Greetings from Lassen and Plumas National Forests
A scenic guide to a couple of good campsites within a few hours driving distance from Chico
Even if you aren’t searching for a different place to set up a tent and throw down a sleeping bag this summer, there is one reason to recommend both Lassen and Plumas national forests as sites worth sitting behind the wheel of a car for a few hours: the scenery.
A couple of Saturdays ago, for the first time in a couple of decades, I traveled up to Lassen. From Hwy 99 East, just shy of the Red Bluff city limits, I turned onto Hwy 36 and soon found myself slowly ascending toward Lassen National Forest.
The initial area along the highway is somewhat familiar—lots of short oaks and squat brush, much as you might observe along the Skyway between Chico and Paradise. After about 20 minutes, however, the vegetation and ground change to an almost desert environment—stunted conifers, clumps of sage-like plants, dry sandy soil. But as I continued to ascend, the land again shifted, only now subtly toward greener and thicker foliage. Before long, I passed a sign declaring that I’d entered Lassen National Forest.
Battle Creek is a campground now open and situated about two miles west of the town of Mineral. The online information states that the site is open May through October, has 50 camp sites, and runs $14 a night. I didn’t notice any toll booth when I pulled in. Maybe you first have to clear (and presumably pay for) an overnight stay with the ranger chateau just a bit farther down the road. Maybe not. At the entrance, the sign listed it as a “free” campsite. Anyway, it was a nice place: small to moderate-sized lots, picnic tables, and at least one restroom facility. It was mid-afternoon when I arrived, but there already was a group of campers situated at one of the larger spaces, their igloo-like tents set up and the occupants busying themselves with various tasks.
There were still many patches of snow here and there.
After a brief perambulation, I drove on.
The snow alongside Hwy 36 became gradually denser near the ranger station, such that, by the time I turned my vehicle onto the cutoff to Lassen Volcanic National Park, there were three to four inches on the ground. A large orange sign stated that the road was closed ahead one mile past the entrance to the park. I guided my vehicle on. After a couple of miles, drifts began to slope up and away from the road, some up to 8 feet high. At one point, the hill to the right fell away, and I was treated to the spectacular view of a snow-blanketed Lassen Peak. By the time I arrived at the ranger checkpoint, I’d decided that the sign was probably correct; there wouldn’t be much traveling past there. Besides, it was $10 for a day pass, and I had only about that much on me.
Time to head back down into the valley.
The following Sunday, I elected to drive up the Feather River Canyon on eastbound Hwy 70, with the intention of checking out the various sites near and around Lake Almanor. The canyon is truly spectacular this time of year. Apart from the lush greenery that quickly surrounds one, there are the majestic bare stone cliffs that rise up alongside the road, their brown, gray and coppery surfaces glistening with the shimmering glaze of water from melting snow.
Far down below, the Feather River pools brilliantly in deep reservoirs or pulses in silvery ribbons of foam over and through great stones and boulders. Many of the bridges crossing the river at various points are currently being worked on and are limited to one-way traffic (a set of lights determines which direction of traffic may move and when), so motorists can expect some delays while heading up into and down out of the mountains.
In Plumas National Forest, a little over 10 miles east of the town of Belden, the Halsted Flat campground features several camping sites (at least 20), plus drinking water and flush toilets. The cost is $14 per night; reservations are generally a good idea (call 530-283-0555).
I didn’t quite make it all the way to Lake Almanor on my little campground quest. So, for your further edification (and mine), here are a few more campsites in the Lassen and Plumas areas worth looking into:
Plumas National Forest (off Hwy 70): Gansner Bar
Campground open April through October; 14 sites at $14 per night each; no reservations needed; drinkable water and flush toilets available. Located north of Hwy 70 on Caribou Road. Info: (530) 283-0555.
Lake Almanor: PG&E Campgrounds
Sites are open May through September; features more than 120 sites lakeside, each at $15 per night; no reservations required; drinkable water and vault toilets (presumably Port-a-Potties); situated approximately 10 miles south of where Hwy 36 intersects with Hwy 89; more info: (916) 386-5164.
Open May through October; more than 100 sites near the lake at $15 per night; reservations are not required; drinkable water and vault-style toilets; roughly six miles south from the intersection of Hwy 36 and Hwy 89 ; info: (530) 258-2141.
Lassen (Hwy 36): Hole in the Ground
Campground generally open May through October; more than 10 sites at $11 per night; reservations not necessary; vault-style toilets and drinkable water available; located near Mill Creek, 5 miles south on Forest Service Road; info: (530) 258-2141.
That should do for a start. For more information about Lassen-area campgrounds, call (530) 258-2141. For more details about campsites in the Plumas area, call (530) 283-0555. Online, go to http://www.shastacascade.org/forest/regnf.htm or http://www.fs.fed.us/.
Happy camping, folks!