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Backpacker Magazine – September 1999

Wild As It Ever Was

For almost half a century, California's rugged Ishi Wilderness hid "the last wild Indian." Even today, it is a place that can keep a secret.

by: Jeff Rennicke

Expedition Planner: Ishi Wilderness, California


The 41,840-acre Ishi Wilderness is located on the Lassen National Forest in northern California, about 45 miles southwest of Lassen Volcanic National Park.


Major airlines service Sacramento about 200 miles to the south. Trailheads on the eastern edge of the wilderness are accessed by a long series of unmaintained gravel and logging roads that are best traveled in a high clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle-especially when snow or rain are forecast. There is no public access to the wilderness from the west.


No camping permits are needed, although during fire season (May to November) campfire permits are required and available at the Forest Service office.


The low elevation of the wilderness means Ishi is hikeable most of the year. But reaching trailheads can be difficult on the access roads that wind through the rugged, high-elevation areas. Expect snow as late as April and as early as September. Call ahead for road conditions.

Safety concerns

The footpaths easily can be confused with game or cattle trails, making them difficult to follow. Always carry a good map and compass. Rattlesnakes are abundant and active in the warmer months. Stream crossings are cold and can be dangerous during high runoff in spring or following rainstorms. Filter, boil, or treat all drinking water.

Recommended reading

Ishi the Last Yahi: A Documentary History, edited by Robert F. Heizer and Theodora Kroeber (1979; University of California Press, $13.95).

Ishi In Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America, by Theodora Kroeber (1961; University of California Press, $13.95). To order either: California-Princeton Fulfillment Services, 1445 Lower Ferry Rd., Ewing, NJ 08618; (800) 822-6657; for mail orders, include $3 for shipping and handling.


The Yahi lived a simple life and left few artifacts. There are no shards of broken pottery or tall cliff dwellings like you find in the Southwest. Still, many of the hiking trails were once Yahi paths, and some of the best stream-side campsites were likely used by the Yahi. As one Forest Service official told me, "When it comes to artifacts, there is little to see but much to imagine." If you do run across an artifact, remember that all archeological and historical sites are federally protected and must not be disturbed.


A Guide To The Ishi, Thousand Lakes, & Caribou Wilderness, Lassen National Forest; available at the Forest Service office, address below; $4.

Four topographical maps cover the Ishi Wilderness in 7.5-minute series: Panther Springs, Ishi Caves, Butte Meadows SW, and Butte Meadows NW. Contact: USGS Information Services, Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225; (800) 435-7627;

Recommended viewing

Ishi: The Last Yahi, The American Experience; Lassen National Forest Visitor Center (see below); $19.95.
Ishi: Last of His Kind, The History Channel; 800-408-4842;; $19.95.

Contact Almanor Ranger District, Lassen National Forest, P.O. Box 767, Chester, CA 96020; (530) 258-2141.

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