The slowest 3-miler, and other Mount Lassen hikes

    PHOTO BY LEE JUILLERAT <br><p>A steep trail climbs up the Cinder Cone.{/p}

    Call it the slooooowest 3-mile hike ever.

    Yes, it takes time because it climbs uphill. But even more, the hike that includes Kings Creek Falls and the spectacular Kings Creek cascades takes more time than might be expected because it is so dazzlingly beautiful.

    The trail up the cascades — a one-way trek that begins at a signed junction upriver from the falls — features a delicious variety of wildflowers and seemingly endless views and sounds of the boisterously bounding creek. The trail itself is a marvel, featuring rock steps that bend through sometimes narrow passages. It’s obvious why Lassen Volcanic National Park officials made the trail one-way.

    The falls, located below the rumble-tumble one-way section, are delightful, too, with water plummeting over a 50-foot drop.

    On a previous visit I connected the Kings Creek Falls trail with a side trip to Sifford Lakes, which off great swimming place on hot, muggy days. Most recently, Steve Underwood and I followed a trail east along Kings Creek to Corral Meadows, where we took the Pacific Crest Trail south toward Warner Valley, then hiked northwest for a second Kings Creek Fall/Cascadess visit before returning to the Kings Creek Falls Trailhead, a distance of about 11 miles. The route to Corral Meadows includes some tippy-toe stream crossings over fallen trees.

    Kings Creek Falls is one of Lassen’s most popular hikes - and deservedly so - but it’s just one of the park’s several great day hiking possibilities. Climbing 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, a 2,000-foot elevation gain in 2-1/2 miles, is the park’s premiere hike, but Steve and I sampled others during our five-day stay. Two other gems include a loop hike from Summit Lake and the steep slip-and-slide up the Cinder Cone.

    Summit Lake Loop

    We couldn’t resist the temptation. At the Summit Lake Trailhead, a Park Service display features a map and information on a 11-plus mile loop that weaves past several lakes — Little and Big Bear, Silver, Feather, Lower and Upper Twin, and Echo. Surprisingly, the first — an unnamed lake on the way to Little and Big Bear — was our favorite, partly because of its intimacy.

    The out-and-back to Echo, a much larger, genuinely beautiful lake, is the most popular hike from the Summit trailhead, about a 3.5-mile roundtrip. Some hiking guidebooks recommend a 10-plus mile out-and-back that includes Echo, Upper and Lower Twin, and Rainbow lakes.

    That’s probably a prettier loop because the route Steve and I took goes through areas seriously burned by forest fires. At Little and Big Bear, Silver and Feather lakes the fires burned right up to the shoreline. But while it’s not always pretty, the loop exposes hikers to the reality of the devastation that’s caused by wildfires.

    We had most of the loop to ourselves, except a short section north of and along Lower Twin Lake, which is part of the PCT. Through hikers were making their way north toward Oregon, Washington and, ultimately, the Canadian border. After lunch and snack stops at Feather, Upper Twin and Echo lakes, we returned to the Summit Lake Trailhead, where our hike was through.

    The Cinder Cone

    Hiking the Cinder Cone is a slog. As its name implies, the hike is up a cinder cone, where the steep trail climbs 750 vertical feet in about a half-mile up loose cinders. The slope, which varies between 35 and 40 degrees, is the “angle of repose,” the angle that the plane of contact between two bodies makes with the horizontal when the upper body is just on the point of sliding. Yes, it’s a workout, but it’s also well worth the effort.

    The trail leaves from the Butte Creek Campground at the isolated far northeast corner of Lassen. The initial 1.5 miles follows the Nobles Emigrant Trail, a route taken by pioneers in the 1850s and 1860s that’s part of the California Trail. A “Cinder Cone Nature Trail” guide, available at the trailhead notes, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the area the Cinder Cone National Monument in 1907 to ensure it would be protected.

    The real challenge begins off the Nobles Trail at the base of the Cinder Cone. Taken slowly, the trail eventually reaches the 6,000-foot elevation, asymmetrical rim. Trails loop around and inside the crater. Rim views offer 360 degree sightings of the nearby Fantastic Lava Beds and the tempting take-a-dip waters of Snag and Butte lakes. There are also distant summits — Ash Butte, Red Cinder, Red Cinder Cone, Mount Hoffman, Mount Harkness, Saddle Mountain, Crater Butte, Fairfield Peak, Reading Peak, Bumpass Mountain, Hat Mountain, Lassen Peak, Crescent Crater, Chaos Crags and Prospect Peak.

    Cinder Cone can be done as a 5-mile trip by descending down its west side and meeting up with the route back to the trailhead. Along the way, a truly evocative sight is the Painted Dunes, a region of subtle shades of orange and gray. Signed trails can extend the hike up Prospect Peak or alongside the Fantastic Lava Beds to Rainbow or Snag lakes.

    For more information about Lassen Volcanic National Park visit the park’s website at Hiking guides include “Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions” and “100 Classic Hikes: Northern California,” both by John Soares, and “Hiking Trails of Lassen Volcanic National Park” by George P. Perkins.

    Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at or 541-880-4139.

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