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Just Back From: An Often Forgotten Corner of California

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A couple weekends ago, my family and I headed up to Plumas and Sierra Counties, a mountainous region of California an hour’s drive north of Lake Tahoe. Once you make it past Truckee, route 89 empties out and the terrain of the high Sierras becomes increasingly dramatic: wide-open meadows dotted with grazing cows and old barns; sheer granite cliffs punctuated by Ponderosa and sugar pine trees; picturesque campgrounds in Tahoe National Forest; and small towns that look stopped in time. Autumn is a beautiful time of year to explore this area of California, which is warm during the day and chilly at night. Here are five stops I highly recommend for a weekend trip:

1. Ikeda’s

En route, bypass the fast-food chains and stop at Ikeda’s, a roadside favorite in Auburn, California. I recommend ordering a slice of Marionberry or French Apple pie.

2. The Lodge at Nakoma

The most modern lodging option in the area, Nakoma is a new 42-room hotel set on the Nakoma resort’s golf course. The Clubhouse (pictured here), just up the hill, was originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Dinner in the dining room is a very memorable experience.

3. Sardine Lake

Framed by the Sierra Buttes, Sardine Lake is a perfect spot for a short walk or boat ride and a cold drink in the late-afternoon. There are cabins here, but the small funky restaurant/bar is the draw.

4. Packer Lake

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AFAR’s senior editor Derk Richardson has been coming to Packer Lake since he was a wee one, and I now understand why. The lake is pristine and compact enough to navigate quickly by foot, stand-up-paddleboard, or boat. And the tiny lodge (a one-room cabin) has a porch that’s made for devouring an ice cream on a hot afternoon.

5. Plumas Eureka State Park

This is gold rush country, and you’d be remiss to skip a trip to Plumas-Eureka State Park, just west of Blairsden. Kids can “pan” for gold while adults get a crash course in mining history (more interesting than it sounds!).

Want more? Check out our picks for more of California’s secrets!