Explore the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
March 31, 2018 by: Sharon Roberts
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is a magnificent, 500 mile driving route that stretches from Crater Lake in Southern Oregon to Lake Almanor in Northern California. Considered a “crown jewel” of the US highway system, it is just one of 31 “All American Roads” in the nation. The route gets its name from the chain of active volcanoes you will pass on your journey, including Mount Mazama, Medicine Lake, Mount Shasta, and Lassen Peak. On the byway, you will also enjoy stunning lakes, basalt cliffs, lava beds, waterfalls, Native American historical sites, and so much more. Though Highway 1 or Route 66 are certainly more famous, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is undoubtedly the road trip of a lifetime.
The St. Bernard Lodge is located a short drive away from Lake Almanor, making us the perfect resting post for your journey. To make the drive, you can either start at Crater Lake and make your way South or begin here in Chester and head North. Or, if you don’t want to do the whole thing, feel free to pick up the route wherever is most convenient for you. You can adjust the trip to make it as short as long as you’d like. To help you plan your adventure, we’ve outlined a tour that begins in Crater Lake and ends at the St. Bernard Lodge in Chester, California.
Crater Lake is the only National Park in the State of Oregon. Many agree it is one of the most beautiful in the nation. This caldera lake in South-Central Oregon was formed by the collapse of Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago. Nearly 30 miles long and up to eight miles wide, Crater Lake is the largest body of freshwater west of the Rockies. Crater Lake is most famous for its clear, deep blue color and the 30-foot tall tree stump, known as “The Old Man of the Lake,” that has been bobbing in the water for over a century. Crater Lake and the surrounding area is also a great spot for bird watching. Keep an eye out for sandhill cranes, pelicans, blue herons, and bald eagles.
The Klamath Basin and Lava Beds Region
The Klamath Basin is home to many rivers, national forests, and wildlife refuges, making it a wonderful region for off-the-map outdoor adventure. Start at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge to explore the shallow lakes and wetland marshes that are home to a variety of birds, such as the American White Pelican and the Double-Crested Cormorant. The Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge in Northeastern California features 39,116 acres of open water and marshland visited by many migrating waterfowl during the spring and fall migrations. You can take self-guided auto-tours of both wildlife refuges throughout the year.
Continue driving further south and you will enter the Lava Beds National Monument, home to more than 700 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields from the Modoc War of 1872, and beautiful stretches of high desert plains. We recommend you go spelunking in one of the many lava tube caves and spend some time at the Visitors Center to learn about thousands of years of the monuments history.
Mount Shasta is a majestic, 14,162 foot fall stratovolcano, making it the tallest volcano in California and the second tallest in the Cascade Range. Skilled climbers can attempt to summit the volcano but there are many easier trails in the area that make for great day hikes or cycling routes. If you go in the winter, Mount Shasta is also a popular spot for snow sports. The small town of Shasta itself is home to many unique shops, delicious restaurants, art galleries, and fine lodging establishments.
The Waterfalls Region
The Waterfalls Region is home to four beautiful waterfalls. Burney Falls and McCloud River Falls are the biggest and most popular. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park offers five-miles of hiking trails, including a hike to the base of 129 foot Burney Falls where you can get close enough to the falls to feel the mist on your face. This is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, so it is a good place to set up camp for the night. After leaving Burney, you will cross over Lake Britton, where outdoor lovers can enjoy fishing, boating, camping, swimming, and other activities. Next, you will stop at the McCloud Falls complex, where you will find hiking trails, picnic grounds, and great spots for fly fishing.
Lake Almanor is the perfect Grand Finale to your Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway adventure. One of the largest lakes in Northern California, with 52 miles of shoreline, Lake Almanor is situated in the unique geological area where the granite of the Sierra Nevada’s meets up with the lava of the Cascade mountain range. From Lake Almanor, you can explore the Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lassen National Forest, and the Caribou Wilderness, or simply spend your time on the beautiful lake, taking advantage of its tranquil campgrounds and first-rate water sport opportunities. The basin is a popular spot for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, and the lake itself is a wonderful spot for fishing, kayaking, water-skiing, and so much more. The Wilson Ice Caves are a great spot to visit if you are feeling inspired to explore more caves. If you are in the mood for something a little more leisurely, try golfing at one of the region’s four excellent golf courses. For more tips on exploring the Lake Almanor basin, read our previous blog post, “What to do at Lake Almanor.”
If you are short on time, you can actually drive the entire scenic byway in a single day. It is a nice day’s drive from Crater Lake to St. Bernard Lodge, allotting time to enjoy some of the beautiful stops along the way. Plan on a minimum of half a day to drive the portion through Lassen Volcanic National Park. This is only a 30 mile stretch but we recommend you take an hour to drive it so you can savor the stops.
No matter how you choose to do it, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is an adventure you will never forget. From the crystal-blue waters of Crater Lake to the striking mountain views from the tranquil shores of Lake Almanor, it is truly the road trip of a lifetime. To download an in-depth guide to exploring the byway, visit the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway website.
And don’t forget to book a stay at the historic St. Bernard Lodge, located in the charming town of Chester, just minutes away from beautiful Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park.