The TrailDirt Crew has recently returned from a trip to Northern California. Hiking and camping all over the Sierra Nevada and the lower Cascades was a lot of fun, and even offered up some surprises in scenic beauty and in nature.
One of our favorite experiences was hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park on a trail to an area called Devils Kitchen. LaVo, as its called within the park service, exceeded my expectations in every way. I knew I would see some residual volcanic activity in the area, as Lassen Peak erupted in 1915–aside from Mt. St. Helens, it was the only other volcano to have erupted in the continental United States in the 20th century.
Once we arrived at the Warner Valley trail head and packed our day packs, we began walking west along the trail through a lush green valley. The valley was criss-crossed with tiny brooks and streams that were a bright orange and gray color, and were actually steaming up from the grassy surroundings. It was surreal. The bright orange color was due to a particular bacteria that only lives in really hot water. And the water was hot, not what you would imagine as a mountain brook at all. It also smelled of sulfur, continuously. You could not be anywhere in the Warner Valley and not smell it on the wind. There are signs discouraging hikers from touching or using the water, by the way.
The trail then snakes through a lovely grove of California Redwood, Spruce, Fir, and Ponderosa Pine for about a mile. As the trail continues west, the smell of sulfur becomes even stronger. Then you can hear water, lots of it. Hot Springs Creek is visible from an embankment at the edge of the forest grove above Devils Kitchen, and the trail drops down to creek level, where you cross a nice foot bridge.
From the bridge, the trail carefully weaves though the small caldera area known as Devils Kitchen. It is like having a tiny version of Yellowstone to yourself. Sulfur, steam, and boiling mud pots surround you and you can feel the “thump” of the mud boiling next to the larger pots. The smell of sulfur is overwhelming, and some of the fumaroles, or steam vents, are just like inhaling a hot, wet, blast of sulfur if you stand close enough.
All together, the hike round trip was 4.2 miles and took around two to three hours. It did not disappoint in either scenery or geology or volcanic features. We even encountered some grazing mule deer on way back to the car.
Getting to the Warner Valley trail head area is a bit east of the park’s main entrance road; you will need to turn onto the Warner Valley Road at Chester, California, and take it north and west into Drakesbad at the Warner Valley entrance into the park. To get more information about this hike, visit Lassen Volcanic National Park’s page about Devils Kitchen.