Lassen National Forest
Distance: 30 Miles
Type: Level railroad grade
Getting There: I-5 to Hwy. 36 to Westwood or Chico via Hwy. 32 to Chester and Westwood. The best public access areas are at Mason Station near Westwood (trail follows Ash St. and County Road A-21 4 miles to Mason Station Trailhead. Follow signs along road.), Hwy. 44 near Hog Flat Reservoir, Hwy. 36 near Devil's Corral, and the Susanville Trailhead.
Following the old Fernley and Lassen Branch Line of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the trail winds 25.4 miles from Susanville to Mason Station. The trail then follows existing roads for an additional 4.5 miles into Westwood, where a railroad station type kiosk and a 25-foot carved redwood statue of Paul Bunyan mark the Westwood trailhead.
Most of the trail traverses the rugged Susan River Canyon with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and reminders of the railroad and logging days of the past. The entire grade is usable as a hiking and equestrian trail. Horseback riders, hikers, joggers, and mountain bicyclists use the trail. In the snowy winter months, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers enjoy the trail.
The trail is named in the honor of former Congressman Harold T. "Bizz" Johnson who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1958 to 1980. Congressman Johnson was instrumental in the successful establishment of this rails-to-trails project. The BLM Susanville District and Lassen National Forest now jointly manage the Bizz Johnson Trail.
Hiking: If you plan to hike the trail, you will find the 18-mile segment along the Susan River from Westwood Junction to Susanville most scenic because of the variety afforded by the adjacent river and canyon. It is an easy hike with maximum 3 percent grade.
A variety of day hikes are possible from the many trailheads shown on the map. By arranging a shuttle between trailheads, hikers can enjoy more of the trail without backtracking. Backpacking is also an activity that can be enjoyed on the trail. The water sources found along the trail are not safe for drinking. Drinking water should be packed in or treated.
Equestrian: Horseback riding is a wonderful pastime along the trail. Eleven bridges and two tunnels, 450 and 800 feet, are passable on horseback. If you wish to avoid the tunnels. riverside trails provide alternate routes.
Bicycling: Bicycling on the Bizz Johnson Trail is best enjoyed on wide-tired bicycles. Multi-geared mountain bicycles are excellent for trail use; however, single-speed wide-tired bicycles are also suitable.
The trail surface consists of a relatively level railroad grade (3 percent maximum) composed of aggregate material. Wide-tired bicycles can easily travel the entire trail. Caution should be exercised when crossing planking on decked bridges and when traveling through unlighted tunnels.
Cross-country Skiing: The best areas for cross-country skiing are on the trail's upper 18.5-mile segment, located west of Highway 36 (Devils Corral area). Elevations from 4,760 feet to 5,500 feet, northern exposures, and shading combine to provide the most reliable snow conditions. A recommended trail segment for cross-country combines road skiing from Highway 44 to Goumaz (3 miles) with trail skiing from Goumaz to Highway 36. This 9-mile segment affords a gentle downhill slope with good views of the Susan River and Diamond Mountain. To avoid backtracking, arranging your own shuttle is recommended.
The lower 7 miles of trail from Highway 36 east to Susanville are skiable following major snowfall, but snow conditions deteriorate rapidly on this section due to lower elevations and open southern exposures. Also, two tunnels (800 and 450 feet respectively) require walking.
The best public access areas are at Mason Station near Westwood Highway 44 near Hog Rat Reservoir, Highway 36 near Devils Corral, and Susanville Trailhead.
Built in 1914 to service the newly developed logging community of Westwood, the Fernley and Lassen Railroad was heavily used to haul logs, snip milled lumber, and transport passengers for over 40 years. Operated by Central Pacific, and later by Southern Pacific, the railroad provided the essential link between the Westwood mill in Lassen County, California, and the railroad's main line in Fernley, Nevada. From Fernley, the milled lumber products were shipped to markets throughout the country and around the world.
With changing economic conditions the Westwood Mill gradually declined leading to the eventual demise of the railroad. The last trains operated on the Fernley and Lassen branch line in 1956. For 20 years the railroad lay unused and uncared for.
In 1978, Southern Pacific, the railroad owner, received approval to legally abandon the unused line. The Bureau of land Management with the support of the U.S. Forest Service and many community groups then initiated the rails-to-trails conversion. Thirty scenic miles of the old railroad between Susanville and Westwood are now the historic Bizz Johnson Rail Trail.
The Bizz Johnson Trail, like the Fernley and Lassen Branch Line, continues to contribute to the well-being of the communities it serves. As the railroad was a transportation link between Susanville and Westwood, the trail now links the towns recreationally.
Local residents enjoy the scenic beauty and convenient access that the trail provides along the Susan River Canyon and through the forested woodlands. And as the railroad once linked Lassen County with outside markets, the Bizz Johnson Trail now links Lassen County with a large population of trail enthusiastshikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers, as well as sportsmen and railroad history buffs.
At its peak in the 1930's the Paul Bunyan Lumber Company of Westwood operated the largest pine mill in the world. The booming era of Westwood and the Paul Bunyan Lumber Company can now be revisited. The Westwood trailhead's railroad station kiosk, the nearby 25-foot carved redwood statue of Paul Bunyan and the interpretive displays of the Westwood museum bring to life the bygone era when the woods and the town of Westwood bustled with the sounds and activities of logging and railroading. The western half of the Fernley and Lassen Branch line was alive with logging camps, spur lines and switching stations. These features can now be seen along the trail marked by replicas of station signs and explained through interpretive signs.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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