North Warner Tour, Modoc National Forest
Rugged beauty, history, and the key to the north corner describes the North Warner Tour located in the Modoc National Forest. Following are the key highlights you'll find along this scenic route in the Northern Sierra Cascade. Along the way you are invited to stop and visit the historic sites and towns. The North Warner Mountains offer a panorama of beautiful scenic vistas as well as limitless wildlife photographic opportunities.
The North Warner Tour heads north on U.S. 395 from Alturas and then turns east on SR 299 over Cedar Pass into Cedarville.It is separated from the South Warner Tour by SR 299 and Cedar Pass. At Cedarville, turn north on County Road 1 towards Lake City. From the Cedarville intersection, drive 5.2 miles north and turn left on Upper Lake City Road. After about a mile Upper Lake City Road again heads north and into Lake City. The hamlet has the distinction of being the first “subdivision” in Modoc and was surveyed by a group of promoters in 1863. Other firsts claimed by Lake City include: the first white man’s dwelling; first sawmill; first school, and first wedding.
The Lake City Flour Mill—no longer in production—is well worth a photograph. Park at the intersection at South Water Street, and take a short walk up the hill to the mill on the south side of the road.
The Lake City School still stands, and is now a private residence. It’s on the north side of the road about three-tenths of a mile from the flour mill access road. Continue on the County Road 1 and make a left, headed to Fort Bidwell.
Travelers have two options at this point. One option is to take Fandango Pass (State Historical Landmark No. 546), and head back to Alturas. The other option is to take the High Grade route through Fort Bidwell (State Historical Landmark No. 430).
The Fandango Tour -
Both routes are well worth taking, and the first is Fandango. It heads over Fandango Pass and into the Goose Lake Valley, an area full of pioneer history and tragedy.
Travel north about 10.2 miles from Lake City and take Forest Road 9, the Fandango turn-off. At 2.4 miles on that road pull over and park on the right. Looking up the hill you’ll see what looks like a rock wall. It’s actually the stabilization of a road bed the U.S. Army built as a route from Fort Bidwell across the Warner Mountains and on across the Devil’s Garden. This road replaced the original immigrant trail, which was too steep.
Continue up the road about a ½ mile and on the left you’ll see a steep portion of the Lassen-Applegate Emigrant Trail going straight up the hill.
Fandango Pass is legendary in California history. The Applegate brothers led the first wagon train bound for Oregon over the pass in 1846. Peter Lassen later advertised it (wrongly) as an easier route to California, and in the gold rush of 1849, it was the principal route to California. The emigrants considered the Warners an edge of the Sierra Nevada and incorrectly jumped to the conclusion that the trip was almost over. Crossing Fandango was cause for celebration, including the 19th century fandango dance, which gave Fandango its name.
At the top of Fandango Pass is a historic marker placed by the Native Daughter of the Golden West. Travel 1.2 miles from the monument and to the right you will see Fandango Peak, and to the left is Fandango Valley, the purported site of the Fandango Massacre.
Heading west the tour passes Buck Creek Guard Station, built in 1908 as the first “modern” building on the Modoc forest.
An interesting side trip turns left 0.7 miles beyond Buck Creek and heads to Lassen Creek and the Rainbow obsidian mines. Drive 1.6 miles, and then turn left at the fork. The Rainbow mine is 2.6 miles to the south on Forest Road 46N30. To get to Lassen Creek campground, continue down the road 0.4 miles, turn right and cross the bridge for another 1/3 of a mile. The campground is in a beautiful meadow with no facilities other than a vault toilet. The road is good and accessible to trailers. Permits are required for obsidian mining.
To return to the tour loop, go north to where the four roads come together and go straight on road CR47 to U.S. 395.
Travel across U.S. 395 and follow the loop into Willow Ranch, a one-time bustling logging town. The community had its own school, and its post office was established in 1871. The mill and the post office closed down after World War II. The sawmill burner is still visible near the millpond. The old school still stands. The loop rejoins U.S 395 at CR47.
Once back at the highway, head south and to the Goose Lake overlook. Most of the lake can be seen from that point. The Sugar Hill Viewpoint is about a mile further down the highway. Look up on the east side of the road and you’ll see a historic lookout at the top of the peak. This is also a popular spot for hang gliders, who often show up on the weekends.
Further south is the small town of Davis Creek, with its historic buildings and a down-home general store. The Davis Creek Community Church is on the west side of the highway.
Just over 6 miles from Davis Creek, the highway enters a narrow canyon where the rim of the Devil’s Garden Lava Platform is visible on the right.
The XL Ranch, owned by the Achumawi (Pit River) tribe, is on both sides of the highway about 10 miles from Davis Creek.
Chimney Rock is in the canyon and a historic marker is on the highway at the turn-off. Immigrants on the Lassen-Applegate trail carved their names in Chimney Rock in the mid 1800s. At one time, a cabin was built into the rock.
U.S. 395 then takes the traveler back into Alturas. Walking and driving tours of historic homes and buildings are available at the Chamber of Commerce. Some especially interesting buildings include the Surprise Valley Electrification offices just as you enter Alturas and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Fourth Street east of Main.
The High Grade route
For this version of the tour, you head north out of Lake City for 15 miles to the community of Fort Bidwell, nestled in the far corner of Northeast California. The community began adjacent to the military Fort Bidwell, originally Camp Bidwell, which was settled in 1865. The fort closed in 1893. Fort Bidwell has a tree-lined main street lined with many turn-of-the-century commercial buildings and homes. Of special interest is the Ft. Bidwell Hotel, and as the road comes to a “Y” intersection, sits the now privately owned old Ft. Bidwell School. At one time it handled the area’s kindergarten through 12th graders, and until 1960 served as an elementary school.
The Ft. Bidwell Indian Reservation is adjacent and west of town and belongs to the Northern Paiute who inhabited the Great Basin.
At the “Y” intersection the tour takes a left turn. The tour travels up CR 2 and a nice side trip heads into Larry Flat Campground about 4.5 miles northeast of Ft. Bidwell. The campground is 2 miles off of CR 2. A four-wheel-drive only tour uses the same road as Larry Flat, but after 2 miles follow the right fork and drive another 2 miles into the North Star Basin for some very spectacular scenery.
Once back to CR 2, continue 1 mile to the Mt. Vida vista turnout. From there you can see across to Surprise Valley and the north and middle alkali lakes. In the distance you can see the peaks of the South Warner Wilderness and to the far left is the Hayes Mountain Range in Nevada.
Another 2.2 miles up CR 2 finds the traveler at Mt. Bidwell viewpoint. Mt. Bidwell is to the north of the road.
Just 2.6 miles west of the Mt. Vida vista is the Klondyke Gold mine. The road goes through the mine and tourists should be careful where they walk as all High Grade Mining sitesare still active, though not much mining is taking place.
Travel from the Klondyke about a ½ mile to the intersection with the road to Dismal Swamp and you’ll find High Grade itself. To continue down CR 2 take the left turn, and to go into Dismal Swamp take the right. Whichever trip is taken, there will be numerous mining claims on both sides of the road. Remember that these claims are active, although they are not on private property. Most of them are on historic sites and it is illegal to pick up historic objects. Also there are dangers from mining pits, nails, and possibly chemicals.
Dismal Swamp is also worth a side trip. It is a scenic area with camping, streams, meadows, and historical values.
The area originally was named “Disabel” for the homesteader and the name later changed to “Dismal”. On the way in you’ll pass through the High Grade Mining District, an aspen grove with some Basque Silvaglyphs, and a meadow. The dam was originally built by the California Conservation Corps and repaired in 1991 by Forest Service personnel to preserve its historic appearance. Once past the dam, the area requires four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Heading west back down the mountain you’ll come to Cave Lake, noted for its camping and fishing. This high mountain lake is one of the locals’ favorite fishing holes.
Just a ¼ mile west of the Cave Lake turnoff is Lilly Lake, a picture postcard scene, also full of nice-sized trout. Lily Lake also has picnicking, tables, charcoal grills, vault toilets, and piped water. Motorboats are prohibited on the lake.
The road goes down the canyon and winds up in New Pine Creek, a town half in Oregon and half in California. New Pine Creek boasts the Oregon State Park at Goose Lake, a wonderful place for camping or picnicking. To get to the park, turn right at U.S. 395, go a ½ mile and turn left at the Goose Lake Park sign. The camp has a $12 daily fee and includes 50 campsites—with RV and trailer hookups, and showers.
Heading south on U.S. 395 you’ll find Stringer’s Wild Plum Winery. Wine tasting and shopping is available at the winery. Wild plum wine is much different than sweet plum wine and many people find it fascinating. The winery is open Monday through Saturday, 10a.m. to 5p.m. It is open by appointment only January through March.
From the winery the tour heads back to Alturas along U.S 395 and completes the loop as explained above in the Fandango segment.
The outdoor recreation opportunities are unlimited here in Modoc including horseback riding, hiking, biking, swimming, camping, hang gliding, para sailing, hunting, fishing, rock hounding, star gazing, OHV riding, birding and so much more.
For recreation information, please visit the Modoc National Forest office located in Alturas.