Guarding the northeasternmost corner of California, the Warner Mountains are an isolated mountain rampart. Its peaks stand out as if giant merlons and its lakes seem to be filling spectacular crenelations. These mountains offer some of the grandest scenery, and most unusual terrain and generally unvisited wilderness that northern California has to offer. Indeed, the Warners seem as though they are a range too far, further from a major population center than nearly any other mountains in California. Yet for those who venture into this unusual mountain fastness, many delights await. Chief among them are the spectacular mountains themselves: high peaks, sheer cliffs, gorgeous lakes and ample solitude. Added to this are beautiful creeks and waterfalls, lush meadows loaded with spectacular wildflower displays and some of the finest fall color to be found anywhere in California. Unusual volcanic tuff formations add bizarre variety. A journey into the Warner Mountains will not fail to make a lasting impression on those who put forth the effort.
The Warner Mountains lie at a number of points of transition. Geographically, the range is the point of demarcation between the basin and range topography that characterizes the Great Basin Desert, which lies to the east, and the Modoc Plateau to the west, an area related to the Cascade Range. Botanically, the Warners mark the transition from flora of moister regions to the plants populating desert mountains. Notably, sagebrush and aspen, ubiquitous in the mountains of the Great Basin, coexists with lodgepole and white pine more commonly found in the nearby Cascades and Sierra Nevada. The Warner Mountains are also marked by a political transition. Most of the range, including its highest peaks and most rugged topography, is found within California, though a significant portion of the range extends into southern Oregon.
For those venturing into the Warner Mountains, the primary destination will be the South Warner Wilderness, the only wilderness area in the range. It is here that the most highly developed trail system exists as well as the most spectacular scenery. Ten lakes exist within the wilderness boundary (though only five of them are really worthy destinations). Chief among these is extraordinary Patterson Lake. Most of these lakes can be visited as part of the premier backpacking trail in these mountains, the Summit Trail Loop. This route follows the crest of the Warners before dropping down below the top of the ridge and scalloping in and out of the many drainages that mark the eastern part of the range.
The Warner Mountains are one of those semi-legendary ranges, a place that few have heard of and far fewer have been to. For those fortunate enough to explore the range, they will most likely have it to themselves (the lone exception to this is Patterson Lake, which would still be unvisited by most standards). It is a lonely, majestic place that promises excellent solitude, incredible and often unusual scenery, and the allure of mysterious mountains seldom seen.
Though they are far from Mount Shasta, they are still doable as a day trip. Most of the trails that are suitable for day hikes can be reached in about 2.5 hours from Mount Shasta. Obviously this is a serious time commitment but the spectacular mountains are more than worth the effort. For those looking so spend more than a day, the Warner Mountains are withing a comfortable travel distance from Mount Shasta. Indeed, though they may be found along the outer fringe of what could plausibly be considered the Mount Shasta area, the giant volcano is prominently visible from many of the trails in the Warners.
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