When most people hear “Northern California” they think of the San Francisco Bay area. Then they immediately think of riots, squalid homeless encampments, and leftist politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris.
Fortunately, that is NOT the Northern California I just visited.
True, San Francisco Bay is logistically north of Los Angeles. But California extends much further north by 375 miles to the Oregon state line – and this California is highlighted by breathtaking coastline, majestic redwood forests, snow-capped volcanoes, and Trump flags flapping against the brilliant blue sky. THAT is the Northern California every Proud American Traveler should visit.
This rolling farmland and isolated wilderness in the far northeastern corner of California is truly God’s country — and deep red Trump country.
And it is paradise for any traveler looking for an outdoor, socially distant adventure.
Turning Blood into Wine since 1874
Driving south out of Oregon, long before you get to the California state line, there’s one natural landmark you cannot miss because it dominates the southern horizon.
“My blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since,” wrote naturalist John Muir in 1874 upon his first sight of Mount Shasta.
With a height of 14,179 feet, its snowy peak is visible for over 100 miles, towering over the rolling Northern California landscape.
The nearest town to Mount Shasta is Weed.
Yes, that is the name of the town. No, it was not named after California’s most famous mind-altering crop, but rather an unfortunately named early settler.
Well, maybe not so unfortunate for the owners of all the tacky souvenir stores selling t-shirts that read “I (heart) Weed, (California)”.
Just south of Weed and still well within sight of Mount Shasta, we stopped at McCloud Falls.
The McCloud River flows over three sets of falls, all connected by a four mile trail.
But you don’t have to even wear your hiking boots because you can drive to the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls, each with its own convenient parking lot. The Middle Falls are the most spectacular. But the Upper and Lower Falls provide direct access so you can hike down and frolic in the cool water.
Driving further south through the piney wilderness you come to Burney Falls, one of California’s most beautiful natural attractions.
Burney Falls State Park provides picturesque access to a view from the top as well as a trail down to the water.
God’s Creation: Still in Progress
But the highlight of this remote region of the Golden State is Lassen Volcanic National Park, a landscape formed and scarred, made and unmade through the millennia by volcanic activity that continues to shape and alter the earth today through a continuous cycle of birth, devastation, and rebirth.
This is one of the rare places on the planet where you can see God’s creation as a work still in progress.
Lassen’s remoteness is most definitely part of its attraction. When I look back on trips, the fondness of my memories tends to be inversely proportional to the size of the crowds. And vice versa.
When I look back on the big national attractions that get all the attention on travel blogs and TV shows, I tend to only really remember being immersed in hordes of people and busloads of Japanese tourists.
When I look back on more sparsely visited places like Lassen Volcanic National Park, I remember fondly the experience of being immersed in an extraordinary landscape.
Lassen Volcanic Park doesn’t have anywhere near the star power – or crowds – of America’s more famous parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Kings Canyon. In fact, the annual visitor count at Lassen is barely 10% of Yellowstone’s.
But Lassen provides a quick and relatively uncrowded close-up glimpse of how the earth is constantly evolving.
You can easily see all the park’s highlights in one full day.
“I Don’t Know Where I’m A-Gonna Go When the Volcano Blows”
The park is dominated by Lassen Peak, a 10,457 foot tall somewhat active volcano that erupted as recently as a century ago.
Lassen Peak is the southern-most volcano in the Cascade Range which extends north all the way through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. And other than Mount St. Helens, Lassen has the most active volcanic activity in all of the Cascades.
Any day now scientists say Lassen will blow again – but they won’t say when.
So I say get your visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park in now – while you still can.
Welcome to Hell
The one must-do activity is a three mile round trip hike to “Bumpass Hell” – the geothermic core of the park where you can get close (but not too close) to its boiling mud pots, belching sulfur, and hissing steam powered by the hot magma deep under the surface.
The area is named after Kendall Bumpass, one of the early guides of this boiling landscape who had the misfortune of stepping through the thin sulfur crust one day, scalding his leg to the bone.
Bumpass lost his leg to the accident, but apparently got naming rights to the sight of his calamity.
Probably not a great tradeoff.
But then again, who am I to judge? Nobody has ever named anything after me. And I still have all my limbs thanks to the National Park Service’s newly rebuilt boardwalk.
Moral of the story: stay on the boardwalk.
Take the Scenic Route
Another highlight is simply taking the scenic drive through the park, down into the remnants of the caldera of an ancient volcano, up to the tops of the mountain ridges, through the appropriately named “Devastated Area” wiped clean by the 1915 eruption, and finally culminating at picturesque Manzanita Lake with Lassen Peak’s reflection shimmering on its surface.
We ended our day at Lassen with a three mile round trip hike down to King’s Falls. It’s a steep hike down – and even steeper hike back up if you take the alternate route right alongside the falls – but worth it for all the Instagram-ready pictures you’ll be taking along the way.
We spent two nights at the Best Western in nearby Chester, a very small resort town on Lake Almanor with only a couple restaurants, including the Kopper Kettle, which lined our stomachs in preparation for a day of hiking with bacon, sausage, eggs and an excellent chorizo breakfast burrito.
Every other restaurant in Chester was closed so we ventured to the other side of Lake Almanor for dinner at a popular local Italian place called Tantardino’s. I enjoyed my pasta loaded with not one, but two meats — homemade meatballs and Italian sausage.
But my wife violated my first Proud American Traveler dining rule: don’t order seafood if you’re not near the sea. Let’s just say her linguini with clams would have been better in the hands of a chef with more experience in the fine art of shellfish.
Trade Big City Life for God’s Country
I know for a fact you can get some spectacular linguini with clams in the big city of San Francisco.
But like I said, this isn’t THAT Northern California.
And on this trip we were both more than happy to trade some overpriced big city clams and Antifa riots for the serenity of God’s country.