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Run the Rugged Trails of California’s Lost Sierra

Escpe the crowds in California's Lost Sierra.

Trail Running Difficult

Pacific Crest Lakes Basin Loop
Photo: Greg Heil


In a state as populous and overrun as California, finding a way to escape from the constant traffic caused by the 40 million residents—both on the highways and on the trails—seems nearly impossible. And yet, there are not-so-hidden gems tucked away in the mountains that still avoid the press of tourist traffic that big-name destinations like Lake Tahoe receive. If you’re in search of hundreds of miles of singletrack with a fraction of the crowds, then set your GPS to Graeagle, California.

Graeagle reigns as the epicenter of hiking and trail running in a region known as the Lost Sierra. “The Lost Sierra. . .hasn’t changed much since the 1849 Gold Rush,” writes journalist Kurt Gensheimer in Dirt Rag Magazine. While the population and trail crowds continue to explode in the rest of the state, “the Lost Sierra is one of the only places in California where the population today is less than it was in the 1860s,” says Gensheimer.

I can confirm: over the course of a two-week stay in the Lost Sierra during the height of the summer season, I was pleasantly surprised by the manageable crowds. I could still find peaceful serenity on many trails, even on the weekend. Sure, most of the campgrounds still fill up on Friday and Saturday nights, but compared to overrun destinations like nearby Lake Tahoe, Bend in Oregon, and almost every single mountain town in Colorado, the Lost Sierra felt downright deserted.

And as for the trails? They’re to die for!

The trail running in the region is anchored by the Lakes Basin area. The Lakes Basin offers an unexpected haven filled with incredible recreation opportunities and gorgeous views, hidden deep in the Sierras. This basin is filled with crystal-clear alpine lakes flanked by towering walls of granite. The exposed rock walls rise up to form towering mountains, with the spine of the Sierras soaring high above the entire milieu. For two of the best loop runs in the Lakes Basin, check out the Bear Lakes Loop and the Long Lake Lollipop.

For even more epic runs, you can head higher up into the Sierras to climb to the tops of the tallest mountains or traverse the nearby sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Mt. Elwell is a worthy peak climbing objective, and this loop tours several sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.The options truly are limitless, so delve into this guidebook for a curated list of the top must-do trail runs in the region.

Routes included

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