Thousand Lakes Wilderness, California

Photo by Renee Hall

Where in the West Should I Go? • 52 Places to Visit in 2022

Nestled in the Cascade Range just north of Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California is the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. This area of 16,335 acres features a number of lakes (although not actually 1,000), streams, trails and backcountry campsites.

While narrowly avoiding the recent fires, damage from past blazes is evident. The silver lining is that the forested landscape recovering from the burns now offer wide, clear views, including of nearby Mt. Shasta. Towering pine, fir and cedar trees cover the land. Wildlife incudes deer, black bears and mountain lions. 

Volcanic formations, including lava flows and cinder cones, are also abundant and are evidence of the historic magma action in the area. Trails to the wilderness’ largest water feature, Lake Eiler, even include portions of the path winding through volcanic rock. 

Reach Lake Eiler either from the east via Tamarack Trail or on the west side via Cypress Trail. Both offer easy to moderate climbs of less than three miles and access to connector trails. If you have the time, hike around to the other lakes and make it a backpacking adventure. The relatively gentle incline on many trails, short distance between the lakes and numerous options for dispersed camping makes it a good choice for beginners. 

Although it’s not all moderate slopes, for more experienced hikers looking for something steeper, Magee Lake and Magee Peak trails lead to its namesake and then on to the highest point in the forest, Crater Peak at 8,677 feet.  

Trails are often gravel or dirt truck roads and some trailheads are difficult to find, so an updated map and GPS are recommended. Lassen National Forest’s Thousand Lakes Wilderness area map is the most accurate. 

–Sara Hall