Caribou Wilderness

Located in the Lassen National Forest in California and adjacent to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The 20,500 acre Caribou Wilderness is a gentle, rolling, forested plateau with many forest fringed lakes. Reminders of volcanic and glacial origin can be seen throughout these wildlands. Crater peaks, cinder cones and numerous large and small depressions have become beautiful, timber-edged lakes and are scattered throughout this plateau region. The land itself is rough and broken. Caribou Peaks, Black Cinder Rock, and Red Cinder are points of interest. The average elevation is 6,900 feet. The highest point, Red Cinder, is 8,370 feet. From here there are majestic views of the lofty mountains that surround this primitive wilderness. Located on the eastern slopes of what was once Mt. Tehama, this area is surrounded by the volcanic peaks of Swain Mountain, Bogard Buttes, Prospect Peak, Ash Butte, Red Cinder Cone and Mt. Harkness.

The forest cover is mostly lodgepole pine with a mixture of Jeffrey pine, white and red fir, western white pine, and hemlock. In early summer, wildflowers brighten the trail and water lilies cluster in ponds.

The headwaters of the Susan River originate in the Caribou. This water percolates up through the porous volcanic aquifer and is a major year around water source for the east slope of the Cascades.

While scouting out a route to bring wagon trains through, early day hunting parties also ventured into the Caribou to harvest wildlife for survival. Today their route is known as the Lassen Trail.

The larger lakes that are deep enough to support fish are home to brook and rainbow trout.

Several species of animals may be observed ranging from numerous small squirrels and chipmunks to the large, but shy, deer and black bear. Occasionally, the more observant or lucky traveler will catch a fleeting glimpse of a pine marten. The pine marten was the prime target of early trappers but is now protected and doing well in the more remote sections of the wilderness.

Some familiar birds that make their home in the Caribou are the bald eagle, osprey, common merganser, eared grebe, and miscellaneous puddle ducks.

Another flying critter worth mentioning is the mosquito. At times these little devils are thick and hungry. It would be advisable to carry insect repellent in your pack.

Trail Access

The wilderness can be easily explored by hiking the well maintained trails which are, for the most part, located on gentle slopes. Silver Lake is the east trailhead entrance and might be a good place to start. From here, you can access the north end of the wilderness to Triangle Lake or the south end to Hay Meadows. Another option is to set up a base camp inside the wilderness and explore from a central location. Being a wilderness, there are no roads within the boundary, and all motor and mechanized vehicles are prohibited. The Caribou Wilderness beckons to those that search for solitude.

Highway Access

There are three ways to drive to the Caribou Wilderness boundary. The easiest route is to follow State Highway 36 to A-21 (at the Y intersection in Westwood). Approximately 14 miles north, along A-21, there is a road to the left marked Silver Lake. The road to Silver Lake is about 6 miles in length and has a gravel surface.

A second approach to the wilderness is to turn off of State Highway 36 onto the "10" road, which travels north. This turn-off is 5 miles east of Chester and isn't marked. There is a turn-off to the south onto A-13 to the Almanor Peninsula This can be used as a reference point. After you proceed left, make a second left and the next right, and this will take you to Hay meadows trailhead, the Caribou Lake trialhead and the Cone Lake trailhead, which is at the north end of the wilderness.

If you are traveling from the north, the best route would be to take State Hwy 44 to Lassen National Forest Road 10. The turn-off is just south of the Bogard Work Center. If you choose this route, you can get to the Cone Lake trailhead just north of Silver Lake.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 22 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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