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Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park

Paddle to California’s primeval wetland

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Northeast of Burney lies Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, one of the least-visited state parks in California. Why is it that visitors inevitably have so much of the place to themselves? You can only get there by boat. Ahjumawi means “where the waters come together” in the language of the region’s Pit River Native Americans, and several major watersheds convene here: Tule River, Fall River, Big Lake, Ja She Creek, and Lava Creek. The park, about 80 miles northeast of Redding, is also home to one of the country’s largest freshwater springs, all in a wild and primeval setting of aqua-hued bays and tiny, tree-topped islets.

Fortunately, you don’t need to have your own canoe or kayak to access the park. Eagle Eye’s Kayak Guide Service, based in McArthur (roughly a half-hour drive south), offers kayak tours and rentals. Headwaters Adventure Company in Redding also has gear for rent (including racks for your car), and guides are available for groups of five or more—a smart idea if you’re not experienced paddlers. Outfitters can also share details on how to get to the park, where to launch, and what to pack, including binoculars for abundant wildlife. You’ll likely count more deer than people, and bald eagles and ospreys nest in the juniper trees.

If you’ve got time and love adventure, consider camping here for a night or two. There’s no need for advance reservations—chances are good you’ll have these turquoise waterways all to yourself. Rugged lava flows cover about two-thirds of the park’s 6,000 acres, all crisscrossed by a network of trails. Hike the nearly five-mile Spatter Cone Loop Trail to see volcanic features and big views of 14,179-foot Mount Shasta and 10,457-foot Lassen Peak. Along the park’s shoreline, look for prehistoric rock fish traps built by the Ahjumawi people to catch trout. Today, fly-fishing is hugely popular in the region; get details on licenses (required for ages 16 and over) and seasons from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

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