This hasn't been an unendurably hot summer — yet. We managed to breeze through July with only a few 100-plus-degree days, and although we still have more than half of August to go, we may have passed through the worst of it.
But that doesn't mean it isn't dry as a bone out there. It's been more than a month since significant rain has fallen, and the drier it gets the greater the longing for water.
For more on the hike to Mill Creek Falls, see "Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park" by Tracy Salcedo-Chourreé, part of the Falcon Guides series, and/or "75 Hikes in California's Mount Shasta & Lassen Volcanic Park Regions" by John R. Soares, put out by The Mountaineers Books.
We have our share of nice waterfalls in the Rogue Valley, but sometimes I need to visit one elsewhere to get me through these dog days. I've written about Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California before as one of the National Park Service's unappreciated gems — an outdoor haven you can drive to in about five hours or less, yet far enough away to seem like a real getaway. Yes, I love the blue expanse of Crater Lake, and I know it's at least two hours closer, but it's waterfalls I crave this time of year, and there are no waterfall hikes there.
Lassen has at least two good such hikes. The easiest to reach is the 3.2-mile round-trip Mill Creek Falls Trail, starting just 0.1 miles from the southwest entrance to the park. The fastest way to get to the entrance is by driving south on I-5 to Red Bluff, then heading east on Highway 36 to Highway 89 and turning north. The entrance is only about five miles from the junction of highways 36 and 89. The trailhead is right off the parking lot for a new visitor center that replaced the old Lassen Chalet.
We have our own Mill Creek Falls in the Rogue Valley along Highway 62 near Prospect, of course, but at around 6,500 feet in elevation the one at Lassen has the lure of being higher and more remote. The trail to it first winds through lodgepole pines and red firs down to West Sulfur Creek, where you can stop briefly at a bridge before moving on.
Across the bridge you'll hit a large open area full of mule ear plants sloping up toward stunning views of 9,235-foot Brokeoff Mountain and 9,087-foot Mount Diller. The mule ears and many other flowering plants will be done blooming by now, but the panorama will make up for it. From here, head east through the East Sulfur Creek drainage, where red and white firs and Western white pines offer shade above a deepening ravine.
East Sulfur Creek eventually meets a small creek from Bumpass Hell, the park's most extensive hydrothermal area, to create the falls. The two streams fall separately 30 feet into a pool, whose water then plunges another 50 feet to a larger, greenish pool that is the beginning of Mill Creek.
This creek eventually flows down through a rugged gorge, the former domain of the Yahi Indians, the tribe of Ishi, known as the last wild Indian in North America. Starving, his kinsmen dead, he sought refuge in a slaughterhouse near Oroville in 1911, and was rescued to offer ethnographers invaluable information about his tribe.
After about 1.5 miles along the trail you'll hear the roar of the falls, and at 1.6 miles you'll reach the viewpoint where you can see spray from the falls darkening the yellow-orange cliffs colored by mineral deposits. If you want an even closer view, you can hike left to where a spur trail will veer right to take you to a spot above the falls. And if that still hasn't satisfied you, walk another 1.8 miles through Conard Meadows to Crumbaugh Lake where other trail options await.
For those who have never been to the Lassen area before, the hike to the falls may be an incentive to get an overall view of the park. If you're among them, and have the time, head up Highway 89 through the park until you get to the Mount Shasta area, reconnecting with I-5 there instead of heading west on Highway 36 to Red Bluff or on Highway 44 to Redding. The forest route is more scenic and cooler, and you can get lots of ideas for future hikes along the way.
Either way, a brief visit to Lassen's high country will give you the satisfaction of being near the roar of falling water, the best cure for late-summer doldrums.
Steve Dieffenbacher is a Mail Tribune page designer/copy editor. You can reach him at 541-776-4498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.