Ishi Wilderness: Deer Creek Trail
Features: This unique 41,000-acre area in the Mount Lassen foothills on the Lassen National Forest is named after Ishi. His tribe, the Yahi Indians, formerly lived in the area before being decimated by cattle ranchers in the late 1800s. The Ishi Wilderness is cut by the rugged lava rimrock canyons of Deer and Mill Creeks. These creeks are a refuge for some of the last wild and native runs of spring chinook salmon and steelhead in the Sacramento Valley. The area also supports numerous raptors, wild horses, and one of the largest deer herds in the northern Sierra Nevada. Due to its relatively low elevation (1,000-3,000 feet), the Ishi Wilderness is particularly beautiful in the spring but it can be visited year-round. Road access to the wilderness can be a challenge because Forest Service and county roads to this area have been poorly maintained over the last few decades.
Spectacular in the spring, the Deer Creek Trail parallels more than seven miles of scenic Deer Creek in the Ishi Wilderness. There are plenty of opportunities for camping, viewing wildflowers, exploring the rugged canyon and its lava rock formations, and appreciating the rich Native American heritage of the Ishi Wilderness. Although this trail exhibits little overall elevation gain/loss, it does climb and drop to avoid cliffs and other obstacles. The trail may also be overgrown in places with brush and poison oak.
Trailhead Directions (Note: 4WD or high clearance vehicles required): Take the Cohassett Road exit from Highway 99 in Chico, proceed northeast on Cohassett Road out of Chico, up into the foothills, and through the small foothill community of Cohassett. The road eventually turns to improved dirt, but past the Tehama County line, it isn’t maintained much at all. At this point, 4WD or at least vehicles with high clearance and good mud and snow tires are required. Continue on the unmaintained Cohassesst Ridge Road (deep mud holes on this segment may be a problem in the winter/spring) to the concrete heliport at the end of the ridge, overlooking the Ishi Wilderness to the north and Mt. Lassen to the northeast. At this point, Cohassett Ridge Road becomes Forest Road 28N29 (a.k.a. Ponderosa Way) as it drops into Deer Creek Canyon. The road surface generally becomes rocky and in some places deeply gullied by erosion. About 1.5-2 miles from the heliport, turn left at an unmarked intersection to continue on 26N29/Ponderosa Way. The road continues to switch back its way down into the canyon through forests, past spectacular lava rock formations, and across at least two small stream crossings, approximately 7-8 miles to where the road crosses Deer Creek over a bridge. Continue another hundred yards to the small Deer Creek Trailhead parking area on the left. The Deer Creek Trail proceeds downstream into the Ishi Wilderness from the parking area. For the most recent road and trail conditions, contact the Forest Service’s Almanor Ranger District at (530) 258-2141.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.
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