Duration: Day Trip, 4-6hrs or overnight
Distance: 3+ miles
Region: Eastern Shasta County, CA
Nearby Cities: Fall River Mills, Burney
Day Use/Parking Pass: Permit required for overnight camping only – $15.00
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Restrictions: Only access is by boat; no motorized watercraft allowed
Over the weekend, Aaron and I went with my parents and two of our closest friends to kayak at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, one of the most unique areas I’ve seen in Northern California. The park, in its entirety, is only accessible to the public by boat, and while moderately remote in its far eastern corner of Shasta county, was a geographic wonder and ecological treat to behold.
The area was home to a tribe of the Pit River Indians who were called Achumawi, meaning “where the waters come together,” paying homage to the abundance of crystal clear freshwater springs that funnel directly into various ponds, lakes, and rivers that conglomerate within the park. The only entry point is a boat ramp at what is called the Rat Farm, a Pacific Gas and Electric access road that dead ends at a canal which formerly bordered a muskrat farm (the farm closed in 1930 but still shows its effect on the ecosystem through the abundance of large rodents inhabiting the park.)
The trip begins with a paddle: after a half mile of kayaking through the stagnant (and frog-laden) canal we reached an open area which is considered Big Lake and crossed its southern arm before reaching our first destination: Horr Pond Campsite #8, which is located at the northernmost point of the pond. The site boasts a multitude of amenities including a quality boat dock, restroom facilities, a large campsite, enclosed trash cans, a bear box and an upgraded fire pit. But this first campsite along the shoreline was not what we were ultimately seeking – the water here, in mid-July, was thick with sun-tanned cakes of pond scum and barely passable in our 10ft boats, so we pressed onward to Crystal Springs campground and were pleasantly surprised to find a group of shady campsites situated around one of the park’s main inlets.
This side of the pond lacks any upgraded docks or ramps, so as long as you don’t mind getting your feet wet, there are plenty of places to pull up and disembark. We chose to take lunch at the campsite, which has the same upgrades as the first on the pond, but with a few additional landmarks. Northeast of the picnic area there stands a degrading boathouse, an interesting remnant of the park’s early improvements, and just up the shoreline trail on the south side is the namesake of the campsite – Crystal Springs.
Here the water is sparkling clear, crisp, and refreshing. We didn’t drink from the spring not knowing its potability, but the dogs enjoyed themselves the most here, basking in the icy cold volcanic snowmelt and swimming along the fish traps, originally erected by the tribes that inhabited the wetlands hundreds of years ago. This primitive hatchery is considered to be one of the first exhibits of fishery on the continent, encouraging spawning and limiting fishing seasons in order to preserve populations for annual harvesting.
Another 2 miles up the trail are a few lava tubes which left us unimpressed. The entry caves were barely 5ft tall and were full of bats (a.k.a. not ideal for dogs), the tubes barely big enough to belly crawl through, and couldn’t be further explored without special equipment.
After a quick rest – and cool-down, thanks to the air-conditioned quality of the underground air – in the antechamber of the largest cave, we trudged back to the campsite in the sweltering afternoon heat. This excursion, while short and gently sloping, was not worth the effort in my opinion; the trail is poorly marked, overgrown, and in direct sunlight in its entirety.
After (another) quick rest back at Crystal Springs, we decided to take the short walk west along the shoreline to Ja She Creek, a shady stroll well worth the extra steps, in contrast to the lava tube hike. The creek is wide and flat on the north side, making for fantastic swimming, before it funnels beneath a footbridge at such a rate it creates a visible current as it enters the main pond.
Elizabeth’s Trip Tips:
- Pack plenty of drinking water for human consumption. We brought what we initially thought was too much but were overzealous in our drinking due to the heat and humidity. And while there is plenty of clean water access for dogs, be careful not to let your pets drink too much pond water. Stagnant water isn’t good for anything in large amounts, and even canines can contract parasites like giardia, coccidia, or worse. Be sure to search online for information about toxic algae blooms in your area before departing.
- Bring your tackle gear! While we didn’t get any bites midday, Horr Pond and the surrounding waterways are renowned for their remarkable catfish, largemouth bass, and native rainbow trout.
- Even for the most experienced paddlers and especially for beginners or infrequent kayakers, moleskin or athletic tape would be handy to prevent blisters. I kayak frequently but still sustained some pretty serious thumb blisters from the extended paddle.
- If you make it to Ja She Creek, press on to the abandoned farmhouse west of Ja She campground. While we didn’t get to it this time, my parents have visited the area before and said it was an intriguing feature to be explored.
- Be prepared for possible wildlife encounters – bear, coyote, and raccoon scat were fresh and abundant. Whistles and bear spray are good investments if you don’t already carry them, especially with dogs around. The last thing your pup needs during their adventure is a fight with a wild animal!