We were only 3 miles away, so we made Highway 36 early. The trail passed through several different private estates on the way and we were glad we had camped at the creek instead of navigating the areas we could and couldn’t camp closer to the road. At the highway we met a couple of people coming in from Chester, and stopped to say hi and sign the trail register.
Once across the road, we entered Lassen Volcanic National Park. The trail system was much busier with side trails and dirt roads everywhere, and we met several day hikers on our travels. One pair asked us if we were going the right way! They then proceeded to tell us all about Drakesbad Guest Ranch which was ahead of us, and how nice it was. Slightly envious of the seeming luxury we wondered if they might have cheap rooms available or at least a hot meal for purchase. I decided not to get my hopes up, as a ranch in the mountains was likely to be full at the weekend, and in any case far too expensive for scruffy hikers.
We met Strider and Rock Star from Australia for lunch, and they echoed the Drakesbad nirvana story. They were coming southbound on a California section hike and had called in there the night before. They described wonderful hot showers, a pool, laundry facilities and more food than they could eat. They also gave good accounts of both Terminal Geyser and Boiling Springs Lake which we knew we would pass on the way.
The afternoon showed the very unusual nature of Lassen. The geothermal activity is still high and the rocks are distinctly volcanic. We can’t yet see the Lassen mountain but we took a side trail detour to see a fumarole, Terminal Geyser, which reminded me of Iceland. The trail also passed by a murky warm water lake, Boiling Springs Lake, which has mudpots and steam vents around the shoreline. There are no boardwalks around the lake, and we didn’t see any other people all afternoon, so I assume this is not a particularly high traffic part of the park. There must be some even more exciting features in other parts that keep the daytrippers’ attention.
We got to the Drakesbad ranch to find everything we had been told was true! There was a free washing machine and dryer, loaner clothes, a swimming pool with minerals and amazing showers. We were welcomed by the staff and told that we could sit down for dinner after the paying guests had been served. After a shower and swim, we pulled up chairs at the hiker table with All Right, Skyline and Armstrong, and were served a four course dinner with coffee! After we had finished and were beginning to think about moving towards the campsite, one of the servers brought out a huge tray of corn dogs and chicken strips. We did what we could but ended up packing several out for lunch the next day. We paid around $17 each for the whole evening (including tips and tax). I think that counts as trail magic.
The five of us hiked the quarter mile down the driveway to Warner Valley Campground and found a spare site to pitch our tents; none of us felt like hiking up the hill in the dark after such a large relaxing meal!
Camping: Mile 1354, Warner Valley Campground