By Greg Aragon
Summer is upon us and that means that one of my favorite Northern California hideaways is ready for yet another season of rustic charm and excitement. On June 8, Drakesbad Guest Ranch reopened after a winter break to celebrate 118 years of welcoming visitors to Lassen Volcanic National Park and a myriad of outdoor adventure and relaxation.
Located in Cascade Mountains in Northeastern California, near the tiny town of Chester, the ranch offers guests a secluded mountain experience with hiking, horseback riding, swimming, natural wonders, and endless beauty.
On my last visit to the guest ranch a friend and I checked into a small bungalow room at the base of a hill, surrounded by a giant meadow and a towering forest of trees. Like most rooms at the ranch, ours didn’t have electricity but made up for it in old-time charm. The room came with two wooden beds, a heater, and a bathroom with shower, and a solar lamp and kerosene lantern.
Our quarters also boasted a wooden patio protruding into the meadow, with spectacular views of Lassen Volcanic Park, surrounding mountains, the hot springs pool, and resident horses. The patio is also a great place to meet the ubiquitous deer and marmots that graze in the tall grasses a few feet from the room. All rooms include a full or half bath and are gas heated. Housekeeping services are provided daily.
Once settled in, we joined other Drakesbad guests at the main building for a gourmet dinner of wild boar loin with summer corn and sugar peas rice pilaf, dijon sauce, and a spring mint vegetable medley. With this we sipped Lassen Peak Chardonnay and looked ahead at an exciting two more nights at the ranch.
After dinner we soaked in the soothing pool fed by hot mineral springs. Still in the same spot since Drakesbad (German for Drake’s bath) opened in 1900, the pool is a great way to unwind after a day in the 5,000-foot elevation of the mountains. Back at the room, I lit the kerosene lantern and read about the legendary history of the ranch and all the hydrothermal wonders such as natural steam vents, bubbling mudpots, hot springs, and the volcanic rock that surround it. Devil’s Kitchen is a perfect example of these natural phenomena.
To get to Devil’s Kitchen we hiked about an hour through lovely Warner Valley meadows and forests. The journey took us over wooden bridges, past lonely creeks and through marsh and thick woodlands to an eerily beautiful area, encompassed by crackled yellow and red mounds of earth erupting with streams steam. As the steam swirls into the air it hisses and plops and sounds like the earth is cooking.
The volcanic park’s unique hydrothermal system is caused when rain and snow water fall and seep deep into the ground and is heated by hot molten rock beneath Lassen Peak. Rising hot water boils to form boiling pools and mud pots. Super-heated steam reaches the surface through fractures in the earth to form fumaroles like those at Devil’s Kitchen.
After our hike we returned to Drakesbad’s restaurant, where we devoured roasted duck with prunes and juniper berries, homemade stuffing triads, beet root arugula salad, and currant wine sauce.
Back at the room I lit the kerosene lantern and fell asleep reading an old book. In the morning we had a great county breakfast in the lodge and saddled up for a horseback ride to Terminal Geyser.
Horses have been a part of Drakesbad since the early 1900s. The ranch offers guided trail rides (check website for pricing) for beginners and experts. Our 3-hour trek through the forest and meadows came with post card views of Lassen Peak, nearby Lake Almanor, and glorious fields of Mule Ears flowers.
Other fun activities and Drakesbad include fishing expeditions, massage treatments; and numerous things for the kids such as treasure hunts, arts and crafts, “ice cream socials,” and star gazing nights.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch is located in Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. The ranch is open until October 8. Three meals per day are included with price of room and kids under six stay free. For more information on visiting Drakesbad Guest Ranch, call (866) 999-0914 or visit: www.drakesbad.com.