic foundation typical of Sierra Nevada Mountain Range within the northern extent of this geographic province.
To visualize the geography of the Jamison Lake basin, imagine one giant "Y" shaped valley with tarn lakes at the top known as Jamison and Wades Lake. Mount Elwell (7812') looms on the eastern side; the PCT hems in the top ridge and another mighty ridge flanks the west. This provides a grand ampitheatre setting but also limits the number of camping spots compared to the Trinity Alps. On the other side of the ridge lies more lovely lakes like Bear Lakes, which unfortunately are restricted from overnight camping because of the heavy day use. Gold Lake is the largest and most developed of these lakes and has about 200 unimproved camping spots, boating access for fishing, horseback riding stables, and permanent cabins scattered around the lake. This side is accessed via another road (see "Directions" below) although you can hike to either side within a day.
My favorite part of the Lakes Basin area is ascending to the dividing ridge along the PCT, which incidentally is less than four (4) miles from the trailhead, where you eventually see both drainages with Long Lake tucked below. If you are adventurous enough to climb to the top of Mt. Elwell, which is only about 2 miles off the PCT and 8 mile from the trailhead, you can see a fantastic panorama of the Sierra Nevada/Cascade landscape. Otherwise you can descend into the Gold Lake basin to explore numerous small lakes.
We spent a couple of nights here at Wades Lake on a weekday (which receives heavy weekend use and has little firewood, incidentally), and then ventured up to Mt. Elwell the next day. This is a 9 mile round trip from Wades Lake and can easily be done in a day. You can even pack out that day for just an overnight backcountry visit. We bolted out of there in about one and half hours! Wow, but this means that on the way in it's mostly uphill with some steep climbs and level spots at Grass Lake, which is only about 1 mile from the trailhead; Wades Lake is about 3 miles; Jamison Lakes is 3 1/4 miles and Rock Lake is slightly farther along at the top of the valley, all of which provide overnight backpacking opportunities.
Even though this location is a distance from major urban areas, you will enjoy the drive up the Feather River Canyon or coming in from the Yuba River or Tahoe areas. Then it's an easy trek into mountain splendor much more difficult to reach this early in the season (June) in other parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which incidentally are less steep as you work your way from Mt. Whitney (14, 500) to Mt. Elwell (7812'). I also enjoyed the wildflowers if you hike into this area by late June or early July. One last note, the Jamison Lake trailhead was once a thriving mining area with some historic buildings to rummage through at the beginning of your trip. A small campground exists at the trailhead within the boundary of Eureka State Park.
Best parts: easy access, Pacific crest views, wildflowers in late June and early July, Mt. Elwell
Beckworth Ranger District
Plumas National Forest
P.O. Box 7
Mohawk, CA 96013