‘Lost Sierra Route’: NorCal’s 600-mile hiking trail of the future

A new 600-mile multi-use trail in the northern Sierra Nevada seeks to showcase vital national forests and waterways and reinvigorate mountain communities.

Thanks to the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS), the U.S. Forest Service, and other collaborative partners, work has begun on a trail that will connect the Lake Tahoe area to the little-visited mountain towns of Northern California.

Called on Connected Communities Project, its ambitious community and conservation goals will culminate in the 600-mile Lost Sierra Route. The proposed route will stretch from Reno, Nevada, through the Sierra Nevada in the south to the Cascades in northeastern California.

Along its route, it will connect the main streets of 15 mountain towns in the so-called Lost Sierra region of Sierra, Plumas and Lassen counties.

He arrives with high altruistic hopes. The stated goal of the project is to “diversify recreation throughout the region, provide economic stability as well as support recovery and fire prevention efforts.”

It’s an ambitious list of initiatives, and if the plan unfolds accordingly, it will produce an ambitious trail project.

600 miles of new Sierra trails

the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) calls the Lost Sierra Route a “Trail For Everyone,” which sounds as much like a statement of its versatile capability as it does a claim of inclusivity. As proposed, the Lost Sierra Route will accommodate all dirt trail travelers including hikers, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, riderstrail runners, hunters and anglers.

In practice, it seeks to provide a wider audience with access to the high Sierra’s signature trails. The route promises similar alpine meadows and high mountain terrain that hikers find on the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. Unlike those classic routes, however, it will be open to all comers.

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Notable passages include the headwaters of the Yuba and Feather Rivers, which provide over 65% of California’s drinking water.

The road connects small towns like Portola, a booming former railroad town, and Westwood, which once set a logging record for the most board feet sawn in a year.

It also passes through Greenville, California, which has seen 75% of its structures burn in the Dixie Fire 2021.

The SBTS still has to clear many regulatory hurdles before finalizing the trail layout. However, a map of the currently offered route is available here.

Strengthening local economies through trails

the Sierra Nevada Conservancy helped SBTS finance what appears to be a substantial construction bill for the Lost Sierra Route. Initial cost estimates for the Connected Communities project are $40.3 million.

SBTS will leverage its locally sourced paid track crew, significant volunteer resources and local influence towards the effort. Its professional track team includes full-time and seasonal workers among 37 employees.

lost road of the sierra
Construction of a new trail with Quincy, California, one of the connected community towns, in the background; (photo/Patrick Cavender)

But volunteers at the 501(c)(3) nonprofit could do most of the heavy lifting. Since 2003, SBTS reports having overseen 89,900 hours of volunteer work. For context, you would need to work full time for 43 years to rack up those hours if you clocked in every day.

SBTS relies on several racing festivals, an affiliate bike shop in Downieville, Calif., and the usual round of grants and donations to fund the Connected Communities project. The organization says it focuses “all of its activities on developing the Lost Sierra Route and supporting the local economy”.

Most trails in the Lost Sierra are remnants of its long mining and logging history. But now more mountain bikers than mules roam the complex network.

lost road of the sierra
Mountain bikers from the town of Quincy pose on Mount Hough above Crystal Lake; (photo/Patrick Cavender)

The organization is also planning a “passport” system to help local businesses attract visitors to the trail. If trail users register at the trailhead and follow the routes to town, they can redeem special offers at participating stores and have their passport stamped.

The Downieville grocery store is a stop on the trail; (photo/Ken Etzel)

SBTS hopes the network will not only attract tourists, but also inspire more Lost Sierra residents to explore beyond their hometown. A business owner sees the passport system as a conversation starter and motivator for local travel.

“I sometimes feel a little isolated here,” said Kelly Tan, owner of Young’s Market in Taylorsville. “We’re all in our little towns, and [if] you have a small business, you work long hours. If you do this and dab [your] passport, you see where people have gone. You listen to their stories. You’ll feel like you’re part of something much bigger, and it’ll make you want to get out when you have a free moment.

Lost Sierra Road Timeline

Of course, the logistics of the Connected Communities project will be extremely complex. The concept was launched in September 2020. At that time, the project gained traction as public engagement suggested widespread support.

Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship Planning
Kelly Tan provides information to members of the Sierra Buttes Trails Stewardship on the Lost Sierra Route; (photo/SBTS)

After the SBTS spent a few months mapping possible infrastructure and routes, it launched an initial approval process through the Forest Service in July 2021.

Route and infrastructure development is expected to begin in April. But the SBTS sees April 2025 as a delivery window for the finalized track plan.

Pending approvals through federal and state environmental regulations, work on the trails will finally continue unhindered. If SBTS can get it all together in time, trail workers will cut the last few miles of the Lost Sierra Route by Christmas 2030.

The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship Trail Team
The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship Trail Team; (photo/Ken Etzel)

Go to Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship website to learn more about the Connected Communities project. Funding, planning and donation information is readily available. You can also find a guide to fire watchers in the area and historical information about the 15 stops on the Lost Sierra Route.

“This is our chance, through recreation, to really capture what happened here during mining [and timber] era,” said SBTS executive director Greg Williams. “We must progress as a people and be proud of it. I am convinced that connected communities will be built in such a way [that will] change people’s lives. It will last generation after generation.

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