In an attempt to avoid the fires and smoke blanketing the Trinity Alps this year, I decided to try my first overnight trip in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I planned to take it easy and spend two days, two nights, and a short morning hike out.
I arrived at the Loomis Museum and Ranger Station at 10:30 AM. Back country permits are a formality that is required basically in case you get lost/injured and they need to come looking for you. Like the Trinity Alps, they do not restrict the number of people camping in the back country.
The girl at the desk that issued my permit seemed more than a little out of it, but I eventually got my permit and headed down the road to the trailhead at Summit Lake. I had hiked most of the planned route as a 20 mile day hike back in 2015, but this year I was gong to expand the loop a bit to see a few more lakes, and I was going to take it slow and easy.
I hit the trail at 11:38 AM and planned to camp near the Snag Lake inlet for a easy 8.5 to 9 mile first day. One of the reasons that I chose to repeat several miles of a previous hike was the lakes at the beginning. After a short 400 foot elevation gain to the top of the ridge between Summit Lake and Echo Lake, you can look back for a nice view of Lassen Peak. The problem this day was ... the smoke. I had not escaped the smoke entirely by coming to Lassen. It seems that they had a control burn going that was providing quite a bit of haze. Onward to Echo Lake, Lower Twin Lake, and Upper Twin Lake. The Twin Lakes are the best hiking destination in Lassen Park, and after this trip, I think that I have hiked practically every foot of every trail in the park. The large flat expanse of water that both lakes offer is made better by the sandy beaches. If you are looking for a good day hike - about 9 miles round trip from Summit Lake to the eastern shore of Lower Twin Lake - this one offers a nice beach to relax on by yourself and have a nice lunch. As usual, the Twin Lakes did not disappoint.
Next up was Rainbow Lake, a new one to me. It was smaller than the Twin Lakes but still nice. Several decent camping spots near the lake and sandy shorelines again. After Rainbow came Snag Lake. I chose the most direct route to the lake then headed north a bit before heading down to the lakeshore for some lunch. Snag lake is quite large for an alpine lake. From where I sat, it appears that a lava flow blocked the north end of the valley at some time in the past causing it to fill with water supplied by a small inlet stream to the south. While it is against park regulations to camp along the shores of Snag Lake, it appeared that camping opportunities existed on the east shore, and the ranger who filled out my permit put down Snag Lake as my camp site for Friday night. Go figure.
I headed back south towards the inlet stream where I hoped to find a nearby campsite before the trail headed up and over a ridge to Juniper Lake. I did not find anything that would work as a campsite. I did find a somewhat flat area that I could have used in a pinch as I headed up the ridge, but it was only 3:30, so I continued on. And on, and on. I arrived at Juniper Lake at about 5:30, unable to find a sorta' flat, sorta' clear place to camp before I got there. Now I needed to put in about 1 mile to clear some summer homes on the western side of the lake. I finally found a semi-flat spot under some pine trees where I made camp at 6:30 after putting in about 13.6 miles. I was sleeping in, and if I kept to my proposed campsite for Saturday night, I would only need to hike about 8 miles the next day.
What a good night's sleep. I was using my half size ccf pad and my backpack, but it was so comfortable. I can only assume it was because I had camped somewhere that was not an established campsite. In other words, the ground was soft, so I didn't need a supersoft air mattress. I slept in until 8:00 and didn't hit the trail until 9:30. I was in no rush. I spotted the first of several deer that I would come across today less than 1 mile from camp. Next up was three grouse that took off amid great fan fare about 25 feet in front of me along the trail. Finally, I arrived at Horseshoe Lake, the last new to me part of this hike, around 10:45. There were 6 young adults camped there who were still getting ready that morning. Good to know I wasn't the last one to get on the trail. From there, I saw three more deer, two of which let me get within 25 feet or less. After fording Kings Creek, I was at that day's campsite, and it wasn't even 2:00. I decided to stop for a long lunch break and then just finish off the last 3 miles that afternoon.
I got back to my car about 4:30 and headed back home a day early. I don't know if it was the views of the Sierra that spoiled me, but Lassen Park just doesn't do it for me anymore. I certainly don't plan to return for any overnight hiking again, at least not alone.
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