Explore the Caribou Wilderness of Northern California

Nestled in the heart of northern California, the Caribou Wilderness offers a serene escape from the bustling city life. With its rolling hills, verdant forests, and pristine lakes, this wilderness area provides a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty. Whether you are a seasoned hiker, a casual camper, or simply looking to enjoy a peaceful retreat, the Caribou Wilderness has something to offer for everyone.

The Caribou Wilderness was established as a protected area in 1964, with the goal of preserving its natural and unspoiled conditions. The area is rich in wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and various species of birds and fish. With over 21,000 acres of wilderness, visitors have ample opportunities to explore the area’s diverse ecosystems, from its lush forests to its open meadows and pristine lakes. Unfortunately the Dixie fire did consume this beautiful pristine forest. Although serveral pockets of forest remain un bothered much of the trail regions have at least some to severe fire char.

Elevations range from 6,400 feet (2,000 m) to 8,374 feet (2,552 m).

The terrain is a volcanic plateau with 75% covered by water and conifer forests and the remainder being barren rock such as cliff faces, talus slopes and cinder cones. Most of this area has been preserved since 1932 which makes the Caribou Wilderness one of the few remaining pristine forests of the California Cascade region, even with the damage caused by the dixie fire, the Caribou wilderness now shows signs of resilience and beauty. There are 23 named lakes, innumerable unnamed ponds and tarns, cinder cones and volcanic buttes within the wilderness. Although there are no year round surface streams, the area provides high quality water for the headwaters of the Susan River, and Bailey Creek, a tributary of the Feather River. The high point is Red Cinder (8,363 ft) located near the boundary between the wilderness and the park. Other peaks are North Caribou (7,785 ft), South Caribou ( 7,753 ft) and Black Butte in the northeast at (7,989 ft.)

map of caribou wilderness next to lassen volcanic park
Infographic how fires destroy trees
Long Lake

Three trailheads give access to the wilderness; Hay Meadows in the south, Cone Lake in the north and Silver Lake on the east which is also the most popular entry point; as well, the wilderness can be accessed by trails leading in from Lassen Volcanic National Park to the west. Travel by foot or horseback is easy because the landscape has only moderate hills and valleys. No wilderness permits are required, only a California campfire permit for open fires. There are many other trails connecting to other lakes such as Evelyn Lakes as well as trails to the national park’s backcountry wilderness area on the west. Backpacking and day hikes are possible with a variety of one-way or loop trips of any length. There are lakes within two miles (3 km) of any trailhead as well as volcanic cinder cones and rocky cliffs for the more adventurous visitors. Off-trail travel is possible but challenging due to many large fallen trees and brush between wet meadows which is the nature of a wilderness area.

caribou wilderness lake

A wilderness addition was proposed for areas just outside the present boundaries including Indian Meadow (near Hay Meadow) and the lake for which the wilderness is named. These 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) have been identified by the forest service for having ancient forests of white fir, western white pine, sugar pine, lodgepole pine, red fir, incense cedar and Jeffrey pine. This proposed addition did not make it into the 2006 Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act.[10]

21 of Caribou’s lakes are stocked by air with rainbow troutBlack-tailed deer and black bears along with squirrels, chipmunks, and the protected (from hunting) pine marten live here. There are bald eagles and ospreys overhead, mergansers and grebes on the ponds and lakes.

Caribou Wilderness Top Trails

  • Gem Lake. Moderate
  • Caribou Lake to Triangle Lake Loop. Moderate
  • Cypress Lake. Moderate
  • Caribou Lake to Triangle Lake Loop. Moderate
  • Hay Meadows Loop. Moderate
  • Posey and Beauty Lake Loop. Moderate
  • Hay Meadows to North Divide Lake
  • Silver, Echo and Trail Lakes

From Silver Lake, just outside the eastern boundary of Caribou Wilderness, the Caribou Lake Trail enters the Wilderness for approximately one mile, to split south about six miles to the Hay Meadows Trailhead, and north about four miles to the Cone Lake Trailhead. At Triangle Lake on the north trail, a path travels west about one mile before entering the national park. This area offers a chance for wondrous solitude.

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