Sierra Buttes Lookout – Sierra City, California - Atlas Obscura

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Sierra Buttes Lookout

Sierra City, California

A fire lookout atop a glacial pinnacle is reached by climbing three vertiginous flights of stairs.  


The Sierra Buttes are a spectacular set of glacier-carved pinnacles that anchor the northern end of the Sierra Nevada.

A Forest Service fire lookout, still in use, was built on the topmost pinnacle and is accessed by three long and exposed flights of stairs. An open-grate catwalk surrounds the lookout, with the grate on the outward side suspended over a cliff several hundred feet high, the head of a glacial cirque.

The views are obviously stunning, but those with a fear of heights may have trouble climbing the stairs, not to mention venturing out on the catwalk.

Know Before You Go

The Sierra Buttes Lookout can be reached either by a straightforward hike or a difficult 4-wheel-drive track.

In either case, begin by turning west on the Packer Lake Rd, (Co. Rd. 621) off the Gold Lake Highway (Co. Rd. 620/USFS 24). This intersection is at 39.620849 N, 120.610914 W. Bear right for 0.3 miles to stay on 621, then travel another 4.3 miles to the intersection with Butcher Ranch Rd, (USFS 93-2) on the left (south).

Turn here and follow it for 0.5 miles to the Sierra Buttes trailhead. For hiking access park here. For 4wd access, stay on USFS 93-2 for another 2.5 miles to its intersection with USFS 93-2-3 (12E07), which will be a rough Jeep track coming in from the left. Turn left here. Warning: this road is rough and exceedingly steep, 4WD is mandatory.

It ends at a small parking area below the Sierra Buttes where the hiking trail comes in.

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December 20, 2021

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