Some people are going to hate me for this, but the Plumas- Eureka California State Park is a hidden gem in California’s State Park experience. It has it all: museum, excellently preserved mining structures, a great campground, and terrific hikes. Bonus, the drive is not too difficult and truly beautiful.
I did not know about the Plumas – Eureka State Park until my son took me there in June 2019. I was in awe. The visitor center has a great museum of local animals and the Plumas – Eureka Mine. A short walk from the visitor center and you can see a working black smith shop, pan for gold, learn how the assay process worked for determining the gold and silver content of the crushed ore, and view the Eureka stamp mill. The museum and interpretative center are supported by the Plumas – Eureka State Park Association.
Plumas – Eureka History
A wonderful display is miniature working scale reproduction of the stamp mill and a three-dimensional representation of the different mining shafts in Eureka mountain right outside the door. Of course, you have to make sure you visit when all of the docents are working in the different shops to demonstrate the processes. At 5,160 feet, and tall pine trees, the location has a comfortable temperature even in August.
Plumas – Eureka Hiking
On my first visit, because of the heavy snowfall the previous winter, the creeks were still full of rushing water. This prevented us from hiking much of the Grass Lake trail past Little Jamison Creek. It was still a good level hike, if not a little wet from all the snow melt on the trail. But we did hike to the east up over a ridge that drops you down into Smith Lake. We then hiked down to the base where Smith Lake emptied out into Smith Creek.
The Eureka peak loop trail was closed because of the snow. I went back at the end of August hike to the peak that you can easily see from the valley floor where the Plumas – Eureka State Park visitor’s center is located. We started from the parking lot which is next to the ski bowl which is operated and maintained by the Plumas Ski Club. During the winter they host a historic longboard competition.
The road up to Eureka Lake is steep and dusty. Many all-wheel drive vehicles passed up, including one motorcycle, but there is not much parking next to the lake at 6,184 elevation. Eureka Lake has a dam on the western side. On the eastern side there used to be ditch that carried water around to the south face of Eureka mountain where the water was added to the ore to help wash it down to the rock crusher and stamp mill.
The Eureka Peak loop trail starts at the dam and goes up. There are great views of Eureka Lake at several places along the trail. Once at the peak, 7,447 feet, you can look into the valley below and see clear over to Grass Lake. It is a high plateau, not a stunning peak of pure rock, but the views are great nonetheless. It was about a 6.5 mile hike from start to finish with an elevation gain of just under 2,000 feet.
When you hike up and over Eureka mountain you are hiking over 65 miles of mining tunnels below your feet. The hard rock tunnel mining really got going in the 1870s and lasted into the 1940s. The geology is interesting with metamorphic rock and igneous rock, the quartz that contains the gold and silver, below the surface. There was also some glacial action and creeks cut through deep layers of sedimentation from the surrounding mountains.
The result is a visual treat of high peaks, multi-colored rock outcropping, white water creeks, water falls, tall trees, and light-colored creek stream banks. I have not investigated Johnsville, except for driving through, but the many old home are also locked in history. There are also many other hiking trails that I have not had a chance to get to. If you happen to be passing through on highway 89, north of Truckee, you will not be disappointed if you only get to stop at the Plumas – Eureka State Park for a couple of hours. Just walking around this well-kept and maintained living history museum is a treat. If you get to hike to some the lakes, fish, or camp, you are truly lucky. I’m going to go back this winter and watch the longboard ski races.