Somewhere around ten years ago David and I spent a day at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. This is a small and quiet park that is only accessible via boat since other than its lakeshore, the park is surrounded entirely by private lands. Ten years ago we rented a canoe and paddled about a mile to the first trailhead, then did a six mile hike through lava flows and by lava tubes. After the hike we paddled back across the lake. We didn’t see another person and the wildlife was incredible. For years we’ve been saying we need to go back and take advantage of the campsites lining the shore, and we finally got around to it last weekend.
This was the first time I tried kayak camping and I think I have found a new favorite thing. It’s kind of like backpacking except you can haul more (at least in our 14.5 ft touring kayaks with huge compartments…) Instead of packing everything carefully into my pack, I tossed my gear and supplies into dry bags. Here’s a boat camping hint: get different color dry bags. All of mine are the same color and I felt quite disorganized and confused about where everything was. It would be nice to, say, use a blue bag for kitchen gear and food, a red one for clothes, a green one for sleeping bag and pad, etc. You get the idea. I’m sure that I’ll figure out a system once I do this a few more times.
The drive to Ahjumawi is a bit long for a weekend, but I didn’t care. I was really excited to go back to this beautiful place, get some more time in my new boat, and try out this kayak camping thing. I wasn’t looking forward to driving the ~6 hours one way with kayaks on top of my Outback, but it turns out that they stay quite sturdy in the Yakima J-Hooks and don’t really impact the handling of the Outback on mountain roads. In fact, I often forgot they were even on the car!
After the long drive, we arrived at Ahjumawi and parked at the interestingly named ‘Rat Farm’ boat launch. A primitive toilet and view of Mt Shasta are the only interesting things going on here, and the lack of shade was definitely noticed as we loaded our boats with gear and slipped them into the water. With a forecasted high of 82 degrees I was slathering on the waterproof SPF 50 and already looking forward to a swim.
The winds can pick up on Horr Pond later in the afternoon, so we got moving around noon. There are three camp areas along the shore, each with three campsites. We paddled towards the farthest, about 2.5 miles from the put-in. As we paddled along we could see Mt Shasta and Mt Lassen along with other volcanic peaks. Bald eagles and ospreys flew overhead. The occasional fishing boat would pass by and occupants would wave. Everyone was having a great time.
At the farthest end we hopped out of our boats to inspect the campsites. We didn’t really like what we saw, so we paddled back to Crystal Spring (the middle set of sites) and found a great spot. We pulled our boats up on shore right behind the campsite and got settled in quickly.
It was close enough to the springs area that we were able to spend the afternoon walking around and exploring, paddling around, and enjoying the beautiful clear spring water. There were enormous fish swimming around but they were uninterested in what we threw at them. No worries, I just went for a swim instead.
The next morning, before packing up camp, we hopped in our boats for another paddle around the clear Ja-She Creek. As I caught up with David he was pulling in one of those monster trout. It seems that they are a bit hungrier in the morning! And so were we – this guy provided quite a breakfast feast for us when we got back to camp!
Paddling back in the morning was a bit easier, a combination of the glass-like water and the fact that the beer bag I had been dragging through the cold water off the back of my kayak the previous day had mysteriously disappeared. We explored along the shore and spotted even more wildlife – deer, beaver, pelicans, and turtles. Even with our leisurely morning around camp and meandering paddle, we were back to the launch before noon.
I put together this short video from GoPro footage I took from the front of my boat. It gives a good idea of the easy water conditions and scenery along the lake. Check the link at the top of the page for my full photo album and a better feel for what this park is like from land.
In and Out dayhike on trail. Can be done as a side trip if backpacking through the area.
Variable. It is approximately a 1.2 mile paddle to get from the Rat Farm boat launch to the first trailhead and camp area. If you want to circle the entire lake the paddle could be as long as 12 miles. Upon reaching the northern shore you have access to twenty miles of trails, from short strolls along the shore to the over five mile Spatter Cone loop trail.
Trailhead and Permit Notes:
There were no day use permits or fees required when we visited in 2013. The only public access is the Rat Farm boat launch out of McArthur.
There are three main camp areas along the north shore. Pit toilets, picnic tables, and firepits are available. The sites are first-come first-served and fee is required, payable via self-pay envelopes at each camp location.