Everett Lake in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness.
Mention of the California Cascades naturally bring to mind two great landmarks: Mount Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park. The former is a singular, magnificent mountain while the latter also features an excellent volcano but a host of other features including lakes, cinder cones and active geothermal features. There is, however, another Cascade region that rises nearly to the level of these two excellent destinations yet manages to stay off the radar despite being prominently visible from Mount Shasta down to the Central Valley. This area, the Thousand Lakes Wilderness, also boasts a tall volcano, beautiful lakes, cinder cones and large lava flows. It is classic Cascade terrain, all bundled up in a compact package with an extensive trail network and beautiful landscapes.
Although it is one of northern California’s smaller wilderness areas at 16,335 acres, the compact unit of protected wild land nonetheless offers an overlooked and seldom used slice of gorgeous mountain real estate. This pocket wilderness is part of the greater Lassen area, lying only 7 miles north of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s northern boundary. the true centerpiece of the Thousand Lakes Wilderness is the remnants of the Thousand Lakes Volcano. Prior to its prehistoric eruption, the peak is estimated to have been over 10,000 feet high. During its active period the volcano below its top, leaving a vast crater. In the subsequent epoch of glaciation, a large glacier formed in the crater and then began to move to the northeast. The crater rim was breached and the glacier scoured out a large valley. A smaller glacier formed to the south and followed a parallel path as the one that formed in the crater.
Just northeast of the volcano, lying directly in the path of the glaciers, is the Thousand Lakes Valley. Here the glaciers were hemmed in by the lava uplift of Freaner Peak. The glaciers pushed their moraines into this depression, filling it with glacial till. Eventually the glaciers melted and the valley was filled lakes. The lakes now found in the wilderness are the detritus of these glaciers. Most of them are found in the Thousand Lakes Valley, the depression lying between the Thousand Lakes Volcano itself on the west and Freaner Peak on the east. Only a few lakes, notably the best two, Everett and Magee, are not in the Thousand Lakes Valley. These two lakes are higher up, at the base of the old volcanic rim. If one is more interested in high peaks and alpine terrain than in mountain lakes, the crater rim is the part of the wilderness that will attract. Unfortunately, nothing approaching the promised tally of lakes are to be found. In fact, only 9 lakes have names, the rest of the lakes being small nameless pools. Of the 9 lakes that are named, only three, Eiler, Everett and Magee, are first rate. Nevertheless, these lakes are classic alpine pools that offer great scenery, swimming and fishing.
The highest point in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness is 8,677 foot Crater Peak. As its name implies, it is the highest point on the rim of the old volcano. Magee Peak and the Red Cliffs are also prominent points along the crater rim. Views from this slice of mountain terrain are fantastic, taking in both Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak. Other high peaks in the wilderness are Fredonyer Peak, a major spur off of the Thousand Lakes Volcano and the Red Cliffs, which anchor the eastern end of the old crater rim. Freaner Peak, a large shield volcano in the northeast corner of the wilderness is the tallest peak not connected to the Thousand Lakes Volcano. Additionally, there are a number of cinder cones, the largest of which are Eiler Butte, Hall Butte and the Tumble Buttes.
While there are numerous named peaks in the wilderness, they all are part of the remnants of the ancient Thousand Lakes Volcano. The tallest summits, Crater, Magee and Fredonyer are all prominent points on the crater rim or its spurs. It is the accumulation of these points that are visible from a distance. Despite being nearly 2,000 feet shorter than nearby Lassen Peak, the Thousand Lakes Volcano still rises prominently above the surrounding landscape.
The Thousand Lakes Wilderness and the Thousand Lakes Volcano from Mount Shasta.
The Thousand Lakes volcano from the Chaos Crags in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The broad-shoulders and crater rim of the Thousand Lakes volcano are obvious from Redding.
The Thousand Lakes Wilderness is one of the southern most areas in the Cascades Range. The Cascades stretch from southern Canada south through Washington and Oregon, all the way to Lassen Peak, which is just a few miles south of the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. Moving north through California, the Cascades begin with the Lassen area, which is encompassed in Lassen Volcanic National Park and moves north, including the Hat Creek Valley and many peaks that ring the valley, including the Thousand Lakes’ peaks, Sugarloaf Peak and Burney Mountain. It is reasonable to say that the greater Lassen area ends at the Pitt River and Burney Falls.
Beyond the Pitt, the Cascade crest is subdued and composed of scattered volcanic plugs and cinder cones before it reaches the Antelope-Butte Complex of peaks. From here the Cascade crest becomes more defined, eventually forming a single ridge moving north from Herd Peak to the Goosenest to Willow Creek Mountain then finally diving down to the Klamath River and entering Oregon. The grand peak of the California Cascades, Mount Shasta, is actually a large outlier, well west of the crest of the range. East of the crest extends the Modoc Plateau which is bounded in the east by the Warner Mountains. The pleateau is home numerous volcanic features, the most famous of which is Lava Beds National Monument.
The entire region around the Thousand Lakes Wilderness is volcanic.
It is within this regional context one finds the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. Even though it is at the southern end of a massive mountain range, the compact nature of the Thousand Lakes volcano and its accompanying wilderness as well as the rugged terrain surrounding it give it a more expansive feel than one might expect from its size. Indeed, the Thousand Lake Wilderness is the crown jewel of the larger, Hat Creek Valley region. It is bounded on the south by Lassen Volcanic National Park and on the north by the Pitt River. Its eastern boundary is the Hat Creek Rim, a long series of cliffs forming a 600 foot high rampart. The western perimeter of the Hat Creek Valley is made of the Cascade Crest, composed of, as previously mentioned, a series of high peaks, including the Thousand Lakes Volcano. The whole valley nakedly exhibits its volcanic past and boasts numerous lava flows.
As mentioned earlier, there is a great network of trails in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. Four trailheads, each located at one of the compass points, provide access. The hub of the network is located in the Thousand Lakes Valley and trails radiate out to the trailheads and up to the Everett and Magee Lakes and the crater rim. Note that the trail coming from the west side is still discernible and can be hiked but is no longer being maintained by the Forest Service. The best access to the crater are is from the Cypress trailhead.
Interestingly, the Thousand Lakes Wilderness is not connected to the Pacific Crest Trail, though it lies just a few miles west of this grand route. The high country of the wilderness, particularly the crater rim, is prominently visible from many sections of the PCT through this area, especially from the Hat Creek Rim. The route of the PCT through this area is a curious question. The better terrain and ample water sources lie on the west side of Hat Creek, where there are many lakes and intermittent creeks. The landscapes are more in keeping with what the trail is typically known for. The current route is notoriously dry and more in keeping with the desert terrain of southern California. However, passage through the high country would likely have necessitated more dirt road crossings and lies west of Hat Creek, making the crest of the Cascades not the true watershed divide.
The PCT is marked in yellow.
Lastly, it must be mentioned that the Eiler Fire burned a portion of the the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. However, considering the damage wrought by this conflagration and the fire’s provenance on the shores of Eiler Lake, remarkably little of the wilderness itself was damaged. Most of the destruction was to the east, in the Hat Creek Valley. There are some snags on the east end of Eiler Lake where the fire started but the rest of the wilderness, especially anywhere were trails pass, there is little indication that a large fire occurred in the region.
Thousand Lakes Wilderness Gallery: