Bucks Big Loop
Overnight hike or Uber dayhike
3000' elevation gain season: Aug-Oct
(but not if snow below 7000')
Maps (May 2020 edition)
This is an overnight hike, and sensible people who like to savor the wilderness will hike it as such. A few people will do it in an uber* dayhike, but if you attempt such a feat be prepared in case you can't complete it before darkness falls across the spooky old growth red fir forest filled with inky black bears and prowling members of the weasel family occasionally illuminated by stray shafts of moonlight.
Starting at Mill Creek Trailhead, your route immediately crosses Mill Creek. If the water is high and it is hard to cross here, then you may want to reconsider your hike, since there is another crossing of Mill Creek downstream where it is larger at Mile 16.
Across Mill is a trail junction, where you head left. In half a mile the trail crosses the creek again in a meadow, and the trail fades out near a tall snow survey post. Pickup the trail again on the other side of the meadow, and head uphill. There are often many cattle from here to Mile 6.5, so be cautious drinking the water; we treat the water with chlorine bleach 2 drops/quart.
Your trail climbs moderately through thick forest and past small meadows. Pay attention to the map and the trail; it is easy to head down a cow trail in error, but generally these are obvious after a bit since they will not be cleared of downed trees or low branches. The two major cow trails lead a short way off your route to salt licks, where the ranchers have put out blocks of salt for their beasts.
Descending now, the trail becomes faint again in a meadow at Mile 3. Confident hikers can cut a mile off the hike by cutting north cross-country to the Pacific Crest Trail. Otherwise continue to a junction with the PCT near a lily-pad pond. Follow the PCT up the pretty Clear Creek drainage, to the headwater at Clear Creek Springs. This is the best water source encountered thus far, but check for cow activity before drinking.
A mile or so further is Salt Rock Spring, but it arises from a seeping, Mountain Alder-filled meadow frequented by our bovine friends. Our route now follows an undulating rounded ridge, with big views and some nice waterless campsites nestled in the trees. A little beyond the trail to Silver Lake, the adventurous hiker can head downhill off the trail to Pebble Spring, which has the best water on the hike. Back on the trail, you shortly arrive at the Right Hand Branch Trail.
Turn left onto Right Hand Branch Trail and follow it five pleasant miles downhill through forest, past small meadows, and across a few open spots, finally arriving at a junction beside Bucks Lake.
Head right, past campsites with good lake water at Mile 15, up a short moderate hill, to Lakehead Spring creek, which has water we drink without treating (use your own judgment). Then the trail descends to a major bridgeless crossing of Mill Creek.
Across Mill Creek there is short trail branching right to a campsite, then the main junction a 100 yards further. Turn right, and climb steeply to the road. Cross the road to the resumption of the trail, and follow it until it ends where it reencounters the road. Follow the road until the trail resumes heading off the road to the right. Your trail crosses Mill Creek again, and in 1/3 of a mile you reach the easy-to-miss cutoff to Mill Creek Trailhead. Congratuations, you have completed Bucks Big Loop!
*def: The ultimate, above all, the best, top, something that nothing is better than.