About Mill Creek Falls
Mill Creek Falls was kind of our waterfalling excuse to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park. Although it wasn’t the only waterfall in the reserve, it was at low enough elevation that we were able to do this hike even though much of the rest of the park was still under snow and ice during our mid- to late June visit in 2016. In fact, our early Summer hike was full of colorful mats of wildflowers backed by the technicolor volcanic peaks that kind of made us think of Lassen Volcanic as California’s humble answer to Yellowstone National Park. And as for the waterfall itself, it featured a gushing 75ft drop just below the confluence of East Sulphur Creek along with Bumpass Creek (which originated from the Bumpass Hot Springs in the famed Bumpass Hell part of the park). Given the geothermal origin of the creeks, Mom and I definitely smelled traces of that rotten egg sulphur smell around the falls.
Our 3.2-mile round trip hike to Mill Creek Falls was accessed from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center near the southwest entrance of the park (see directions below). At first we had trouble finding the trail, but after asking a park employee at the visitor center, we learned that the trail started adjacent to the amphitheater and campground just a few paces outside the visitor center building. From there, the trail descended towards West Sulphur Creek, where we crossed a bridge then swung around a little meadow-like area with colorful mats of wildflowers. This area was even more compelling from a photography standpoint because it was backed by colorful volcanic mountains further adding to the colorful and picturesque scene. Then, the trail briefly climbed a bump before sharply descending into a lightly forested area. After undulating up and down as well as in and out of forested sections, we’d eventually reach a short unbridged creek crossing before the trail really began to climb in earnest.
Fortunately, most of the climb was in the shade of tall trees flanking us, but it was in this stretch that we would gain most of the elevation. Even though we had read that the net gain was 300ft, it definitely felt a lot longer than that. In one section where the trees had parted, we were able to glimpse across a canyon to our right (cut by East Sulphur Creek) towards some minor cascades running due to the snow melt. After roughly over an hour on the trail, we finally arrived at an overlook peering right down at the entirety of Mill Creek Falls. It was from this vantage point that we managed to get the photo you see at the top of this page. The trail would continue towards the footbridges spanning both creeks above the falls, though that second footbridge was as far as we’d go. In order to celebrate our little accomplishment of making it to the falls, we spoiled ourselves with a picnic lunch near the brink of the falls. We were joined dozens of other people chilling out here, and given how we managed to see many hikers going in both directions throughout the trail, we knew that this hike was indeed a very popular one.
Anyways, the scene at the top of Mill Creek Falls was such that we didn’t want to leave too quickly, but once we were done with our snack and water break while having our fill of the falls (along with the faint sulphur smell), we then returned the way we came, which was mostly downhill with a few minor uphill sections. Then, we got to experience the wildflowers (especially in that stretch close to the bridge over West Sulphur Creek) all over again before making that final ascent back up to the visitor center. Overall, we managed to do this out-and-back hike in roughly 2.5 hours though we really took our time, especially at the brink of the falls. So it’s conceivable that it could take a bit less time to do this hike if you were in a more of a hurry.
From the town of Red Bluff (where we stayed), we briefly drove south on the I-5 before taking the exit 649 for Hwy 36. At the light, we turned left to go east on Hwy 36, which would then continue after turning left once we got beyond the east end of town (roughly two miles east of the I-5). From there, we followed the Hwy 36 for about 43 miles to the junction with Hwy 89. This long stretch started off passing through pretty dry rolling hills before it entered the mountains. The junction with the Hwy 89 was a few miles east of the small hamlet of Mineral.
Turning left to go north on Hwy 89, we then continued to go north for about five miles to the southwest entrance for Lassen Volcanic National Park. At the time of our visit, the entrance fee per vehicle was $20. Just on the other side of the kiosk was the large parking area for the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, which was where the Mill Creek Falls Trail started. Overall, this drive took us a little over an hour.
From Redding, we would drive east on Hwy 44 for around 46 miles to its junction with Hwy 89. Then, we’d take Hwy 89 south (right) into the northern side of Lassen Volcanic National Park and drive for the next 30 miles or so to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center just before the park’s southwest entrance. The caveat for this road was that due to high elevation, it can be closed due to snow and ice.
To give you an idea of the geographical context, Red Bluff was 186 miles (under 3 hours drive) north of San Francisco, 131 miles (about 2 hours drive) north of Sacramento, 178 miles (3 hours drive) south of Medford, Oregon, 192 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) northwest of Reno, Nevada, and 515 miles (about 7.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.
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