Lassen National Forest
The Lassen Scenic Byway is a loop route on four state highways that travels through the geologic and biologic crossroads of the southern Cascades, revealing a mosaic of changing landscapes and views. Although it can be driven in a day, the most rewarding approach is to take in a segment each day, stopping along the way to hike and explore.
Since it is a loop, you can start anywhere and go either direction. Starting at the small town of Old Station and going counter-clockwise, it follows this route:
Take Highway 44/89 to the entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park; follow Highway 89 south through the Park to Highway 36; take 36 east to Highway 44, then back to Old Station.
An alternative route around beautiful Lake Almanor is also available. Start by taking State Highway 89 south from Chester, then follow route 147 along the east shore, through Westwood (where you might want to stop and take a photo of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox) and back to State Highway 36.
Here are some of the things you can do along the way...
Subway Cave Lava Tube
At Old Station, 1/4 mile north of junction Highway 44/89, is a volcanic cave that you can walk through. It's cold46° Fand dark, so dress warmly, take a good light with fresh batteries, and do not tour it alone. The floor is rough, so wear sturdy shoes. The cave is 1,300 feet long and between 6 and 17 feet high.
About 20,000 years ago a crack opened in the valley floor two miles south of Subway Cave near the town of Old Station. A river of molten lava flowed 16 miles northward from this fissure, covering the floor of Hat Creek Valley. As it flowed, it cooled and hardened on the outside, but the interior lava was insulated, remained fluid, and continued to flow. When the lava source stopped, this inner molten material soon drained out of its shell, leaving behind a dark, hidden tunnel. Lava tubes are common in volcanic areas but become visible only when the roofs collapse and they can be seen. The roof of Subway Cave ranges between 8 and 24 feet thick.
Spatter Cone Crest Trail
Here you can walk a nature trail that explores the volcanic landscape and how life adapts to it. Three of the four kinds of volcanoes in the world can be seen along the Spatter Cone Trail. The trailhead and parking area are located at the Sanitary Dump Station across the highway from Hat Creek Campground on Highway 89 in Old Station. The trail has a round-trip distance of 1.5 miles. Because the trail is not shaded, we suggest that during summer you take this adventure in the cool early morning or late afternoon hours. And don't forget water!
Hat Creek Rim
A 900-foot-high, 14-mile-long escarpment was created when the earth ripped along a fault and was thrust up on one side. A heritage of the area's past, the Hat Creek Rim offers magnificent views of Hat Creek Valley, Lassen Peak, Burney Mountain, and, further away, Mt. Shasta. Access is by dirt and gravel roads. You'll also notice a fire-scarred area on the Rim. This area was burned during the 24,000-acre Lost Fire in 1987.
Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail
This 25-mile trail was once the roadbed of Southern Pacific's 130-mile Fernley and Lassen Branch Railway, and has been converted to a riding and hiking trail. Echoes of the old steam engines pulling their loads of logs and lumber past logging camps and depots will be your companions as you explore the rich history along the trail. You can pick up an Interpretive Trail Guide and Map at any Lassen National Forest office or at the Bureau of Land Management office in Susanville.
Hidden Change Interpretive Trail
On this trail you will travel along a path through a constantly changing landscape that has been sculpted by fire and water. This biological process is called "succession," which is the natural change from one plant community to anothera never-ending process. This short, 1/4-mile loop trail takes only about 35 minutes to walk. Pick up a trail guide at the trail entrance located at the Merrill Visitor Information Center at Eagle Lake.
Along the Scenic Byway you will find Visitor Centers in the towns of Old Station and Bogard, Eagle Lake Ranger District, Almanor Ranger District, and at the Loomis Museum inside the Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Old Station is just off of the junction of Highway 44 and 89. Stop by for information on recreation opportunities and see displays on "The Trout of Hat Creek." Educational books, Forest maps, wood permits, and campfire permits are also available. This is also the gathering spot for Junior Ranger, Nature Walks, and Campfire programs during the summer months.
Bogard is located on Highway 44 approximately 35 miles from Susanville, where you can get information on recreational opportunities.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication