October Surprise – Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA


November 16, 2020 by Deborah W. Trotter

There is never a guarantee that the park road will still be open the last week of October. Snow could come early and shut it all down for the winter, a cold, quiet solitude settling in for months. But this year we were able to make our planned visit and take a beautiful hike to three tranquil lakes that I had not visited for many years.

Fork in the trail a little ways down from the Park Road

Confession: the reason I had not hiked this trail for so long is that I dislike hikes that require the hard work on the return trip, and the trail to Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes is such a trail. While the round trip is just over three and a half miles, the approximately 700 foot change in elevation occurs as a loss on the way in and a gain on the way out. So, to make it more tolerable, I thought of it as two hikes, one down to the lakes, and then after lunch, a second one back up to the road which sits at just about 8,000 feet above sea level.

The well-traveled trail to the three lakes

Now for the October surprise. This trail is easily accessible from the main road, and is popular throughout the season, but on October 28th, we had it entirely to ourselves for the three-plus hours of our hike. No other humans chose to do what my husband and I chose to do that day! The sky was a glorious and pure blue, and the air was still and not yet chill, spreading the residual warmth of the long summer while holding a cool hint of the change in seasons coming soon.

The smooth-as-glass surface of Terrace Lake with Lassen Peak through the trees above
Shadow Lake, the middle lake and largest of the three
Looking back across Shadow Lake to Lassen Peak
Our view of Cliff Lake from our lunch perch on a log
Golden autumn colors outline Cliff Lake
Afternoon shadows on the return trail

Barely two weeks after our lovely October outing, the road through Lassen Park is now closed for the winter. As I recall with pleasure our hike to Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes, I imagine with a different kind of pleasure how the lakes and the rocks and trees that border them and the trail that connects them, look, outfitted in winter white.

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