By Ryan Loughrey
Now that the road through Lassen National Park is open, Kiva and I decided to hike a waterfall I’ve never been to, let alone heard much about: Mill Creek Falls.
Coming from the south, we stopped at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center to find that it was buzzing with activity. I realized I’d never been there before, and the place felt brand new to me despite the fact it was built in 2008. We learned that the namesake of the visitor center is the Mountain Maidu Native American name for Snow Mountain, which we know today as Lassen Peak.
One fact that interested me as a nerd/semi-environmentalist was that the building is LEED Certified, making it the only year-round visitor center at a national park to have this certification. LEED certification (standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a national way to recognize buildings that are created in an eco-friendly manner, and can have different distinctions based on how green a building is. The Kohm Yah-mah-nee center intelligently uses ambient light that adjusts during the day, as well as underground pipes that can heat or cool the building, depending on the season.
Anyway, after looking around the gift shop and cafe, we opted to start our hike. The trailhead is almost right beside the building, in between the visitor center and the campground.
We started mid-day and noticed the trail was popular with all ages. We passed through intermittent forests on a very nicely maintained trail as well as a wooden bridge over West Sulphur Creek. The 1.6 miles to Mill Creek Falls was an easy-moderate hike, and we ended up at a viewpoint that overlooked the falls. Although perhaps less dramatic than the more well-known Kings Creek Falls, these falls hold the record for highest vertical descent in the park at 75 feet.
The other thing to note is the small pools above the falls. We followed the trail and crossed over the bridge and admired the view from above. West Sulphur Creek continues on after the falls, seemingly cleaving the landscape in two as a small gorge is now visible. A little past the top of the falls is a small, tree covered pool that offers the perfect escape from the heat.
Although we were at a higher elevation, we had started to sweat a little from the hike. Here, we took off our shoes and put our feet in the cool water. The creek did have a milky hue to it, which made it look somewhat otherworldly. We shared the creek with one older, potentially retired couple and a younger couple with their small child who was throwing rocks downstream. It was a peaceful little oasis, and anyone who turned back at the vista point would have missed it.
We decided to keep hiking, our water-lust not fulfilled. We knew that farther up the trail we would come to Crumbaugh Lake. What we didn’t realize was how steep the hike gets immediately after the falls, following a series of switchbacks and gaining elevation quick. We did find one thing that surprised us: patches of snow! At places it was no more than a small, four foot by two foot patch.
At other locations farther up the trail, we had to walk atop it for a short distance (making terrible jokes about how this was real mountaineering and how we had forgot to bring our crampons). Finally, the forest cleared and we dropped into a small mountain valley and found Crumbaugh Lake.
The lake itself was surrounded by tall grasses and thick-leaved plants. It wasn’t as accessible as we hoped, and we found that one section of the path was guarded viciously by mosquitoes (we named it Mosquito Alley). These bloodthirsty little guys got their fill that day, despite the fact that I swatted a good many of their numbers. Past this stretch, the meadow was again peaceful. We were surrounded by yellow, blue, and red flowers. The whole hillside was yellow with mule’s ears, and we sat on a large protruding rock and were immersed in their sweet smell.
Although we didn’t end up swimming, we did have a good time taking photos of the flowers and their bee counterparts, and relaxing in the cool air. Once the sun was starting to dip behind the hillside, we decided to call it a day.
The hike back seemed much easier, no doubt because a good portion of it was downhill. I should note that on the stretch past Mill Creek Falls and Crumbaugh Lake, we saw no other humans. In fact, the main life forms we saw were chipmunks and squirrels, and of course a barrage of mosquitoes for a time. (The most recent official count: 19 bug bites on yours truly. To be fair, I was shirtless so that didn’t help.)
Still, the forest was quiet and devoid of people. We walked out with the sun threatening to sink below the mountains.
Once we reached the car, we decided to drive through Lassen to get back to Redding. The timing was perfect, as we drove and weaved through the park, the sunset was in full stride. We passed by Bumpass Hell, discolored and smelling strongly of sulphur, Helen Lake, still partially frozen, Lassen Peak, snowy and inviting, until we finally left the park and finished the drive after the sun had completely disappeared.
We were both weary, but in the best way. Our bodies were tired from the hike and from the realization that we hadn’t eaten much that day. Still, it was the perfect first drive through of Lassen of the season, and the backdrop of the setting sun after a solid day of hiking was enough. Mosquito bites and all, I wouldn’t change this hike, the views, or the company for the world.
Mill Creek Falls from different angles. In total, we hiked 6.8 miles up and back to Crumbaugh Lake, which was surrounded by beautiful wildflowers in a small valley. Although the mosquitoes were a bit much (most recent official count puts me at having 19 bites), the trip was completely worth it. A trip to Lassen is always a good one, and a good escape from the heat. Love this park. . . . . #lassennps #californiaexplored #saveourparks #nps #lassen #wildflowers #chasingwaterfalls #livelikeuch #love #activenorcal #hike #travel #mountains #creek #throwback #takeahike #getoutside #stayandplay #thisisredding #beattheheat #summervibes #goodtimes #lovewhereyoulive #keepitwild
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine