Ishi Wilderness

Located in the Lassen National Forest in California.

In the southern Cascade foothills, approximately twenty miles east of Red Bluff, California, lies the Ishi, a unique 41,000-acre, low-elevation wilderness. The mild climate of the Ishi is conducive for year-round use.

The Ishi is a land incised by wind and water, dotted with basaltic outcroppings, caves, and bizarre pillar lava formations.

This is up and down country, a series of east-west running ridges framed by rugged river canyons. The sunburnt south slopes carry brush (a mixture of species called chaparral). Pines and oaks live on the moister north-facing slopes, and lusher riparian forests line the river banks.

Unique to this area are the pineries dense islands of ponderosa pine growing on terraces left after rivers cut the canyons.

The Ishi is named for a Yahi Yana Indian who was the last survivor of a tribe which lived in the area for over three thousand years. Shortly after 1850, the white settlers exterminated all but a handful of the Yahi. Ishi (the Yahi word for man) and a few others that escaped, hid for decades in this harsh wild country. Today, only what the Yahi left in the earth behind them remains to tell their story.

When in the Wilderness, please respect that record. Remember that all archaeological and historical sites and artifacts are protected by federal law and should not be disturbed.


Many of the trails in Ishi originated as Indian travel routes. Some of the more interesting are described below, along with a difficulty guide (Easy - trails where the grades are not steep but gradual. These usually follow creek drainages or ridgelines. Moderate - trails with well-graded climbs and descents. Moderate trails usually follow undulating canyons with mild elevation change. Difficult - trails that usually run north/south. These are steep and require extra effort to complete.)

Deer Creek Trail: Moderate, 7 miles. This up and back trail is one of the most popular in the Ishi. The trail runs midway up the naked slopes and offers some spectacular views of Deer Creek canyon's basaltic cliffs, spires, and of the creek below. When you hit the private property please respect the land owner's rights and continue your exploration on Forest land.

Rancheria Trail: Difficult, 2 miles. This is a strenuous walk for the adventurous hiker. For the first mile the trail follows a jeep road, then leaves the road off to the right at a fence line. Winding around some large basaltic outcroppings and dropping a total of a thousand feet into Mill Creek Canyon, the trail reveals some spectacular views of the Wilderness.

Lassen Trail: Easy, for the first 3.2 miles; then difficult for 3.1 miles. In 1848 a party of gold seekers opened a path along the volcanic tablelands to the gold fields. This hand-hewn pathway separated the Mill and Deer Creek drainages. Being an old road, the first part of the trail is easy to follow. Be warned though, that the ridgetop is dry and no water is available. When you reach a private property sign the trail continues to the right and becomes more strenuous. The trail descends to Boat Gunwale Creek following an old road and weaving through hillside brush. At Boat Gunwale Creek the trail disappears in stretches on the way to Avery Place. A spur trail, also difficult to find at times, follows the ridge to the east and down to Mill Creek.

Devils Den Trail: Difficult, 4.5 miles. The first mile of this trail parallels Deer Creek. Then it climbs up Little Pine Creek to the ridgetop. Notice the vegetation change as you climb. The trail moves through three different vegetation zones, starting in the riparian area by the creek, then into an oak woodland, and finally topping out in chaparral. The last mile follows an old road to the top of the ridge. An extra attraction might be a side trip (1/4 mile) to the Graham pinery.

Moak Trail: Easy, 7 miles. The Moak Trail is a springtime, wildflower trail. During the summer it is very hot and offers little shade. Start at the trailhead off Ponderosa Way and head for Deep Hole Camp. Deep Hole is a great spot to nestle in among the tall grass and oaks. Approximately one mile past the Deep Hole tie trail, the Moak trail temporarily fizzles out in a lava rock boulder field. Shortly after that you pick up an old jeep trail that takes you down to Drennan Camp, a nice place to bed down along the banks of Little Dry Creek. The hike to the next ridge south of Moak ridge is a cross country adventure, but the hillsides are fairly open and easy to travel. If you have arranged for a car shuttle to get you back to the Ponderosa Way trailhead, the best hike is to head south from Deep Hole Camp to the Deer Creek Trail. This hike offers some striking vistas of the Sacramento Valley. If you are lucky you might even see the dragon that winds along the valley floor.

Lower Mill Creek Trail: Easy, 6.5 miles. The trail parallels the creek down to Papes Place. The scenery is magnificent and the creek offers many beautiful fishing and swimming holes. Fossil shells along the way testify to the rock's seabed origin. Approximately five miles from Ponderosa Way the Rancheria Trail takes off to the northern boundary of the Wilderness.

Upper Mill Creek Trail: Moderate, 13 miles. Although out of Ishi, this beautiful trail follows Mill Creek, climbing into the mixed conifer forest.

Fish & Wildlife

The Tehama deer herd, the largest migration herd in California, winters in the area. Other wildlife includes wild hog, mountain lion, black bear, coyote, bobcat, and rabbit. Most of the Ishi is also a state game refuge where hunting is not permitted.

Deer and Mill Creeks are two of the few remaining Sacramento river tributaries with natural runs of salmon and steelhead trout. While the remnant spring run Chinook (king) salmon are off limits to fishing, the river does provide excellent rainbow and brown trout, squawfish, tule perch, and small mouth bass (California fishing license required!).

Rock cliffs provide nesting sites for a wide variety of raptors. Peregrine and prairie falcons, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and various owls are all residents. Other common sightings include wild turkey, quail, mourning doves, canyon wrens, band-tailed pigeons, and myriad songbirds.

Be aware! Rattlesnakes are common during the late spring and summer months, and when temperatures soar, the snakes head toward the drainages. Keep a watchful eye while hiking on rocky shores and trails along streams.

For further information contact: Almanor Ranger District, Lassen National Forest

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 19 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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