(Picture of Terrace Lake. Credit: visitsiskiyou.org website)
Last week I was talking with a guy who works at Mt. Shasta Ray’s grocery store, and he mentioned that he had just visited Cliff Lake. It’s funny he mentioned that because I had been wanting to visit the lakes in this area for quite some time. I figured if a local went there, it must be especially worthwhile because they know the best areas.
This afternoon I grabbed my topographical map (see below) and headed up Road 26 into the hills for an extended lunch break…one of the perks of living in this part of the county.
The guy mentioned that the last part of the road to the lake was meant for off road vehicles (located near top center of map as a dotted line with the letters “4WD”. He said that they parked the car and walked up to the lake. It was my intent to do the same thing.
Since the roads are so poorly marked in this area, it was my strategy to drive up to Gumboot Lake, then backtrack down the road a quarter mile to find the off road trail to Cliff Lake.
I parked my car at what I believed to be the Cliff Lake trail, and set off on foot. The rocky trail started to climb in elevation, and at some points became so faint that I had trouble following it. When I got to the top of the hill, the trail disappeared entirely.
When I was scouting around and admiring the vast incredible view of the Siskiyou-Trinity County divide, I spotted a lake below me, which I later determined to be Cedar Lake. Since there was no trail, I headed straight through the waist-high manzanita brush and reached the lake a few minutes later.
At the lake, I quickly found a gravel road, and knew it must be the off-road vehicle trail used to access the lake. This meant that the place where I parked my car was not the correct one.
There was nobody around, and there were no signs indicating which lake it was. Since there are about six lakes in this immediate area, I wasn’t sure which one it was. To make things more confusing, the direction of the gravel road didn’t seem to match up with the topo map.
The lake appeared to be about the same size as Gumboot Lake. It appeared to be a very shallow lake, and was surrounded by short cedar and fir trees. I could see some lilies in the water. I also found some Cobra Water Pitcher Plants along the banks. At the north-west end, I found a really small spring which fed the lake.
I backtracked and followed the gravel road around the lake and found the lake exit, as well as a rock ringed fire pit and camping area. I continued down the gravel road and found another lake ten minutes later. Although there were no signs, I determined later that this was Lower Cliff Lake.
Lower Cliff Lake also had a rock firepit, but had a larger camping area. Some beer cans with bullet holes were next to the pit, along with a nice pile of oak firewood left behind for the next camper.
This lake had a large amount of downed trees at the lake exit point. It was at this time that I started to notice the wind blowing in the area. Since I was very close to the Trinity Divide, this was one of the areas that the focused wind could blow inland or toward the sea. I don’t know if the wind dies down at night, but if it didn’t, that would be a major downfall to camping here.
After looking around for a bit, I followed the gravel road away from the lake, heading west. I came across a couple national forest boundary signs. A short while later, a branch of the gravel road took off to the right side, but there was a “Private Property” sign so I didn’t explore that way.
After a few more minutes I came across a gorgeous cirque lake against the rock cliffs that turned out to be Cliff Lake. Cliff Lake is a smaller version of Castle Lake, a popular and scenic lake located a several miles to the East.
I could tell that this lake was much deeper than the first two lakes I visited. I could see where ancient glaciers coming down the hillside carved a deep end and deposited the material on the close shore.
It didn’t take me very long to hike out to the main road. When I reached the roadway, I saw that the four wheel drive gravel road had a marker: 39NO5Y. I walked up the road to where my car was parked.
The only disappointment was that I was not able to see Upper Cliff Lake. I hope to return at some point to find it. Also in the area is Terrace Lake, as well as three unnamed small lakes, and I hope to see those in the future as well.
John Soares did a story on on the area which included a visit to Cliff Lake and Lower Cliff Lake.