Place: Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Coordinates: 40.460630, -121.459358
Length: 4.9 miles
Kings Creek Falls is a well known and loved trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It is obvious to anyone driving through the park by the traffic jam at the trailhead :-) It is a well-loved trail and rightly so. Following the pretty Kings Creek all the way to the waterfall and back is the most straightforward route, the one that most people take. And it is very beautiful, particularly during the wildflowers bloom peak. There are more options, however. Here I share my hike down to the Falls and looping back via Bench Lake and one of the Sifford Lakes.
|My hike to Kings Creek Falls, Bench Lake and Sifford Lake, labeled yellow on a USGS topo map.|
That meant flowers. Lots of flowers. All along the trail. Starting right by the trailhead.
|Kings Creek cuts through a meadow|
|Western Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.)|
So before long I was standing high above the water, gazing down to the whitewater in the deep gulch below me.
Not the falls yet, but an impressive cascading creek, cutting its way through the gray, volcanic rock and making its way down, down, down beyond the horizon.
The water flowing through Kings Creek eventually reach Lake Almanor, far in the misty horizon.
I spent some time at that viewpoint, looking around. A cute little squirrel observed me too.
The bloom scene only improved, with the manzanita shrubs carpeting the entire open face of the slope.
|Manzanita (Arctostaphylus sp.)|
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)|
There. too, were many blossoms. Most prevalent - the marsh marigold.
After I crossed the clearing I joined with the direct trail that was blocked above me, and continued a few hundred yards down to the observation area of Kings Creek Falls.
Already from a distance I noticed some colors that didn't fit the natural scenery: bright-colored climbing rope and belts were tied to a large tree on the opposite side of the creek. At first I thought that maintenance work was being done there, but as I approached I saw that it was three young people doing tight-rope walking back and forth across the creek.
In previous visits there I used to scramble down a steep makeshift trail to the bottom of the falls. This time I was content to stay at the observation area above. But then nature intervened, gravity did its thing and the shader of my lens dislodged and fell all the way down to the creek. I probably should have called it a goner, but I could see the plastic ring shining back at me, lodged between a branch and a rock at the edge of the water. Leaving it there would have meant littering. I sighed and started the careful scramble down the rocks, all the way on my behind. (The pants survived).
After retrieving the shader I took a moment and photographed the falls from the bottom, this time with no humans in the frame.
|Kings Creek Falls|
As I descended further down the Kings Creek Trail I noticed a few patches of snow on the ground. When I returned to Lassen Volcanic NP a month and a half later, there was no snow anywhere except for a few small patches hight up Lassen Peak.
Soon I was walking below rocky pillars that reminded me of ancient people leaning on each other. A dark gap between two of those pillars looked like a cave that mitt suit a bear, but as hard as I stared at it, with and without my binoculars, I could detect nothing there but darkness.
A slope of rubble was between those pillars and the trail, and at the bottom of the rubble, a patch of bright pink-floering shrubs: the purple mountainheath.
The trail was curved right in the midst of the mountainheath, allowing me to get a very close look at those pretty flowers.
The map indicated that my trail would take me to Bench Lake and I had planned to have my lunch break there. When I arrived at the lake's location I stood there gaping for a long minute at a parch-dry basin that used to be a forest pond.
The California Drought.
I debated with myself for a few seconds, and then I noticed a pretty, yellow composite growing near the trail leading to Sifford Lake, so I went to photograph it. Then, of course, I was already on my way to the lake.
I was looking right at Devil's Kitchen.
There are five geothermal areas in Lassen Volcanic NP. The best known ones are Bumpass Hell and the Sulphur Works areas. The other three are less known and are accessible by long hikes that are much removed from the main park road. Devil's Kitchen is one of them, and I am already planning to hike there on my next visit to Lassen Volcanic NP.
(A later edit: the plan fulfilled :-)
Less fine was that the wind had picked up and the clouds were covering more and more of the sky.
So I completed my lake circumvention and headed back to the loop trail I diverted from. And although I had increase my pace. I still paid close attention to the vegetation along the trail.
|Davis' Knotweed (Aconogonum davisiae)|
I picked up my feet and hurried along.
|A song sparrow calling the rain.|
Even on my way back I kept my attention on the ground. And good thing too, because I found a few more wildflowers I had somehow missed on my way to the falls.
|Dwarf Onion (Allium parvum)|
|Pine Lousewort (Pedicularis semibarata)|
|Pine Violet (Viola lobata)|
|Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea)|
I stared at her in disbelief. Is that right? No access to the falls for two whole years?
She reassured me that the trail would remain open, there just won't be a view of the falls.
Yes, I was very lucky that day. My group, however, would have to wait out those two years before being able to see Kings Creek Falls. And now I had to check out an alternative trail for them. Having waterfalls in mind, that alternative turned out to be the Mill Creek Falls, near the southwestern entrance of the park.