Framed by towering forests of Pine, Cedar, and Fir trees, this passage of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway will lead you through the natural beauty of Lassen National Forest, beginning near Lassen Volcanic National Park and ending in Chester 30 miles to the east. Not only will you learn how volcanoes give birth to new earth over the span of hundreds of thousands to millions of years in this part of the world and enjoy nationally acclaimed trails, you will also have an opportunity to visit a couple of museums in the historic town of Chester. In the wintertime, two winter staging areas offer prime spots for winter play. This byway travels east to west with the points of interest listed accordingly with a few miles skirting Lake Almanor just before you reach Chester.
Following are highlights and key points of interest you'll find along this scenic byway. To get the most out of your visit at the Lassen Volcanic National Park, you will want to stop off at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. Here, interpretive exhibits and displays will enhance your understanding about the volcanic wonders and historic events you are about to see. The Kohm Yah-mah-nee is the Native American Maidu name for “snowy-mountain.” You may also acquire permits, make reservations, and find a host of needed information.
All four types of volcanoes that exist in the world can be found at the Park. Composite or strato-volcanoes, shield volcanoes, plug domes, and cinder cones. Thumping mud pots, boiling pools, steaming ground, and roaring fumaroles illustrate the geologic dance of fire and ice. These hydro-thermal features can be found at Bumpass Hell, Sulphur Works, Devil’s Kitchen and Little Pilot Pinnacle, and Terminal Geyser. While the Park can be accessed all year around, heavy snow closes the main road through the Park.
The McGowan Cross-country Ski Trail is located just outside the southern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Access is on Highway 89, just 2 miles north of Highway 36. Literally in the shadow of Lassen Peak, McGowan area trails wander a total of 10 miles through mixed conifer forest and are popular with beginning to advanced skiers. Elevations range from 5,020 to 6,200 feet. McGowan cross-country ski trails are closed to all motorized vehicles.
Morgan Summit Snowmobile Park, about 25 miles from west of Chester, sits at 5,610 feet and offers four different groomed trails. In the summertime the park doubles for great mountain bike rides. For information about current conditions, call the Lake Almanor Ranger District for both the winter staging areas at (530) 258-2141.
Registered as a National Recreation Trail in 1979, Spencer Meadows Trail follows pristine meadows, tall timber, flowing creeks, and glaciated springs. Stretching six miles, passage through this trail can be made on foot or on a horse and links up the trails system at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Views of Brokeoff Mountain, the headwaters of Mill Creek, and Little Hot Springs Valley can be seen from this trail. Located just east of Child's Meadow, this trail runs through an area where the Yahi-Yana Indian tribe came together for seasonal hunting and gathering. No motorized vehicles or bikes are allowed on this trail.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is another treasure among America’s scenic trails found along the Byway. Spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through three western states, this trail can be accessed just 6 miles west of Chester on highway 36. This trail is also for hikers, backpackers, and equestrian journeys. No motorized vehicles or bikes are allowed on this trail.
Originally cultivated as a logging and sawmill community, the final portion of this journey brings you to the historic charm of Chester. Main Street features many historic buildings such as the Bidwell House and the century-old steam locomotive known as “Dinky”.
Also on Main Street, the Collins Pine Museum building was constructed to look like the sawmill that was operated by Collins Pine Company in Chester from 1943 to 2001, after which it was replaced by a new sawmill. Terry Collins—a fourth generation company man--still works for the company and opened this museum to keep the legacy of his family and the mill alive. His father, Truman Collins, brought the mill to Chester from the east coast, when it first opened. Here, you will find exhibits on lumbering, forestry and principles of sustainability. The building contains exhibits on lumber grades, forest stands, old photos and implements. There is no fee to visit the Museum which is open mid-May until mid-October, Wednesday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Call 530.258.4441 for details for more information.
The Collins Pine Nature Trail starts at the West end of Chester Park, making two loops through about fifty acres of second growth woodland with mixed evergreen and deciduous trees, grassy flood plain, channels and beaver ponds. The far end of the trail is six tenths of a mile from the park. There are four benches at places along the trail, and twelve numbered points at sites of special interest. A "Points of Interest Guide", available at the Collins Pine Museum and the Chamber of Commerce, contains information and thought provoking questions for each numbered point.
One of the main attractions to the Chester Library & Museum is the photographic history of the Lake Almanor Basin where you can view vintage photos of dairy farming, logging, gold mining and even early-day tourist activities. A fine collection of Maidu Indian basketry and artifacts represent some of the intricate handwork produced by Plumas County's first inhabitants. Open MTWF 10:30-1 & 1:30-5; Th 12-5 & 6-8. Call 530-258-2742 for details.
Note: Great campsites along the highway 36 include Gurnsey Creek Campground and Battle Creek Campground. Call the Lake Almanor Ranger District for more details at 530-258-2141. The town of Chester is the main hub for lodging for the southern portion of the Byway.