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Plumas-Eureka State Park

Eureka Peak Loop Trail

6 miles round trip; 1,800-foot elevation gain; if ski lift road open,
3 miles round trip with 1,000-foot gain

Most California gold discoveries began with a flash in the pan; this one began with a hike. The year was 1851. An exploratory party of miners dispatched two members to climb Eureka Peak. The two found a quartz outcropping, rich in gold, silver and lead. “Gold Mountain” the miners promptly dubbed the peak. Their discovery became known as the Eureka Chimney, a mammoth deposit of ore-bearing rock that would yield more than two million dollars in gold in a fourteen-year period.

From 1872 through 1890, the highly efficient British firm, Sierra Buttes Mining Company worked Eureka Peak and extracted many more millions of dollars worth of gold from the mountain. Seventy shafts were sunk into the peak, and more than seventy miles of tunnels were constructed in the area.

Hard-rock mining was hard work, but the miners knew how to have fun as well. Winter fun meant skiing, with Eureka Peak serving as a popular downhill run. Hitting the slopes in 1870, the well-equipped skier strapped on twelve-foot long, four-inch wide wooden skis. All skiers carried their favorite “dope”—various concoctions of tallow, turpentine, pine pitch and castor oil—that they applied to their skis. Primitive the equipment may have been, but winners reached speeds exceeding eighty miles per hour.

Eureka Peak has another claim to fame: it may have been the site of the first-ever ski lift. One of the mines had a series of gravity-powered trams which carried ore down in buckets. The miners hopped aboard, caught a lift up the slope, then skied down.

Today Plumas-Eureka (the name comes from an early mine) State Park emphasizes hard-rock mining history with a museum and several historic structures. You can visit a blacksmith shop, a stable, a stamp mill, the Moriarity House (a typical residence of a miner’s family, circa 1890), and miners’ bunkhouse, now the park museum/visitor center.

The trail to Eureka Peak begins at the park’s ski area, which features a ski lift operated on winter weekends. Cross-country skiing is particularly popular on the state park’s trails. For the hiker, the route to Eureka Lake and Eureka Peak offers grand High Sierra views. The peak’s reflection in the deep blue waters of the lake is a majestic sight.

Directions to trailhead: From the visitor center, follow the park road (County Road A-14) a mile through the historic hamlet of Johnsville to road’s end at the Ski Area. From the parking lot, a dirt fire road ascends to Eureka Lake where Eureka Peak Loop Trail begins. Monday through Thursday, vehicles are permitted to travel the road between the ski area and the lake; beginning your hike at the lake effectively halves the six mile distance. Friday through Sunday, only foot-traffic is permitted on the dirt road.

The hike: You’ll get an up-close look a the ski lift and ski bowl as you ascend the fire road. The mostly westward-traveling road bends briefly east just before it reaches Eureka Lake.

The road ends at the lake and you join the trail, which crosses over Eureka Lake’s earth fill dam, dips in and out of a ravine, then begins a steep ascent of a white pine- and red fir-forested Eureka Peak.

A long 0.5 mile ascent brings you to a junction, where you veer left, ascending to False Peak (sometimes called North Peak), elevation 7,286 feet. Truly the best views are from Eureka’s “False” Peak. Look for Beckwourth Peak to the east, the pointed Sierra Buttes to the southeast and snow-topped Mt. Lassen (10,457 feet) on the northwest horizon.

Miners and hikers have carved their initials in the rock on the northwest side of False Peak for 120 years. (Don’t add yours to the collection; defacing park features is illegal.)

Continue past wind-bowed pine and hemlock, circling around the south side of the actual Eureka Peak, and following the trail as it abruptly drops off the peak and descends steeply back to the loop trail junction. Retrace your steps back to Eureka Lake and the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.