Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout – The Hardest Little Hike You’ll Ever Love!

California hiking Road Tripping Sierra Nevada Travel
Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout

Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout is a unique hike in Northern California that every intrepid hiker should complete at least once in their lives. The trail is a 4.9 mile out and back trek with 1,555′ of elevation gain, located just outside the little town of Sierra City. The trail leads to an old fire lookout that is accessed by a series of somewhat sketchy stairways at the top. This experience will get your heart pumping!

Sierra Lookout is right under the purple arrow. This view is from the Sardine Lake Resort below.

We made few wrong turns on our way to the trail head and wound up at the Sardine Lake Resort. They were very helpful and set us on the right track. Use a map or GPS to find Sierra City. Once you’ve reached Sierra City, head west on CA 49, turn right on Sierra Buttes Road and continue on this road for about 2.5 miles. Continue on Colombo Mine road for 0.4 miles, then turn right on Butcher Ranch Road. Follow this road for approximately 0.3 miles and you will come to an obvious parking lot. If you get lost, ask around. There is usually someone around who knows exactly where you’re headed. Get ready to sweat!

We found it!

The trail head begins at about 7,000′, go early and pack lots of water and a lunch to enjoy at the top. When we arrived, there were a few cars in the parking lot and some mountain bikers preparing for their descent down the mountain, but I understand this trail gets pretty busy as the day goes on.

The trail ascends about 1500 feet in 2.5 miles.

The trail ascends about 1500′ in only 2.5 miles, so needless to say, it’s a fairly steep climb most of the way.

Views of beautiful alpine lakes

The trail continues and soon the views will open up to beautiful alpine lakes below giving you the perfect opportunity to stop for some water and a few photos.

The colors are just phenomenal!
Still a little snow in the area.

We hiked this area in June and still had a bit of snow to contend with. It’s a good idea to check trail conditions before you make the drive up into the Sierra to be sure the trail is open and passable to the Lookout.

Our first real glimpse of the staircases.

As we hiked upwards, we kept our eyes on the Lookout in the distance that kept getting bigger and bigger. Finally, after a slippery traverse across a small snowfield near the top, we reached the base of the stairs. This was the first moment that I had any doubts about making it to the top. As many of you know, I have this terror of heights (yet, somehow, I’m always finding myself on top of or dangling off some scary mountain!). I must make it to the top!

The stairway

The stairs consist of several segments of metal stairs that ascend between large boulders on the mountain to the top where the Lookout is anchored. As you climb the stairs, you look down THROUGH the stairway to the ground thousands of feet below. It. Is. Scary! At least, I thought so. Daniel and his 12 year old daughter scurried right up with no problem at all while I white knuckled every step. To add to the excitement, the stairway vibrates and wobbles a bit with each step upward.

View from the Lookout. As you can see, you feel like you are standing on nothing looking straight down!

Once you reach the Lookout, you’ll have majestic 360 degree views standing atop this platform where you will also be able to look straight down at the rocks below.

Views of the lakes from the Lookout

Views are epic from the top and well worth the sweat and effort it takes to reach it!

A glimpse of the inside of the Lookout.

The Lookout was built in 1915, with the stairs completed in 1964. Don’t ask me how they got up there before the stairs! One misstep in this area would lead to sudden death, to be sure. As far as I know, this Lookout is not used, nor rented out at this time.

Daniel on the ‘balcony’ of the Lookout. Epic Views!

We sat underneath the Lookout to enjoy our lunch and the beautiful views. A few other hikers came and went and we all encouraged each other to be brave on the intimidating stairs.

Lunch time!
A view looking up on the last set of stairs leading to the terrace around the Lookout.
Looking up from below the Lookout

It was fun for us to imagine what it might have been like to spend summers in this little slice of heaven atop the Sierra Nevada range….or wonder how they built it!

The stairs!

The stairs are no joke, folks! The photo above is a pretty good representation of what it felt like to descend them. Doesn’t this just make you want to hop in your car and set out on this hike RIGHT NOW?! It is an epic hike, to be sure.


We headed back down the hill, satisfied with our bravery for another day.

Have you done this hike? What was your favorite part about it? Please like, share, and subscribe to our blog, and leave comments below!


I'm an only child who grew up on a sailboat, a lover of adventure, a mom, wife, an RN, and a friend of all dogs.

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