Touring the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
01/25/2016 11:00AM ● Published by Kerri Regan
The Adventure Starts Here
By Kerri Regan
Photo courtesy of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
Ready for a road trip? Grab some water, snacks, a blanket, a camera and perhaps some snowshoes, and you’re ready to hit the byway.
Winding from Lassen in Northern California to Crater Lake in Southern Oregon, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway will lead you through some of the North State’s most awe-inspiring vista points. You’ll witness incredible geological formations formed by the Cascade Mountains, and you’ll discover all kinds of treasures as you cruise through wetlands, forests, ranches and more.
For this journey, we’re covering the southernmost 150-mile section of the byway, though mileage will vary depending on your side trips. Much of this area is still cloaked in snow—you’ll find lots of lovely launching points for a sledding or snowshoeing adventure.
Start at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, just beyond the southwest entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The road through the park is closed in the winter, but the Visitor Center is typically open year round (check before you go, as it occasionally closes during extreme weather). From this spot, you can see all four types of the world’s volcanoes—mud pots, boiling pools, steaming ground and roaring fumaroles.
Along the Lassen Trail, just south of Mineral, you can peek back in history at what pioneers saw when they explored these lands during the Gold Rush. A sign titled “The Last Summit” outlines the discovery of dead oxen and discarded wagons in 1849, while other markers describe triumphs along the trail – it’s a fun treasure hunt for local history buffs (learn more at www.emigranttrailswest.org).
Cross-country skiers will enjoy the 10-mile McGowan Trail on Highway 89, two miles north of Highway 36, which offers a breathtaking view of Lassen Peak. Want a more high-octane adventure? The Morgan Summit Winter Staging Area about four miles east of Mineral on Highway 36 is the gateway to 77 miles of groomed snowmobile trails (come back in the summer with your mountain bike).
Continue east on Highway 36 to the seven-mile scenic trail at Domingo Springs northwest of Chester, one of many ways to access the Pacific Crest Trail along the byway. The Maidu Indians called this spot “the center of the universe.”
In the town of Chester, you’ll discover numerous restaurants and businesses that opened in the early 1920s. Explore the town’s historic district, including the Collins Pine Museum and the Chester Library and Museum. Hungry? The Burger Depot’s waffle fries have been described as “epic,” and the railroad motif is a big hit with little ones. The Kopper Kettle Café delivers on its promise of “fine homemade cookin’.”
When you’re officially re-fueled, head for the Collins Pine Nature Trail, which traverses 50 acres of woodlands – keep your eyes peeled for beaver ponds. Chester sits on the north edge of Lake Almanor, which is teeming with opportunities for birdwatching, horseback riding and fishing, along with camping, waterskiing and sailing when the weather is a tad warmer. The byway circles Lake Almanor, and paved hiking and biking trails hug the west shore.
Continue east to Westwood, right above Mountain Meadows Reservoir, where you’ll be greeted by a 24-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan to honor the town’s logging heritage. A bit further east is the Fredonyer Winter Staging Area between Susanville and Westwood, where you can climb aboard snowshoes, skis or a snowmobile to catch a glimpse of the Great Basin and high country around Lassen Peak. The Bizz Johnson Recreational Trail rail-to-trail project offers hiking, biking, horseback riding and fishing.
Eagle Lake, north of Susanville and east of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, has a visitor center that offers great insight into the area’s wildlife, land, watershed and recreation opportunities. The recreation area has five campgrounds, a beach, boat launch and picnic area linked by a six-mile trail.
Rest areas aren’t typically tourist destinations, but the Bogard Rest Area and Winter Staging Area is an exception. Almost 30 miles northwest of Susanville on Highway 44, the area includes 80 miles of groomed snowmobile and cross-country trails that lead through the Pine Creek Valley.
By now, your snacks are likely depleted, your camera is full and you’re ready to head home for now. Check back with us in April, when we’ll lead you along the second leg of the byway, from Old Station to McCloud. Want to get a head start? Pick up the 160-page interpretive guide, “Discovering the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway,” at Enjoy the Store in Redding and most park and travel visitor centers, including the California Welcome Center in Anderson.