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Land of a Thousand Lakes in Lassen

August 27, 2000|JOHN McKINNEY

Long ago, glaciers scooped a large bowl out of the north shoulder of onetime volcano Magee Peak. Thousand Lakes Valley, as the bowl is known today, is filled with ponds and small glacial lakes. The valley is a favorite destination of hikers looking for a remote getaway in the southern Cascade Range, which is about an hour from the Oregon border.

The lakes within Thousand Lakes Wilderness (part of Lassen National Forest) are much less visited than those in nearby Lassen National Park. Largest of the lakes is fir-fringed Lake Eiler in the northeastern section of the wilderness.

This memorable hike journeys through stands of lodgepole pine and red and white fir, then visits subalpine glacial lakes and cirques. Ambitious hikers can continue to the summit of Magee for a panorama of Northern California peaks and valleys: Lassen Peak and the surrounding national park back country and Mt. Shasta.

Directions to trail head: From California Highway 89, about 10 miles south of its junction with California Highway 299, turn west onto Forest Road 26, signed as Thousand Lakes Wilderness Access and Cypress Camp. Stick carefully to this road as it passes a couple of confusing intersections. At the 7.5-mile mark, turn left on Forest Road 34N60 and drive 2.5 miles to the signed Thousand Lakes Wilderness trail head.

The hike: Head up the road, jogging left and entering a forest of fir and Jeffrey pine. Cross seasonal Eiler Creek and begin a 1.6-mile moderate ascent among Jeffrey pine and white fir to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness boundary. You'll reach a trail fork 0.2 mile past the wilderness boundary. The left fork heads for Lake Eiler (as does the right if you wish to make a loop).

Once at the lake, you can explore the shores on two paths. One leads along the east shore a short half-mile. The other main path traverses the south shore and connects with other pathways penetrating the heart of Thousand Lakes Wilderness.

After enjoying Eiler, hikers bound for Magee Lake (or those returning to the trail head who want an alternative route) take the southern trail 0.6 mile to a junction with the Magee Lake/Everett Lake path.

Leaving Eiler Gulch behind, you begin switchbacking south, then travel through thinning lodgepole pine forest. Everett Lake, with the backdrop of the Red Cliffs and a glacial cirque, has camping and good trout fishing.

A short distance past Everett Lake is a junction with a connector path branching left to Magee Lake.

From this junction, you have another 1.8-mile ascent to Magee Peak. About 1.5 miles from Magee Lake, you'll reach the summit ridge, then angle right 0.25 mile more to the top of Magee Peak.


Magee Lake, Magee Peak Trails

WHERE: Cascade Range, Lassen National Forest.

DISTANCE: To Lake Eiler is 4.4 miles round trip; to Magee Lake is 9 miles round trip with 1,900-foot elevation gain; to Magee Peak is 12.6 miles round trip with 3,200-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: Lake-filled glacial bowl, fir forest.

HIGHLIGHTS: Grand vistas of Northern California from Magee Peak.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to strenuous.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Hat Creek District, Lassen National Forest, P.O. Box 220, Fall River Mills, CA 96028; tel. (530) 336-5521.

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