Summit Lakes Loop (Lassen Volcanic NP) 23-Jun-2015

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

We do occassional hiking and backpacking trips with our California friends Wayne and Diane and this year we decided to spend some time with them in Lassen Volcanic National Park – seemingly one of America’s lesser appreciated national parks. Our previous trips had focused on climbing Lassen Peak but this time we also made an effort to see a bit more of the park, in addition to climbing the peak. Today we set out for the Summit Lakes Loop, starting from Summit Lake on Highway 89. This is also called the Cluster Lakes Loop and appears as such in Lautner’s (2010) Day & Section Hikes~Pacific Crest Trail~Northern California hiking guide (Hike #23).

We picked this loop because it promised – and delivered – a tour of the most concentrated collection of lakes in the Park, starting with Summit Lake, which is right at the trailhead.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Summit Lake, with Lassen Peak in the background

Despite this low snow, drought year (sadly one of many), there were still quite a few flowers blooming along the trail.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Leiberg’s lupine (L. subvexus)

After a “gruelling” 500-foot climb, we got a view of Lassen,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Lassen Peak from the trail junction

and then turned north on the trail toward the Bear Lakes. Unfortunately, about half way to the lakes, the trail leaves the forest and enters the devastation wrought in 2012 by the massive Reading Fire. I was once again struck by what I’d missed by not taking time on earlier visits to go hiking rather than just focus on the peak. Double sigh.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Through the effects of the Reading Fire

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Snags over water

About 1.5 miles into the burn,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

We would spend half the day wandering through the Reading Fire’s impacts

we reached Little Bear Lake,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Little Bear Lake in a drought year

and then, after more wandering in the burn,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Along the trail through the Reading Fire

Big Bear Lake, which looked comparatively lush if you looked the right way.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Big Bear Lake surrounded by burned forest

Beyond Big Bear Lake, we turned south past Silver Lake (with Lassen in the distance),

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Silver Lake surrounded by burned forest, with Lassen on the horizon

then through flowers and other small plants starting the long, long process of restoring the forest,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Signs of new life along the trail

then on past Feather Lake,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Feather Lake with burned forest on the far shore

to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) back in the unburned forest, whose shade was very welcome.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

On the PCT through a live forest

A short ways down the PCT, we came to a lunch spot on the shores of Lower Twin Lake, where Wayne and Diane, as is their custom, cavorted nakedly in the lake’s cold, refreshing waters.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

On the shores of Lower Twin Lake

After lunch – and in rising heat – we turned west and climbed up past Echo Lake,

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Cool, inviting Echo Lake

to complete the loop with a return to Summit Lake.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Heading back to the trailhead

Despite the burned forest, this was a great hike past some of the nicest lakes in the park (12 miles roundtrip; 1,200 feet of elevation gain). Unlike the “crowds” we encounterd hiking up Lassen, we saw only about a dozen people all day – none on the north part of the loop and most between the Summit Lake Trailhead and Lower Twin Lake.

Summit Lakes Loop Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Our track around the Summit Lakes Loop

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