Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway – Part I

Burney Falls

The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is one of 42 “All American Roads” established in the United States.  The entire route is nearly 500 miles in length and is easily divided up into leisurely day trips.  We are fortunate to be working right smack in the middle of this byway that extends from its southern terminus near Lassen Volcanic National Park in North-Central California to its northern boundary at Crater Lake National Park in South-Central Oregon.  The route passes through the fiery, dramatic landscape of four National Park Service properties and numerous state parks, wildlife refuges and national forests with an eclectic assortment of small town communities to explore along the way. 

Last week on one of our days off, we decided to embark on a road trip and complete part of this scenic byway.  Leaving the Tulelake area, we made a brief stop in Merrill, OR to fuel up (diesel is more than $1 cheaper in Oregon than California) and then headed west on Route 161. 

We travel Route 161 often since it’s our major path to Klamath Falls for all amenities and it passes by the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  We discovered an eagle’s nest in the refuge a while ago and visit it often to see how the babies are progressing!

Lower Klamath Falls National Wildlife Refuge – eagle perched on nest

The above photo was taken back in May before the leaves came out making the nest and the eagle very visible! Later in the month, we took my Canon camera with the 200mm lens back out and captured some of the photos below. Jim snapped the photos while I did the editing – just need to give credit where credit is due!! Good job Jim!

In the same area, we grabbed some shots of a Great Blue Heron and some egrets hanging out in the trees!

At the junction of Rt. 161 and Rt. 97, we headed south towards Mt. Shasta, the town.  This scenic road offers up some of the most stunning views of Mt. Shasta, the mountain, and it was a picture-perfect day for viewing this 14,000+ volcanic peak.  At some point this summer, we will venture back here to hike some of the trails on the mountain.

Mount Shasta and Shastina

At Mt. Shasta (the town), we picked up Rt. 89 and began our drive through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  I recently read an article touting the attributes of McCloud, CA – a small, mountain town that sits in the shadow of Mt. Shasta.  An old lumber and railroad town (designated a National Registered Historic District), the historic buildings are well-preserved and there are numerous hotels, restaurants and activities to attract visitors year-round.  Visit the McCloud Chamber of Commerce website for more information!  We hit McCloud at just the right time to take a break from driving and grab a snack.  Since it was Tuesday, unfortunately we found many eating establishments closed but the coffee shop in the historic McCloud Mercantile Hotel was open and we enjoyed a great cup of fresh brewed coffee and a blueberry scone!

Continuing south on Rt. 89, we detoured off the road to visit the McCloud River Falls area.  What a treat!!  The McCloud River is a state Wild and Scenic River that runs for over 75 miles – fed from the snowy peaks and springs of the Cascade Mountain area surrounding Mt. Shasta.  Starting at the parking area for the Middle Falls, we hiked the switch-back trail down to the base of the falls and just hung out here for awhile taking in the breathtaking beauty of this waterfall.  Jim couldn’t resist dipping his feet into the painfully cold water at the base of the falls!  The waterfall certainly commands most of the attention in this area but the diversity of the forest plants is not to be missed.  Douglas-fir, white fir, ponderosa pine and incense-cedar dominate this area and there are some magnificent specimens along the trail.

Middle Falls on the McCloud River
Another angle!

We traveled to the Upper Falls for a brief period before getting back on the road towards Burney Falls area.  The Upper Falls, while not as dramatic, had its own special charm. And the river above the falls here was so tranquil and peaceful!

McCloud River scene above the Upper Falls

Our next destination was the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.  It seems “waterfalls” was the theme for the day!  We hiked the Falls Loop Trail which starts at the top of the falls and descends to the base of the waterfall.  The trail continues downstream and passes over the creek via a small bridge, reversing course along the forested hillside upslope past the falls and back over the stream above the falls.  Air temperatures had climbed during the day and the hike in the forest was nice and cool!!

Burney Falls

Burney Falls is over 120’ high and 250’ wide and more than 100 million gallons of water flow over the cliff in a day!   The falls are unique in that the water emerges not just from the top where the creek overflows but through numerous cracks and springs in the face of the cliff.  Hanging gardens of ferns and other plants provide a backdrop to the tumbling water creating a stunning display.  Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1954, it is truly one of the most spectacular places in Northern California. 

From the base of Burney Falls

Notice the propensity of plants growing out of the face of the cliff!

Hanging gardens in the falls!
Burney Creek along the trail from the upper bridge

Along the trail, I noticed an unusual maple leaf that I was unfamiliar with – turns out it’s called a Vine Maple – Acer circinatum. Lovely leaf and texture!

I also was impressed with the benches that were dispersed along the Falls Loop Trail.

At the end of the trail, there was a cut-out of a log that showed where different historical events fit in with the rings of the tree. I love these displays!

A short distance from Burney Falls is another interesting attraction that I did not want to miss.   One location for some scenes from the iconic, 1986 coming-of-age movie Stand By Me was filmed in this area.   We made the detour to see the infamous railroad bridge on the Great Shasta Rail line where, in the movie, the boys had a close encounter with a train.  Cool!!   Of course, Jim always stretches the boundaries of acceptable behavior and ventured past the barriers to stand on the bridge! 😊

Perspective view of the rail bridge
Looking downstream on part of Lake Britton from railroad bridge

A great road trip. Over the course of the summer, we’ll travel all stretches of this byway and I’m looking forward to two highlights in particular – exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake National Park!!

5 Comments on “Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway – Part I

  1. Lynn, What a pleasure to share your pleasure of the forest and water of the NW. We hope to see some of these sights in August. Too bad our itinerary is locked in place. As always, I am gob-smacked by your fabulous photos. More in a private email. Stewart

    Liked by 1 person

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