Spencer Meadows National Recreation Trail

11.5 mile loop

Spencer Meadows National Recreation Trail

Spencer Meadows National Recreation Trail 1024 682 California Wilderness Coalition

Courtesy of AllTrails

The trail passes through the 4,965-acre Wild Cattle Mountain roadless area adjacent to Lassen Park. About 3,900 acres of the area was recommended for Wilderness protection in the 1992 Lassen National Forest Plan. The area is home to the critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox, a species known to live in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lassen National Forest, and just a handful of other places in the Sierra Nevada. It also provides suitable habitat for Pacific fisher, pine marten, and even wolverine. In the past decade, wolves from eastern Oregon have migrated to the surrounding region, providing a home to California’s only known wolf pack.

The landscape is densely forested with white fir, red fir, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, black oak, incense cedar, and lodgepole pine, and interspersed with rich meadows like Carter Meadow and Spencer Meadow. The old-growth forest appears diverse, healthy, and fire-adapted. From Highway 36, the trail climbs moderately north. After 1.9 miles the trail forks. Turn left. The trail follows the ravine of Canyon Creek, a tributary of Mill Creek. Look for views of Carter Meadows, Mount Conard, and Brokeoff Mountain. After 3 miles, look for a vague trail on the left that allows for a view of a 50-foot waterfall on Canyon Creek.

Butt Mountain. Photo: Steve Evans.

Trail Directions: The trail climbs 1,700 feet in elevation for its first 4 miles and then arrives at a junction. At the junction, visitors can continue for 1.4 miles north to Twin Meadows inside Lassen Volcanic National Park, or they can simply turn right at the junction and return to the trailhead. Either way, Spencer Meadows is worth exploring. It is just north of the junction. Its spring wildflower displays can be breathtaking. After exploring the meadow, return to the trail. After 8 miles, the trail splits with an eastern branch heading to Duck Lake. The loop described here is roughly 11.5 miles long. The hike back to the trailhead is a moderate downhill.

If visitors chose to do so, they could turn this hike into a one-way car shuttle with a car left at the Spencer Meadows Trailhead and another left at Kings Creek Picnic Area in Lassen Volcanic National Park. This would involve a hike of 8 miles, one-way. The trail becomes hard to follow at Twin Meadows, so a GPS unit would be helpful.

The trail is in the Mill Creek watershed. Mill Creek originates in Lassen Volcanic National Park amidst bubbling and steaming volcanic features. The creek provides critical habitat for threatened spring run chinook salmon and steelhead. Both the Forest Service and the National Park Service have recommended Mill Creek for National Wild and Scenic River protection. These anadromous fish formerly migrated all the way into the Park to spawn, making Mill Creek the highest elevation salmon spawning stream in the U.S. Sedimentation from the Park’s volcanic soils and thermal features give Mill Creek a milky color during spring run-off. Threatened salmon and steelhead trout that live in the stream have had to evolve to cope with these natural volcanic pollutants. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you may be able to smell the geothermal features.

This is the homeland of the Yana and Maidu Tribes. The most famous member of the Yana Tribe was Ishi, the last Native American in California to live independently of Euro-American society. There is a wilderness area named for Ishi further downstream on Mill Creek.

For more information on this trail, please visit https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/spencer-meadows-trail

Directions: The Spencer Meadows National Recreation Trail is in the Lassen National Forest near the southern border of Lassen Volcanic National Park. It is east of the little community of Mill Creek roughly seven miles east of Mineral. The trailhead is on the northern side of State Highway 36.

 

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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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