Updated: Dec 13, 2020
The land of Ishi and Peter Lassen. The Lassen Backcountry Discovery Trail is where the northern Sierra meets the southern Cascades. It's a land that's rich in aboriginal and pioneer history, but its natural splendor an unspoiled wilderness will mesmerize any nature lover.
Adventure Rating: Baja
Trip Length: 181 miles, 3-5 days
Season: June - November
Technical Rating: Green
Typical Terrain: Primarily wide dirt and gravel roads and some lesser travelled dirt roads.
Recommended Vehicle: Subaru with all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage the entire route.
Alternative Routes: Yes, see bottom of route details.
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TopoTerra (San Diego)
The Lassen Backcountry Discovery Trail is a place where two great mountain ranges meet. The trail begins in the northern Sierra, a mountain range known for its granite monoliths and glacier carved valleys (Yosemite, Kings Canyon). At Mount Lassen, the mighty Sierra give way to the Cascades, a range famous for its many picturesque and snow capped volcanic peaks. Aboriginal tribes have been living in the area for the last 10,000 years, and pioneers like Peter Lassen pioneered wagon trails through the forest and over the mountains. Thousands of prospectors followed these trails to the various gold fields in the region. The Ishi Wilderness is named after the last Native American, who emerged from these forests in 1911. Like the Plumas BDT, the Lassen is rich with in aboriginal, pioneer, and mining history. While not part of the official route, if you have the time, we recommend visiting the picturesque Burney Falls and Lassen National Park. The route begins at a rather inconspicuous location-- the boundary where the Plumas National Forest meets the Lassen. The route heads north as it traverses the southern and western flanks of Humboldt peak. The road to Humboldt Peak and Colby lookout are both worth visiting, as they provide exquisite views of the Sierra and Cascades. From Colby lookout, you'll soon cross Deer Creek, which is one of the major stealhead and salmon spawning habitats in the headwaters of the Sacramento River. You're now on section of the Lassen Trail. Bruff's camp has several small volcanic monuments dedicated to a group of emigrants that travelled the Lassen Trail. Down the northern slope of the mountain sits Mill Creek, and the iconic Black Rock (and a campground of the same name). This is a great place to cool off when the summer heat is on. Keep an eye on the local scenery, see if you can notice the transition from the granite of the Sierra to the black lava fields of the Cascades. The trail skirts along the lower elevation slopes of Turner Mountain, before crossing Highway 36. Like many of the other mountain peaks in the forest, Turner Mountain is blessed with a fire lookout. Departing from Highway 36, the route ascends onto a volcanic shelf, and soon the iconic snow capped peak of Lassen makes a stunning appearance with the surrounding volcanic peaks. Heart Lake is a great little side adventure, that requires a 1.8 mile hike to reach. The Chaos Crags make for an interesting set of volcanic formations, which can be reach with a short drive from Highway 44 and onto Highway 89.
Once you've crossed Highway 44, you'll be on the final stretch of the route and deep into Cascade volcano country. Buttes and lava domes are prevalent along this section, with Crater Peak (elev. 8,685 feet) dominates the immediate landscape. As you cross Highway 89, keep an eye out for the massive black rock lava flows that you'll soon traverse. Not far from the lava flow, you'll find Hat Creek Observatory, which is a great place to stargaze. Just east of the observatory, look for a rift in the lava flow, which is known as Murken Bench. Murkey Bench is actually a fault, which happens to only be tens of thousands of years old (young in fault years!). Just up the mountain sits Hat Creek Rim, another excellent example of a fault exemplifying the tectonic forces in action, as faults uplift the surrounding rock and soil. The Lassen BDT follows a section of the original Lassen Trail before meeting its terminus at Little Valley.
While not an official alternative route, it is possible to string together the Plumas BDT, Lassen BDT, and Modoc BDT for a truly unforgettable off road adventure though Northern Sierra and Southern Cascades.
Camping Recommendations Dispersed camping is permitted in the Lassen National Forest, and the opportunities are numerous. We believe this is the best way to take advantage of light crowds (unless you're near Lassen National Park) that recreate in the forest. Given its proximity to water, Black Rock is a great place to setup camp when the heat is on.
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
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