A 600-Mile Recreational Trail Is Coming to the West’s Sierra Nevada

The Lost Sierra Route will connect—and ideally help revitalize—15 mountain towns by bringing biking, hiking, and trail tourism to this scenic alpine region.

A 600-Mile Recreational Trail Is Coming to the West’s Sierra Nevada

The Lost Sierra Route will encompass scenic stretches of the Yuba River.

Photo by Jerrad Scoggins/Shutterstock

When it’s completed, the new 600-mile Lost Sierra Route will wind along the rugged ridgeline of 15 Northern California and Nevada mountain towns, from Truckee to Susanville. With the first section of the trail expected to open in 2023 (and the entire path slated for completion by 2030), outdoor enthusiasts will be able to go hiking and biking on a single-track trail that will wind past spectacular alpine lakes, through historic mining towns, into green valleys, and across mountain meadows.

At the point where the Northern Sierra Nevada meets the southernmost slice of the Cascade Range, the new network of trails will weave through three California counties linking the towns of Truckee, Loyalton, Sierraville, Sierra City, Downieville, Quincy, Graeagle, Portola, Taylorsville, Greenville, Jonesville, Chester, Westwood, and Susanville, as well as Reno, Nevada.

This “Connected Communities” project as it’s referred to by the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the nonprofit organization that proposed the multi-use trail (together with the U.S. Forest Service and community partners), is as much about revitalizing this western pocket of rural California as it is about encouraging outdoor recreation. Dating back decades, the old Gold Rush towns the trail connects have endured economic hardship from the loss of mining and logging industries, long-lasting effects of the Great Recession, and more recently wildfires and the negative impact of COVID-19 on local businesses.

“A trail for everyone”

“The fires are going to have devastating impacts on the community and recreation for years to come,” says Trinity Stirling, project coordinator for Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. Stirling’s grandmother lost her Greenville, California, home in the 2021 Dixie Fire—it was located on the section of the proposed Lost Sierra Route that has been ravaged by wildfires over the past two years.

The wildfires have been coupled with the hardships businesses faced during the pandemic, forcing many to close and creating a dependency on government and county jobs. The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship has responded with its Connected Communities project, an effort to help jumpstart the local economies in the region and support recovery and wildfire prevention through trail tourism.

“We want to make sure that recreation planning continues to bring people to this area of the country,” says Stirling, who after attending college and working in the east came back home to live along the proposed route because she’d been missing the public lands in the west.

Joining the region’s world-class mountain biking trails, the celebrated Pacific Crest Trail backpacking route, and epic skiing and outdoor recreation in and around Lake Tahoe, the Lost Sierra Route (a two-foot-wide gravel path) will deliver varied terrain for hiking, cycling, motorcycling, horseback riding, and dog walking suitable for everything from an overnight backpacking adventure to a quick family day trip.

“The idea is to design a trail for everyone and allow them to refuel—get a bite to eat or stay in a hotel—right on the trail network, leaving a lot of flexibility for trip planning,” says Stirling, referring to the many historic towns the trail passes through where visitors can hop into local eateries and book overnight stays in old inns.

The effort is now in the planning phase and is being funded in part by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. If all goes smoothly, between 2023 and 2030 crews and volunteers will cut brand new trails and will build out a smaller section of the trail from historic mining and logging routes, paying homage to the historic Gold Rush–era mail delivery route. (In the mid-1800s, stagecoaches traveled the route carrying mail from one remote mining operation to the next, encouraging westward migration in the United States.)

As the climate continues to warm, experts expect trails such as this will be open later into the shoulder season each year—a new study predicts that snowpack in the Sierra Nevada could virtually disappear by 2050.

Says Stirling, “We are pretty seasonal recreators around here. We all have our mountain bikes out until we can have our skis and our snowboards out, and every year it’s more and more bike time and less and less skiing time.”

Those who are interested in following the project’s progress and updates can find the latest information on the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship website.

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Anna Fiorentino is a storyteller focused on outdoors, adventure, and travel. Her work has appeared in AFAR, National Geographic, National Geographic Travel, Outside, BBC Travel, Boston Globe Magazine, and other publications.
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