Escape to This Hidden Forest Town in the Lost Sierra

The national forest you don’t know is a stunning weekend getaway from the San Francisco Bay Area for swimming, hiking, boating, beer, and golf.

Quincy museum and forest
Photo by Ben Mesirow for Thrillist
Photo by Ben Mesirow for Thrillist

Mental maps are funny things, the way we warp and scrunch actual geography in our heads to fit the familiar into place. A six-hour drive you know can feel shorter than a four-hour drive you don’t, and a friend moving to a new neighborhood forces you to reorder your thinking about the entire city. Most Californians have an idea of where Lake Tahoe is, can picture the sparkling waters southwest of Reno in the summer, or know the winding drive from Truckee to the snowy slopes in winter. But many of us have a blank space in the other direction, northwest out of Truckee. That is Plumas National Forest, part of the aptly-named Lost Sierra, a hidden NorCal escape that makes a perfect weekend getaway.

The town of Quincy is the seat of Plumas County, a quaint former gold rush town that was originally founded in 1852. It doesn’t look like the set of a Western or a corny ghost town, but you can feel its Old West roots. Main Street runs for about five blocks, with a narrow row of businesses ringed by pines and forested mountains looming all around. It’s quiet and charming, the perfect home base for adventures in the surrounding forest. Here are some of our favorite things to do on a weekend getaway to Quincy and the Plumas National Forest in the Lost Sierra.

Travel time:

4 hours from San Francisco

Clouds over lake almanor
Flickr/Don Debold

If you don’t do anything else: Go extreme on a low-key lake

Everyone knows about the watersports at Tahoe, but Plumas National Forest has its answer in Lake Almanor, one of the largest manufactured lakes in the state and one of the few large bodies of water where the water is shockingly warm. If you’re a terrestrial creature, there’s the Lake Almanor Trail, a 12-mile path for hiking and biking that runs around much of the shoreline, but it’s also a pretty spectacular lake for watersports. Rent jet skis, pontoons, or ski boats from Major’s Outpost on the West shore of the lake for high-speed action. All their ski boat rentals come with tow ropes, skis, tubes, and life vests. If you’re looking for something a little slower-paced, Knotty Pines Resort and Marina on the North side of the lake rents kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, and fishing boats. That last one is particularly noteworthy—Almanor is an excellent lake for fishing.

Fill your days:

Outdoor activities in Quincy

Quincy is close enough to the famed Pacific Crest Trail that some hotels in town have explicitly banned PCT hikers from staying there, presumably in fear of their dirty, trail-beaten boots and clothing. It’s about a 20-minute drive west out of town to find the PCT, and it makes for a fun excursion to hit the nearby sections. There are also tons of other popular hikes, such as Spanish Ridge for a reasonably challenging hilly hike to the north or Greenhorn Creek for a more chill and flat stroll on a logging road along a babbling creek.

Plumas Pines golf course
Flickr/Tony Zuliani

The old saw may be that golf is a great walk spoiled, but here you can flip it on its head—in Quincy, golf is a perfect excuse to take a great nature walk. It’s hard to beat the gorgeous setting of the dozen or so golf courses scattered around Plumas National Forest. Among others are Bailey Creek by Lake Almanor; Grizzly Ranch, Whitehawk Ranch, Plumas PinesGraeagle Meadows, and The Dragon at Nakoma Ranch to the south towards Reno; and Mt. Huff right near town. Each boasts pine forests, mountain views, and crisp fresh air.

If you want to keep those chill vibes going, you can take that slow pace right out onto the water with some river tubing. Plumas National Forest has an extensive network of interconnected lakes and rivers that are great for a float. From Quincy, you can head a few minutes west to Buck’s Lake, where several campgrounds, hotels, day-use parks, and boat launches exist. You can float around in the lake itself or in Buck’s Creek, Haskins Creek, or Mill Creek nearby. Out of Quincy to the south, the Middle Fork of the Feather River has lovely swimming holes, fishing, and tubing, especially near the collection of cabins and campsites called Camp Layman.

Eat, drink, and sleep:

Restaurants and bars in Quincy

All those outdoor adventures mean you’ll need some serious fuel. There aren’t many restaurants in Quincy, and the ones there tend to close early or keep odd hours. But breakfast is where the town shines, and Patti’s Morning Thunder Cafe is the place to be before noon. The wood-paneled outside screams vintage roadside diner, and the interior is its match, chaotic and fun, a jumbled aesthetic with more wood on the walls and tons of old photos, seasonal decorations that sometimes stay up a little long, wine-mom style coffee signs, and even an antique fireplace. The menu is full of perfect California diner classics, such as omelets, pancakes, sandwiches, and the requisite breakfast burrito, huevos rancheros, tostadas, and a pretty wild stuffed avocado salad.

Quintopia brewing and west end theater exterior
Photo by Ben Mesirow for Thrillist

And Quincy’s Main Street does have a few bars, but none so fun and unexpected as the tasting room at Quintopia Brewing—because it’s also the home of the West End Theatre and dramaworks, Quincy’s very own community arts organization and black box theater. The brewery serves as its lobby, and it also feels like a living room for local artists. On any given night, actors are hanging out and laughing over pints, and on weekends, it means you may find the bar relatively quiet… until intermission hits and the audience filters out to chug a beer and get a refill to bring back in for the second act.

If that isn’t a draw on its own, Quintopia’s beers are damn good. The menu is familiar, with beers that run the gamut from light and crisp like Kiandra Kolsch through the usual series of well-balanced IPAs and on into a full-bodied pub ale and a solid stout. Unlike many craft breweries, though, the beers tend to stay on the lower ABV end of the spectrum, with only the occasional beer cracking 7%, a refreshing perspective. Food is eclectic and much better than it has to be, from pub standards, such as the Hot Pretzels and Loaded Fries, to a Falafel Wrap, Chili-Lime Pork Salad, and a surprisingly great Cold Noodle Bowl.

Where to stay in Quincy

There are a ton of good options for lodging in Quincy and the area in general, from hotels and rentable condos near the aforementioned golf courses to cabins and campsites dotted throughout the forest. But there's a lot to be said for staying right in town, close to what counts as the center of the action around here. And it's hard to get more central than the Feather Bed Inn, a charming and historic family-owned inn in the middle of town. The Queen Anne-style inn was originally built as a family home in 1893 and has since been converted to five guest rooms upstairs with two cottages below. It's comfortable, quaint, and makes an excellent base for adventure as it's the kind of place you'll be excited to return to when you're exhausted from a long day in the woods.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.