Linking Lakes in the Caribou Wilderness: Lassen National Forest

Cascade Mountains; california The Caribou Wilderness sits just to the East of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The Caribou Wilderness sits just to the East of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

It’s about time! We’ve been talking about Lassen (both the National Park and the National Forest) for years, but it wasn’t until recently that we resolved we’d finally do it this Labor Day weekend. We decided on Caribou Wilderness, a relatively small protected area just to the East of and adjacent to the National Park. So as usual, we packed up the Jeep and as soon as I could get out of work, we headed out.

The drive North was uneventful, but I can’t forgo mentioning Granzella’s. The internet has it’s fair share of mixed reviews, but I think this place is a great stop along I-5. The restaurant/deli/bar/inn was bustling with tourists, surely drawn in by the countless billboards along the way. I can’t speak for the food, but their sourdough bread was great and went very well with some hummus. Certainly a better option than gas station “snacks” or fast food.

Cascade Mountains; california Sharon hiking through the forest.

Sharon hiking through the forest.

We arrived at Cone Lake Trailhead well after dark to find 2 cars already there. That number somehow increased to about 8 by morning. Though we later discovered some nice tent sites right at the trailhead, we drove back down the road for a few hundred yards and ducked into the forest for the night. There were more stars in the sky than I’ve seen in a while, making for a great backdrop to our night-cap.

The worst part of waking up in the morning? I was sick. My throat had been bothering me a little bit the prior week, but on Saturday morning I felt particularly unwell. Making the matter worse: the night had been colder than we expected. Waking up in the middle of the night, I had trouble even wiggling my toes. We slept in a bit, waiting to warm up, so by the time we were ready to hike out it was already 11.

Cascade Mountains; california; lake Looking toward Triangle Lake.

Looking toward Triangle Lake.

Cascade Mountains; Sharon; california; lake Sharon taking a break by Turanround Lake.

Sharon taking a break by Turanround Lake.

As we reached Triangle Lake and saw the clear, blue pool of water, I had almost forgotten about my maladies. The hiking was mainly flat and we passed by lake after lake, each one glistening in the sun. Here and there we could see a cinder cone, its flanks covered with pine. However, for the most part, hiking through the woodland you wouldn’t even be able to tell you were in the mountains.

At Long Lake we took a long lunch and I snagged a nice power-nap. In retrospect, this was a great idea since the hardest part of the day was ahead and sickness was wearing me out. After Long Lake came a long descent to Indian Meadow, followed by a final steep climb to Hidden Lakes where we made our camp for the night.

Cascade Mountains; california Our campsite near one of the Hidden Lakes.

Our campsite near one of the Hidden Lakes.

While these were not as nice as previous lakes we passed (though I think this was in large part due to the light at that time of the day), there was absolutely nobody around. Each previous lake we passed had at least one group camping by it. Swimming in the lake was a bit of a feat though. The loose soil at the bottom acted like quick sand and I nearly lost my flip-flops as my feet sank ankle deep in the muck. Didn’t let that stop me. As we sat around, eating our dinner, we realized just how quiet this area is. No people. No crickets. Virtually no air traffic. Just the white noise of the wind.

Cascade Mountains; california Chef Battie working on dinner.

Chef Battie working on dinner.

Saturday night was much warmer. We had worn extra layers to bed in anticipation of another cold one, but had to strip them off and even keep our sleeping bags unzipped. I felt much better in the morning. This may or may not have been the result of the cup of pine needle tea I brewed the night before. The mellow flavor definitely tastes of vitamin C, and according to a certain “survival expert” named Bear, is quite healthy. The claim does indeed seem to have some scientific backing to it and even Tamiful is apparently derived from shikimic acid which pine needles contain.

We debated a bit about whether we should cut the day short and hike the most direct route to Turnaround Lake, but opted to stick with the original plan, taking a side loop which starts by heading East towards Gem Lake just North of North Divide Lake. Boy am I glad we did. The terrain was much different than what we saw so far. A bit more elevation change, more exposed, and with better views. Surely more “mountain-like” 🙂 Hiking up to Rim Lake we could see Silver Lake and the area’s namesake, Caribou Lake, below.

Cascade Mountains; california; lake If memory serves correctly, this is Rim Lake.

If memory serves correctly, this is Rim Lake.

Cascade Mountains; california; lake From this vantage point we were looking down at, if I remember correctly, Caribou Lake.

From this vantage point we were looking down at, if I remember correctly, Caribou Lake.

Rim Lake itself was gorgeous, offered a nice vista point for North Caribou Peak, and made for a great lunch spot. From here things only got better. The trail was vaguely defined. What until now had been an overabundance of blazes became a sparse spattering of cairns. After reaching Cypress Lake we had to stop many times to find our way and we’re fairly sure we eventually lost the trail. I can’t say definitely because there were a few cairns and some footprints, but I think these were left by others who also lost the trail. A map and a good sense of direction came in handy and we eventually re-joined the actual trail.

As we neared Silver Lake, the clouds were building and soon the sun hid behind them. We crossed our fingers and tried to hurry as much as we could to beat the rain to camp.

Cascade Mountains; california; flowers This plant had the spectrum of colors in its leaves: red, yellow, green.

This plant had the spectrum of colors in its leaves: red, yellow, green.

Success! We managed to pitch the tent right as it began to drizzle. Sitting under a tree, and now slightly wet, we finished dinner and got in the tent just as it started to pour. It rained hard all night and we used a spare tent stake (I left the trowel by the bear canister) to dig a small trench in an attempt to stop water from pooling in the vestibule. It worked. Somewhat.

Though we woke up fairly early, we stayed in the tent past 8, hoping for the rain to stop. It did, and though we had to pack up a wet tent, most everything else stayed dry.

Cascade Mountains; california Lassen is a place of change. A bed is all that remains of this lake.

Lassen is a place of change. A bed is all that remains of this lake.

Monday was a short day. We had less than 4 miles back to the car. Maybe a mile from the trailhead, I noticed a vaguely familiar figure, limping with an old external frame pack, accompanied by another individual. Could it be? There was a remote (in hindsight nil) chance that 3 of my friends were going to meet us at Turnaround Lake on Sunday night. This was 2 of them. The limping friend, Brian, had hurt his knee and they didn’t make it all the way out to Turnaround. He and Dave were hiking out to Cone Lake Trailhead, while the 3rd, Justin, hiked the longer distance to Butte Lake in the National Park to fetch their car.

It’s always interesting somewhat randomly running into people you know in the wilderness. We passed the next 3 or 4 hours waiting on Justin and then headed to Upper Crust Pizza in Redding for after-trip food and beer. Good way to end any backpacking adventure.

For more national forest adventures, visit our U.S. Forest Service Agency Guide.

We also have completed several hikes in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Visit our NPS Agency Guide for more information.

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  • dave

    Always one my favorite areas. Off trail cross country is relatively easy also, although careful route following on a map is required. Magnetic anomalies in the area can make compasses erratic and cannot always see good landmarks for triangulation, and GPS go haywire in a few isolated locations.

    Caribou is one the original wilderness areas, created long before the 1964 Wilderness Act (IIRC 1947).