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Quincy: Sierra Escape

Encircled by a national forest and seated at the top of the Feather River Canyon, Quincy offers a touch of city and a lot of country.

Rick Stock at Indian Creek near Quincy California, image
Photo caption
Rick Stock prepares for a kayak run on Indian Creek, which feeds into the Feather River.

The forty-niners called the Quincy area "the Lost Sierra." Sprawling over the northernmost reaches of the Sierra Nevada, heavily forested Plumas County, where Quincy is the county seat, may seem as remote today as its goldfields were in 1850. But the mountain town and its environs are well worth the long drive for travelers who like their nature and solitude seasoned with rural comfort.

"Quincy's trailheads are not uncrowded—they're empty," says Rick Stock, Feather River College outdoor recreational instructor, who takes year-round advantage of the wilderness out his doors. "You can kayak, bike, or hike all day without seeing a soul." Trails are as abundant as the pines, firs, and cedars in a county that's nearly three-quarters national forest. Some trails are "what you dream of," according to Stock, like the one from Silver Lake. It's just 30 minutes from town but, he says, "you're quickly amid granite and in summer you can swim in Gold Lake."

Quincy's singular appeal stems from its location atop the Feather River Canyon and along the Feather River National Scenic Byway (Highway 70). Don't miss this drive, west from town. Through the canyon, you'll spot easy tubing and rafting opportunities, as well as white water on the North Fork Feather River. You'll see falls scoring canyon walls; the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad; Woody's Hot Springs (clothing optional); Rich Bar, a former gold camp; and Belden, where the Mexico-to-Canada Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road.

Back in town, dark forests and bright peaks still surround you. Fabled Quincy spreads out around Main and Lawrence streets, anchored by a triad of standard-bearers, the Plumas County Courthouse, the Plumas County Museum, and the Quincy Library. The museum is not just another repository of artifacts from California's gold mining, American Indian, and pioneer past. Curatorial skill is highly in evidence. Exhibits run from a collection of more than 100 Maidu baskets to a restored Victorian, the 1878 Joshua Variel home behind the museum. The town's browseworthy shops include My Sister's Closet, a used clothing boutique; Quincy Natural Foods, a great hippie store; and Buffalo Nickel Antiques.

Besides employing loggers, the wilds of Quincy attract artists and musicians. The work of local talent, rendered in an impressive variety of media, is showcased at the Plumas County Art Gallery. The Town Hall Theatre hosts live music and drama. If you're a fan of improv, check out Words and Music at the Morning Thunder Cafe. For jazz, blues, rock, and more, plan a visit around the High Sierra Music Festival, July 3 to 6, where the lineup includes Steve Winwood, bluegrass favorite the Del McCoury Band, and more than a dozen others.

To satisfy the appetites of artist and lumberjack alike, Quincy offers dining more diverse than you might expect in a rural area. The bohemian espresso hangout Morning Thunder Cafe features inch-thick whole wheat pancakes and juicy beef, turkey, or veggie burgers. Sweet Lorraine's offers fresh California cuisine; Moon's leans on tradition, with steak, chicken, and fettuccine Alfredo; and Pangaea prides itself on organic vegetarian fare (try their chipotle-spiced tempeh burrito). But the most unexpectedly pleasant surprise may be savored inside a nondescript but homey roadside restaurant, Janice's Steakhouse—flaky-crusted chicken potpie, aged-on-the-premises prime rib, and other American cooking.

The Feather Bed Inn, a gracious 1893 Queen Anne home, is Quincy's most genteel lodging. The motels in the area vary in quality and it's best to get guidance in choosing one—contact the visitor center, which is at the airport, a walkable half mile west of downtown. In fact, little Quincy is on the circuit of small-aircraft pilots who fly in for a day or a weekend. They're looking, like the rest of us, for nature and solitude, seasoned with rural comfort.

Photography by Sean Arbabi

This article was first published in July 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.