Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Part Two
● By Kerri Regan
The Adventure Continues
April 2016Story and Photos by Kerri Regan
Traveling along the segment of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway between Old Station and McCloud will leave you with little doubt as to how this all-American Road got its name. Lassen Peak – an active volcano – is the star of the show, and if you scoop up a handful of gravel on any given trail, you’ll likely discover that you’re holding tiny volcanic rocks. Much of this section of the byway is wilderness, which means camping opportunities abound.
Old Station is the launching point for the historic Lassen and Nobles Emigrant Trails, part of the National Historic Trail system. Pull over at the Panoramic Point Vista and use the short, paved trail to discover breathtaking views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags.
The byway then meanders by the turnoff for the Thousand Lakes Wilderness Area, which includes dozens of crystal-blue lakes, ponds and pools, scattered throughout volcanic formations. Wildlife is plentiful here, and about 21 miles of maintained trails provide access to breathtaking vistas.
Continue north to the Hat Creek Recreation Area, where you can picnic, hike, fish and explore caves (we love Subway Cave). A bit of trivia: The earth’s crust has shifted vertically so much along fissures, crevices and fractures of the Hat Creek Rim that over the past million years, it has risen to more than 900 feet above the valley floor. Use the viewing scopes to seek out geologic landmarks like West Prospect Peak, Lassen Peak, Crater Peak, Magee Peak, Burney Mountain and Mt. Shasta.
If you’ve got a license and a fly rod, spend some time at spring-fed Hat Creek – it’s one of the best trout fly-fishing streams in the country. Some opt to get a bird’s-eye view of this area by paragliding in the Hat Creek Rim. The region is also home to Hat Creek Radio Observatory, built in 1959 – the Allen Telescope Array is a joint effort by the University of California at Berkeley and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute to explore and explain life in the universe.
Just before you reach the junction of Highways 89 and 299 is the town of Cassel, and Baum Lake is a lovely place to paddle a kayak. Bring your fishing pole.
If you have extra time, take a side trip off the byway to explore the communities of Burney or Fall River Mills on Highway 299. Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park in McArthur is a volcanic wonder—more than two-thirds of the park is covered by lava flows, and it’s an ideal spot to search for bald eagles, osprey and great blue herons. It’s only accessible by boat, and is one of the largest systems of fresh water springs in the nation.
Back on Highway 89, head into McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, and within minutes, you’ll be gazing at what Teddy Roosevelt called the Eighth Wonder of the World. You can get a picture-perfect view just a few steps away from the parking lot, or follow the trail down to the water, then up to the top of the falls. Lake Britton, also in the park, is a fun place to play with the family (and it’s always a bit cooler than Redding in the summertime).
Blink and you might miss the tiny town of Bartle, which would be a shame. You can take a 60-mile driving loop from here that introduces you to craters, caves and lava flows. Allow at least three hours for exploring and be sure you have plenty of gas, since there are no services on the loop. Back in town, you can enjoy a meal, a cocktail and a game of pool at the Bartle Lodge and Café – unofficial home of the world’s best potato pancakes. The bartender’s friendly dog might even greet you at the door.
McCloud’s jewels are plentiful, starting with Lower, Middle and Upper McCloud Falls. A 1.6-mile trail wanders upstream along all three falls, which were created by volcanoes and are fed by melting glaciers and springs. The recreation area includes places to picnic, swim,
fish and camp.
McCloud Snowmobile Park is the gateway to many miles of groomed trails that lead into the Modoc and Klamath areas. And it’s always fun to stop at Snowman’s Hill on Highway 89, across the highway from the turnoff to Mt. Shasta Board and Ski Park. You’ll hear squeals of delight from folks of all ages as they navigate sleds, toboggans, even pieces of cardboard down the hill. Who needs Disneyland?
Stop in the town of McCloud for a visit to the Heritage Junction Museum. You’ll be enamored by the town’s historic district walking tour—the McCloud River Mercantile Hotel offers getaway specials that include spa treatments, ski packages and more.