Last weekend we visited Thousand Lakes Wilderness, nestled in the volcanic terrain between Lassen National Park and Burney Falls. While we’re familiar with much of the local area the wilderness itself was new to us and we looked forward to an easy backpack and some fishing.
After a long five hour drive from San Jose and some meetup confusion with a friend, we finally were on our way from the Cypress Trailhead to Everett Lake. The beginning of the hike was a slog along a dusty, steadily climbing trail with no views. I wasn’t terribly impressed. But as we got closer to the small basin containing the lake the views started to open up and I started enjoying the hike.
There are no permits or quotas required for Thousand Lakes wilderness so the lakes were pretty busy. But, as always, five minutes of extra effort found us a nice campsite away from the crowds. It amazes me how lazy backpackers can be, dropping their pack at the first available campsite. Some of my favorite spots have been at incredibly busy areas. Something about finding that secret, out of the way camp site that no one else has discovered is rewarding.
After setting up camp the guys decided to crack open the beer and fish. I, however, had loftier goals. The eroded former Thousand Lakes volcano is now a narrow rim that circles a portion of the Lakes valley. The high points on the rim are all named peaks. Which means I had to stand on top of them. So at 3pm I set off towards the rim with the goal to hit as many as possible before my 5pm turn around time.
There is a trail that leads from the lakes up to a low point on the rim. As I hiked up this trail I was a bit dismayed to see a large amount of snow and even cornices clinging to the rim. But I kept going since I wanted to get a better view of the incredibly colorful and dramatic volcanic rock. As I got closer to the rim, just at the edge of the snow, I could see that the trail switchbacked up a melted-out rib. Yay!
By 4pm I was on the rim and heading to Magee Peak, an undramatic bump on the ridge. The views towards Lassen were incredible. After a short break at the summit for photos and log book signing I headed over to the high point, Crater Peak. It looked like a bushwhack from hell but the snakey use trails through the bushes made the climb quite easy. A couple of short talus fields caught me by surprise – a teeny bit of (avoidable) class 2 to make the climb a bit more fun.
After a short summit visit I hit my 5 pm turnaround time so there would be no going along the other edge of the rim to hit the other named peaks. At least I have a reason to come back…
A cross-country shortcut back to the trail saved me a lot of time and I was back in camp at 5:50. David had some minor success fishing and all the guys were trying to catch more. I cleaned up and wolfed down all the food I carried in – too hungry from my extra ~6 miles and 2000 ft of gain to wait for the fishies!
I’m glad we finally visited this little tucked-away wilderness. The scenery was a nice change and reminded me of Lassen, a place I haven’t backpacked in years. With no permits required and no quotas it’s a great last-minute place to slip away to. Don’t miss the peaks – a large part of my enjoyment of the area was drinking in the views from that volcanic rim – it’s incredible up there!
In and out hike to Everett Lake on trail. Optional dayhike to Crater and Magee Peaks includes some off trail but straightforward route finding. Can be done as a dayhike or backpack.
13.6 miles round trip from Cypress Trailhead including Crater Peak hike.
+/- 3400 ft
Trailhead and Permit Notes:
No wilderness permits are required, but campfire permits are. See the Wilderness Info website linked below for current information. Dirt forest roads lead from highway 89 to the trailhead and were passable to most vehicles when we visited in 2011. As always, call for latest conditions.
The lakes below Crater Peak were relatively busy on the summer weekend when I visited, but not so much that we couldn’t find a quiet campsite. My usual advice applies: when visiting a busy place, spend some time looking around and you can usually find peace.