The starting point for Road Trip Old Station is Redding, Calif. This small city of some hundred thousand is the heart of far Northern California. Located at the upper end of the Sacramento Valley, it is surrounded by mountains with the coast to the west, Mt. Shasta and the Cascade Mountain range to the north, and Mt. Lassen and the Sierras to the east. It’s also thirty minutes away from where we live, Shingletown, so starting anything usually begins from home.
Our trip to Old Station from Redding is fairly perfunctory but it has numerous points of interest and side excursions that are worth exploring. The trip would normally take about an hour but you’re with us today so plan accordingly. This is a great day trip or bring your RV or camp gear to spend a few days.
From Redding you go east on Highway 44 ascending into the south most tip of the Cascade Mountains. The Cascades are a volcanic mountain range that extends all the way into Washington State. On a clear day, the view of Mt. Lassen and surrounding peaks will fill your windshield. Notice the mountain to the right, Brokeoff, and the center mountain, Diller. They are thought to be the north and south sides of the once massive Mt. Tehama which imploded or collapsed. You can clearly imagine the size of what may have been the tallest mountain in North America. As you leave Millville Plains you will pass over Bear Creek. This is roughly the beginning of the ‘Chaparral ‘belt of vegetation that dominates the foothills of the Sacramento valley. It is a harsh, rocky landscape but quite beautiful in the early spring when the Redbuds and Flannel Bush flowers – very hot and dry in the summer. Ahead, about where Dersch Rd. meets Highway 44, the Chaparral belt begins to transition into a mixed conifer forest. Some two miles further up is a turn off for Inwood on the left. There’s no actual town here but a beautiful valley crowned by Anselmo Vineyards. Undoubtedly the far north states most impressive winery. It boasts vineyards, an excellent restaurant, cattle ranch, Italian inspired chapel, event complex, and impressive landscaping. Everything is the best money and design could buy. Well worth the small detour. They do have a dinner dress code.
About ten miles up the road is an area called Black Butte that offers a convenience store, auto shop, espresso shop, restaurant, and gift shops.
About a half hour out of Redding, you’ll reach Shingletown – a small community with gas stations, grocery stores, gift shops, Bella Salon & Spa, a Medical Center, a couple of restaurants, a single tavern, and lots of churches. Truly, a community out of balance – nine churches and one bar?
But Shingletown has one of the few locally built, staffed, and funded private libraries in the state; the Shingletown Library.
Additionally, it has an exquisite totem pole above the medical center and a population with heart.
Look around. At 3500 ft. it’s covered with a mixed conifer forest and numerous fishing and hunting areas for those so inclined. For some fun, easy trout fishing try Grace and Nora Lakes. Go south on Wilson Hill Road off Highway 44 in the center of town. About a mile ahead you’ll see a small sign on the left indicating the lakes. It’s a maintained dirt road some half mile back. You first come to Grace Lake. These are actually fore-bays for hydroelectric power plants down the hill. If you go straight ahead there are bathrooms and picnic areas. To go to Nora Lake turn right at the large steel pipe (called a ‘penstock’) – it’s ahead about a quarter of a mile and has a picnic area and bathrooms. The lakes are stocked weekly. If you fly fish try the mouth of the creek coming into Grace with a weighed nymph beyond the silt shelf. It’s fun area for kids. Wilson Hill road also leads to the small town of Manton some ten miles ahead. For more info on this area see our ‘Road trip to Manton’ post.
Back on Highway 44, you are heading east toward Lassen Volcanic National Park – eighteen miles ahead. Just over one mile ahead is Grace Lake Resort. They have six beautifully appointed cabins they rent year round. Another 1/2 mile ahead on the right is Ponderosa Ridge Resort and R.V. Park. They have cabins for rent, hook-ups for RV’s and front Millseat Creek – some decent trout fishing, though small and limited access. Another two miles up 44 is a KOA campground. This is one of the gems of the franchises winning awards every year. Further up 44 on the left at about 3 miles is the turn off for Lake McCumber on the left. Drive back on the paved road about 1.5 miles and you’ll come to a large cedar tree on the left with lots of signs nailed on it. This is the juncture of Ritts Mill Rd. Follow to the left for .5 miles to a boat launch area and lake access.
Further on is a meadow to your right with North Battle creek, which feeds McCumber Lake.
I like fishing this area down to the lake in the early summer, late fall. Back to the juncture of Ritts Mill, if you go to the right you’ll see the earthen dam that forms the lake.
There’s a picnic area and bathrooms here with parking on the right side of the road. Further on after you pass the concrete spillway, is an overnight camping area. The lake itself can have very good trout fishing, mostly with a boat. Try working your way up towards the creek inlet, fishing the deeper pockets between the weeds with sinking nymphs. Evening hatches of mayflies are usually productive. No gas powered outboards are allowed on the lake.
Back on 44, you’re heading east towards the park. Another five miles ahead is a sharp turn and the village of Viola. There are no services here, though you can drive up Broke Off Rd. to Bailey Creek, which can be fun fishing early in the season. From Viola, 44 becomes a narrower, curvy road which follows the canyon towards the Park entrance. At about four miles from Viola you’ll see a sign that indicates the boundary of Lassen National forest. The road widens to a passing lane. On the left is a gravel road that leads to North Battle Creek Reservoir – about five miles ahead. This one of my favorite camping and fishing spots, but not suited for RV’s over thirty feet, and that’s pushing it. The road is usually in decent shape, depending on the logging activity, but poorly marked. Going across a large Manzanita thicket, you’ll come to a steep grade and into the conifer forest. The elevation here is fairly high with the trees being predominately red fir and lodge pole pine. Ahead, at an intersection veer to the left heading west. The entrance to the lake is on the right – another steep road down the hillside. The camp ground is on the right, the boat launch area on the left. The facility is provided by P.G. & E. with a modest fee for overnight guests. This is another no gas powered boats allowed lake. Best fishing tends to be along the steep banks, near the dam, and along the rocky northwest area. I’ve taken some sizable trout out of this lake and anything seems to work subject to conditions. This is a special place and lightly used.
Heading back to 44, turn left again towards the Park. Some three miles ahead on your right is Lassen Park entrance. This is also, relatively speaking, a sparsely visited National Park. For our version of the experience, see ‘Road Trip through Lassen National Park’.
From the Park, back on 44 (which is now also 89), head towards Old Station. Less than a mile ahead is Eskimo Hill, a winter sports area. Don’t expect anything fancy. It has parking, bathrooms, and walk up the hill sledding. Use whatever best protects your butt and head from the rocks. Good place for the kids with saucers and helmets. Three or four miles ahead, on the left, is another entrance to North Battle Creek Reservoir. You’re now dropping down through the forests into what’s called the ‘devastation area’. Large lava flows from Lassen dominate the landscape. As you cross the first of them, some nine miles from the Park entrance, is a gravel road to the right called ‘Twin Bridges’.
This is a fun area to picnic, camp, fish, and just kick back. It’s totally undeveloped with not even an outhouse, but sits on Hat Creek and Lost Creek and is popular with the locals.
Further on you come to ‘Big Springs’ and the start of Hat Creek proper. Ahead is the first of a number of resorts along the creek called, of all things, Hat Creek Resort, They offer cabins, RV spaces, yurts, a store, and a café. The Old Station Post Office is also located here. Check their website for info. Note that the winters, and hence winter travel, can be severe and that most all facilities in this area and on to Susanville are seasonal. Check before leaving home. Also, radio reception is spotty and tends to be dominated by country and western and religious channels.
We like Jefferson Public Radio which has transmitters throughout far Northern California. The broadcast channels vary by area, but try 87.5 or thereabouts.
Another mile or so ahead on the left is one of the better Forest Service campgrounds plus a group campground that can be reserved. The fees vary from $8.00 to $12.00 a night. If you’re sixty two or older invest in the ‘senior interagency passport’ card from the feds. I think they are $10 bucks and give you free admission to the National Parks and half off camping at the National Forest and Parks sites. Good deal and good for the life of the holder. They sell them at Lassen Park. Just past this campground is a good rest stop/picnic area right on Hat Creek. The creek is stocked weekly with some larger natives in the mix.
Here we are, Old Station, a very small community with some facilities including public showers. On the right is Rim Rock Ranch, an historic bed and breakfast plus store and seasonal cabins for rent. I like this place and the folks that run it. As kids we use to rent horses here. Good memories. Also in Old Station is JJ’s Café – good food and a gas station and store. Old Station was originally a way station on the Nobles Emigrant Trail back in the 1850’s and a military outpost that protected the stage coaches that ran through it from Sacramento to Yreka beginning in 1857. A must stop for those with more curiosity than I can address here is the Forest Service Interpretive Center just past the Gas Station on the right. Get info, maps, current conditions, etc. There’s also a RV dump station and fresh water fill up to the right next to the gas station. A note of caution – from here to Susanville there are no services for 50 some miles.
Up ahead is the turn off for Susanville and Reno. Across the street is another Forrest Service Campground – right on Hat Creek but a little close to the highway for me.
Highway 44 is the road to Susanville; Highway 89 goes on to Burney, highway 299 and McCloud, Fall River Mills and Alturas. For these destinations, see our Road Trip Susanville, Road Trip Burney, Road Trip Alturas and Road Trip McCloud Mt. Shasta.
If you have kids on this trip or even if you don’t, go up ahead past the turn off to Susanville ¼ mile to find Subway Caves on the right. This is a self-guided tour through an actual lava tube. You need flash light, sturdy shoes and a jacket because it remains a cool 45 degrees year round. The floor is rough and bumpy; the ceiling is low and lumpy. The tube is only about 1/3 of a mile in length and opens to the other end. No way to get lost. If the gate entrance is closed just park your car and a short hike gets you there.
If you did not bring lunch, go to J.J.’s to get sandwiches for a picnic on Hat Creek. Enjoy.
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