The Sierra Buttes stand about 90 minutes northwest of Reno, Nevada. The moderately challenging hike to the unmanned fire lookout atop their 8,591-foot pinnacle is my favorite hike in California’s northern Sierra Nevada.

In early October, when my wife and I made the gradual ascent, which includes a short ridge-top section of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Lakes Basin Recreation Area campgrounds and log-cabin resorts were relatively unpopulated. That meant we avoided the “Wild effect,” as locals call the summer influx of thousands of hikers attempting to follow in author Cheryl Strayed’s footsteps along the 2,650-mile PCT. We had the trail—and the panoramic views of the Sardine, Packer, Tamarack, and Young America Lakes—virtually to ourselves.

From our base at Packer Lake Lodge, where I’ve been going since I was seven years old, we also made the short drive to the Nakoma Lodge’s Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Wigwam Room in Clio for cocktails and dinner. Some would like to keep this region the “Lost Sierra.” But from the spacious Sierra Valley to the peak of the Buttes, there’s room for all.

>>Next: How Snowboarding Can Change a Life