Cisco Butte rises dramatically above the South Yuba River near the town of Cisco Grove. Over the years, the terrain surrounding the peak has been used for a number of commercial purposes. The peak itself (but not the highpoint) is topped with numerous communications towers and associated equipment. The Southern Pacific Railroad also contours along the northern slope of the mountain. Nearby SP Lakes (also known as Hidden Lakes) at one point served as reservoirs to replenish the water in the tenders of steam driven locomotives. In this day and age though, they are simply pretty mountain lakes.
The view from the summit is very good. It would be great if not for the freeway stretching into the distance. Even still, the freeway gives a good sense of relief. The view encompasses nearby Signal Peak
, the Yuba River Canyon, Kelly, Crystal and SP Lakes as wells as great views of the Sierra Crest.
The peak can be climbed at any time of the year via a number of routes.
In the winter months, the nearby Yuba Gap sno-park serves as a convenient trailhead for reaching the peak. During the summer, the Yuba Gap sno-park and surrounding lakes are part of the privately owned Thousand Trail Campground. Fortunately, the forest service has obtained a prescriptive easement from the landowner, allowing the public access to the area. Check in at the kiosk at the entrance to the campground. The easement allows access to Kelly Lake, which can serve as the trailhead. In the winter, your sno-park fee covers private land use. This route options covers an easy 1.65 miles with 700 feet of elevation gain.
Other route options for the peak begin at either Cisco Grove on I-80 or the roads leading to Crystal Lakes. Much of the land in the area is private property so be sure to respect any posted signs. Of course, cross country routes are also a possibility, some reportedly with decent class 3 climbing.
The Yuba Gap sno-park
/ Thousand Trails Campground is likely the most popular and easy access to the peak. To access the area, exit I-80 at the Yuba Gap exit and proceed along the road, veering left at the intersection to Lake Valley Reservoir, to the large parking lot. During the winter, sno-park permits are required and can be obtained on location. in the summer months, when the campground is open, check in at the Thousand Trails kiosk for a free easement use pass.
To reach the peak, there are numerous signs leading the way to Kelly Lake. Once at Kelly Lake, follow the obvious road to the southeast that gently rises. Soon you will see the "South Butte", which is unnamed on topo maps. Some locals call this peak "Sister Butte". Ignore any lesser used spur roads. The road turns north along the western flank of the Sister Butte. It's pretty obvious which way to go from here. Just head toward the jumble of towers on the true peak. Once on top, the actual highpoint is unmolested by telecommunications towers and is easy to reach.
There are plenty of areas of private property, so be "respectful". The easement obtained at the Thousand Trails Campground covers much of the area, but I'm not sure it covers everything.
CampingTahoe National Forest Camping
Emigrant Gap Area
North Fork Campground
$5.00 extra vehicle fee
For Current conditions and information call or stop by the:
Big Bend Visitor Center
Tahoe National Forest
49685 Hampshire Rocks Road (old Hwy 40)
(at the Big Bend or Rainbow Road exits off of I-80)
PO Box 830
Soda Springs CA 95631
530.426.3609 (voice only)
Cisco Butte Weather Station.
External Links / Etymology
Google Books shows section of the Best Snowshoe Trails of California
book that describes much of the hike.
"[Placer Co.]. Named in 1865 by the Central Pacific Railroad, for John J Cisco, treasurer of the company (1863-69), at the suggestion of Charles Crocker, one of the organizers of the railroad. It was formerly known as Heaton Station."
Erwin G. Gudde, California Place Names