Sierra Valley is part of the continental crust that was dropped by the same faulting that raised the Sierra Nevada. The overlook on Highway 49, east of Yuba Pass, provides a spectacular panoramic view of this beautiful sub-alpine valley where Sattley, Calpine, Sierraville and Loyalton lie surrounded by the granitic mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
The scenery in Sierra Valley varies from conifer and aspen forests, to drier woodland forests, to a large valley covered with crops, pastures, and wildflowers in the spring. Smaller valleys and meadows are laced with meandering streams. Old platy-barked ponderosa pine trees are a special feature in the landscape along the upper stretches of Highway 89 near Truckee. Cattle share the pastures with deer and other wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might see a cattle drive.
The Sierra Valley ranches were settled in the 1850s. The ranches provided dairy products, hay, and cattle for Truckee and the western Sierra County mines and also to the Comstock Mines in the 1860s. By the 1880s it was one of the finest agricultural regions of California. Since 1853, much of the population has been devoted to cattle-raising and farming. Many of the existing ranches and barns were built in the 19th century. The lumber industry was also part of this healthy agricultural economy. Sierra Valley timber supplied the Comstock mines, Central Pacific Railroad, and California fruit industry from the 1860s to the turn of the century. The early 1900s marked a decline in the timber demands with the closing of mines, but the Sierra Valley lumber industry continued to be an important aspect of the economy and culture until the late 20th Century.
Museums: The Loyalton Museum is located in Loyalton at the city park. This historic building features displays on logging, agriculture, the Washoe Indians, and fraternal organizations including the Rebekah Lodge. Outdoor exhibits include logging wagons, a donkey engine, and farm equipment.
The brick building by the gas station in Loyalton was built around the turn of the 20th century. This building, along with the old grocery store in Sierraville, are two of the few remaining buildings constructed of Sierra Valley brick. The Sierra Valley Lodge in Calpine, was built as a recreation hall for the once-thriving mill town. Today it is a restaurant and cocktail lounge with lodging accommodations. Numerous historic barns and farm houses throughout Sierra Valley date back to the 19th century. Many are still in use.
On the Trail
Trails in the Sierra Valley area range from easy walks to rigorous climbs through thick conifer forests. The Cottonwood Overlook Trail is light to moderately difficult and provides panoramic views of the valley in several places along the trail. The Cottonwood Creek Botanical Trail uses trail markers and a corresponding brochure to identify and describe trees and other plants on this easy walk. Dedicated hikers can climb the steep Badenaugh Trail up to the Babbit Peak Lookout for an outstanding panoramic view of the local area of eastern California and western Nevada. Mountain bikers and equestrians share this trail with hikers. The Jackson Meadows Reservoir area features the Woodcamp Creek Interpretive Trail, which provides an educational and moderately difficult hike with 18 points of interest spelled out in a brochure. The Pacific Crest Trail can be accessed from the Jackson Meadow trail head. The Kyburz Flat interpretive area on Henness Pass Road east of Highway 89 explains the history of three different peoples who inhabited this beautiful mountain meadow starting 2,000 years ago. Maps and brochures are available free of charge.
The Bear Valley Loop OHV Trail near Loyalton is 18 miles of pure exhilaration and scenic beauty. The trail is open late spring to fall.
The Donner Camp Picnic Site located five miles south of the Sierra County line along Highway 89 looks out onto a meadow where members of the Donner Party camped through the winter of 1846. The picnic area and restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
Boating, fishing, and swimming:
Lakes in this region of Sierra County offer a variety of activities. Jackson Meadows Reservoir is very popular and highly prized for fishing, swimming, camping, wildlife viewing, water skiing, jet skiing, and sailing. There are over 130 campsites, 5 group campsites, and a disposal station available here. Independence Lake offers fee-use camping and fishing in a more secluded setting. Rivers and streams provide exceptional fishing and swimming.
There are numerous campgrounds from Yuba Pass to Truckee along Highways 49 and 89. These campgrounds range from single sites to large group areas with parking lots that can accommodate horse trailers as well as snowmobile trailers. Some campgrounds are near rivers and streams; some are at the edges of alpine lakes; and some are tucked into the forest and meadow lands. Groups of up to 50 people can be accommodated at the Prosser Group Campground, which offers swimming and cooking stoves as well as space for trailers.
Winter trails for skiers, snowmobilers, and snowshoers wind through valleys and hills and around beautiful alpine lakes. The Little Truckee Summit area located between Sierraville and Truckee on Highway 89 provides six winter trails, restrooms, and plenty of parking. From here you can follow groomed trails up to the Gold Lakes Recreation Area.
There is also excellent cross-country skiing on Henness Pass Road east of Highway 89, the Wheeler Loop traversing the Kyburz Flat area, an area with no snow-mobiles allowed. The Treasure Mountain Loop in the Little Truckee Summit area provides groomed trails for both snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.
Other groomed trails in this area include the Pass Creek Loop, which leads to Jackson Meadows Reservoir, and the Prosser Creek Connection Trail, which travels from the Summit along Prosser Creek downhill into Nevada County, where it ends near Prosser Lake.