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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

California's Ishi Wilderness

Ishi Wilderness trails run through stream-carved canyons, past stunning vistas, back to gold rush days.

by: Stan White

PAGE 1 2

Contact Information:

Almanor Ranger District Lassen National Forest Box 767 Chester, CA 96020 916/258-2141 Lassen National Forest Supervisor's Office 55 S. Sacramento St. Susanville, CA 96130 916/257-2151

Location: The wilderness area is in the southern Cascade foothills of northern California, between and east of Chico and Red Bluff. Chico is 20 miles south, and Chester is 40 miles east.

Getting There: To get to Deer Creek trailhead, head for Chico 85 miles north of Sacramento on U.S. 99. Exit at Cohasset Road and drive east. Six miles from where the pavement ends, bear right and head down a steep hill for a mile. At the bottom of the hill, go straight and find a sign that says "Ponderosa Way, Deer Creek 6, Mill Creek 24." Follow it about 10 miles to Deer Creek, the first of the trailheads. Mill Creek trailhead is accessed from the north.

Seasonal Information: Hiking is best in spring and fall, when the blazing heat of summer is tempered by chilly nights, and rattlesnakes are less active. Spring is also a prime time because of availability of water and magnificent wildflower displays, especially along Moak Trail. Summer temperatures frequently top 100 degrees F, and water is scarce.

Wildlife: While the Yahi Yana tribe is gone, their white-tailed deer, mountain lion, and black bear companions still thrive here. The Tehama deer herd, the largest migratory herd in California, winters in the area. Other wildlife includes wild hog, bobcat, and rabbit.

Towering cliffs are home to golden eagles, peregrine, red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, and various owls. Other common sightings include wild turkey, quail, mourning doves, canyon wrens, band-tailed pigeons, and myriad songbirds. Chinook salmon spawn in Deer and Mill creeks, sharing the water with squawfish, tule perch, and rainbow and brown trout. Insects: It's a good idea to bring insect repellent. Ticks are most active from April through October and are found on both vegetation and animals. Scorpions are not especially poisonous, but can pose some danger for children. They hide under rocks, logs, and debris. Plant Life: The trails include steep descents through chaparral to dusky glens lush with live oak, Indian rhubarb, and wild grapes. Ponderosa and digger pine mingle with black, live, and blue oak, forming a shady canopy over the trail. Breaking out of the trees, the trail meanders through south-facing meadows of tall grass and wildflowers; lupine, poppy, morning glory, mule's ear, sego lily, stonecrop succulents, snake lily, and thistle. Facilities: Camping is primitive in the wilderness. There is a year-round campground at Black Rock with five fee sites available just to the north of the wilderness. All Lassen National Forest campgrounds have fire rings, tables, and restroom facilities. Stream water is available at Black Rock. The Almanor Ranger Station, with visitor center, is located to the east of the wilderness area.

Parking: Contact park office for information. Permits: Campfire permits are available, but Forest Service officials recommend that you use a camp stove since wood is scarce. Fishing is allowed with a permit from the state fish and game department. Policies:

  • Most of the Ishi is also a state game refuge where hunting is not permitted.
  • Motor vehicles and bicycles are prohibited.
  • 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.
  • Be prepared for bad weather. Even though Ishi's climate is mild with little snow, there are a few winter days when the temperature drops below freezing. Hypothermia can be a concern in cold rains. Summers are blazing hot.
  • On Lassen Trail, be aware that the ridgetop is dry and no water is available.
  • Poison oak is abundant in moist areas along streams, thickets, and wood slopes.

Leave No Trace:

  • Stick to established trails (traveling single file) and campsites.
  • If you must camp in siteless areas, choose durable terrain and camp at least 200 feet from all water sources.
  • If you must use a campfire in a previously unused site, you can minimize the impact by not building a rock ring and by using a small pit dug in sandy soil.
  • Pack in, pack out.
  • Picket pack and saddle stock no closer than 100 feet from trails, campsites, and meadows. The pawing of horse hooves can damage tree roots and plants at their base, so it's best to tether horses to trees for a short period of time.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: The "Lassen National Forest" map is available from the Almanor Ranger District for $3.22 (contact address above). Checks must be made out to NIA, Lassen National Forest's attributive association. USGS 15-minute quads "Barkley Mountain" and "Devil's Parade Ground" cover the eastern half, and "Panther Springs" and "Ishi Caves" cover the western half.

These maps are available from: Branch of Distribution USGS Box 25286, Federal Center Denver, CO 80225 303/236-7477

Orders must be prepaid ($2.50 each includes shipping). Allow six weeks to arrive.

Other Trip Options:

  • With lots of blue lakes edged in pine and fir, Caribou Wilderness is a beautiful place to experience in the summer, but in the winter it's not accessible. It is adjacent to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
  • Thousand Lakes Wilderness is also a good choice with 22 miles of trail against a backdrop of mountain meadows, lakes, and volcanic peaks. Season of use is from mid-June to mid-October.

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Reader Rating: -


gene allspaugh
Mar 08, 2011

hiking into ishi wilderness on the deer creek side has been rewarding to me for the last forty years. I haven't been down their this year yet, but I've rarely been detered from going in their on the main trail, either by poor trail maintenance or weather, that is , as long as you stay out of there in the Winter.

Scott Nedved
Jan 23, 2010

We have been hiking Ishi for the past 4 years, it has some super
rock formations and canyons. But we have noticed that the trails
have not been maintained and are slowly disappearing. This year we dropped a car off at mill creek and drove down to deer creek
with the intent to take the maintained trails (as indicated in red on the map we bought from the forest service). As per the map we went in at deer creek hiked to the Deep hole tie trail
from there climbed 1,200 ft out of the canyon where we hit the Moak trail, we followed the Moak along the ridge to a trail called 2E07 which was suppose to take us to the Lassen trail.
Well as per the forest service map and our several GPS units we
reached the area where the supposed 2E07 trail was to split from the Moak! Guess what the Moak trail disappeared into 4 to 6 ft high buck brush and the 2E07 trail was No where to be found. By this time it was 3:30 in the after noon so we set up camp on the ridge and searched the brush for 3 hours there is no
sign of any trail. We spent the night and decided to turn around and go back out the 7 miles we came in. We got to the car and headed back towards mill creek. We stopped at the Moak trail head and found the sign board with nothing on it, we walked the trail approx. 50 ft. where it disappeared into the buck brush.(Humm maintained trail) We continued to the Lassen trail head and looked at the sign board which has the same map we bought from the forest service and that 2E07 trail was shown
as a proposed trail. So the forest service is selling a map that shows maintained trails in (Red) and there map on the lassen sign board says proposed!! Also trees that have fallen on both the deer creek and mill creek trails are still there after 3 years so we had to break trail around this.

I have been trying to find out what rules are as to maintaining these trails? Something seems very wrong as it takes several years for buck brush to grow 4 to 6 ft, high.

Although Ishi has some spectacular views and rock formations
its not going to be seen by anyone if something doesn't start happening to the trails.

We would like to here from other hikers regarding there views on the condition of the trails.

Burney Backpackers

Scott Nedved
Apr 24, 2009

The Ishi trails are not being maintained and are
disappearing!!! The Moak trail disappears into the 4 to 6 ft high buck bush. Trees that have fallen on the mill creek and deer creek trails are still there after 3 years!Why is this happening ?? There are funds for the wilderness
so what is it being used for??


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