Graeagle, CA: Not-Lost In The Lost Sierras

In two months, we’ve been in (or on) the Western Sierras, Central Sierras, Northern Sierras, and now on our merry way to the Eastern Sierras, so it was inevitable that we’d find ourselves in something called the Lost Sierras.

It’s an under-appreciated, under-populated forest area splattered with lakes and trails, with a pristine, charming town called Graeagle smack-dab in the center of it all.

Graeagle: how to pronounce, without sounding like you have a mouthful of marbles, or have been tippin’ the bottle back? “Gree-gul.” “Gray-guh-lee.” “Grah-glee.” The reality is less exciting: it’s “gray-eagle,” the results of a naming contest in the 1920’s wherein the winner contracted the name of nearby Gray Eagle Creek to Graeagle, winning the $5 prize. That being settled, we set out to explore.

 The Graeagle Dairy, built in 1910 by the California Fruit Exchange

Downtown Graeagle is lined with matching little red buildings with pitched green roofs, former company houses for workers at the town sawmill where they made boxes for fruits and vegetables, and which are now home to tiny, quaint shops.

80% of this region lies within public lands and the average population density is 6 people per square mile (for comparison: 0.1% of Sacramento’s density). There are 35+ small, glacial lakes and 100+ miles of hiking trails within a 15-mile radius. The first 4-5 feet of water is warm(er) and eminently swimmable, at least if you’re a teenager.

Those in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area are amongst some of the most popular. Our chosen loop hike took us to Cub Lake, Little Bear Lake and Big Bear Lake. Somebody please explain why this was not called the Goldilocks Trail?

Another fave hike was the Jamison Lake Trail in Plumas-Eureka State Park, which despite steep grades, offers enough diversions to distract you from your burning calves. Along the way, we found a long-abandoned mine complex, trickling streams and waterfalls, and beautiful Grass Lake (not that kind of grass).

Plumas-Eureka SP also has a preserved historic mining camp with interesting buildings (and woodworking and blacksmithing demonstrations on weekends), and the related ghost town of Johnsville has a historic cemetery where nearly all the lost souls are from other countries (England, Ireland, Italy, and more), having come to this area to work the mines in the late 1800’s.

But back to Graeagle. It’s a small planned community whose tagline is “Graeagle: Gift of a Lifetime,” which makes no sense, but I guess they wanted to match the leading G’s. At any rate, we would live here in a heartbeat, in the summer at least. Winters here are endless months of deep, heavy snow.

The hot spot here is The Brewing Lair, a simple dog-friendly microbrewery tucked into the woods down a long winding driveway, with a bunch of outdoor patios, ping pong, disc golf, slackline, BBQ grills, and a friendly, casual vibe, like you’re just chillin’ at a friend’s house.

A large menu of scrumptious $6 beers, on-site food truck, and great people-watching at free outdoor concerts on Saturday night bring people from all around the Lost Sierras.

You might think we came to Graeagle for the trails, the woods, the lakes, the spectacular outdoor beauty … but you’d be wrong. We came because I read the description of the band playing at the Brewing Lair on this particular Saturday night.

“Specializing in face melting songs of the sea, Big Mable and the Portholes is a bit like the Beatles meeting the Temptations while fighting Blackbeard. Get ready to soak in the atmosphere as the band takes its audience on a nautical voyage through a musical fun bath of sea shanties, pub tunes and sing alongs.” I mean, a band that specializes solely in pirate songs? If that wasn’t on our bucket list before, it was now. **volume up and click play below**

We were dumbfounded by the cult following of this group. Pirate groupies? That’s a thing? People who can’t get enough of “peg-leg this” and “shanty that”? Locals took pity on our confusion and enlightened us that the members of the band work day jobs at a local summer camp, and the energetic, screaming fans crowding the dance floor were counselors at the camp. The band was pretty awful, really, but in a funny, self-deprecating, watching-your-friends-do-karaoke kind of way, which instead made them endearing.

Graeagle’s population is only 727, but if even that is too much humanity for you, you can head slightly south to Clio: “population 76, dogs 39.” Guess we’re moving here, because they already have Finn painted on the sign.

As if pronouncing weird Graeagle wasn’t enough, this isn’t “Cleee-o”, it’s “Cliiii-o.” A main street through town used to be called Clio street, but a drunk guy hit the sign and knocked the LIO off the end of it, so now it’s just C Street. Tiny Clio has a not-so-tiny railroad trestle on the historic Feather River Route of the Union Pacific Railroad, 172 feet high and 1,005 feet long.

Lastly, through the modern miracle of Hulu+Live TV, we were able to watch the opening preseason game of our disgraced Arizona Cardinals, currently ranked 32nd out of 32 NFL teams, from the cool outdoor comfort of our RV site, rather than sweatin’ it out back in Cardinals Stadium. If these are the Lost Sierras, the Cardinals are the Lost Hope.

This is one of very few places (also: McCall, ID; Cedar Key, FL; Bozeman, MT) to which we would return and spend a month or two, once we slow our travel pace. Getting lost in the Lost Sierras for a summer, now that’s our idea of happiness. We could hardly “bear” the thought of leaving! ‘Till next time, Graeagle!

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