Lassen Volcanic National Park's Southwest entrance area remains plowed up to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center throughout winter, making the area around the visitor center's parking lot popular for all kinds of winter recreationalists. On a normal day it wouldn't be uncommon to see everyone from families building snowmen and sledding down the snowbanks to backcountry and cross-country skiers taking advantage of the sloped terrain. The park's Sulphur Works geothermal feature lies just a 1-mile snowshoe away from the trailhead, and it's not unusual to pass by a few people heading to or from these 190-degree hot pots. But for those looking to get off the beaten route and really challenge themselves to a sweat-inducing climb leading to breathtaking views over the entire mountainous region, the trek up to Ridge Lakes is able to provide just that!
The route starts by following the gradual uphill slope of the park's main road, which gains about 300 feet over the 1.1-mile distance toward Sulphur Works. Though just before getting to the trailside fumaroles, the route leaves the ease of the road and heads up a ridge lying between two creeks that travels up the steep mountainside through dense forest toward the snow-covered lakes lying below the peak of Mount Diller.
In summer there is a marked trail that heads up over the southwest bank of upper West Sulphur Creek; during the winter all evidence of a trail are covered beneath a blanket of snow. While it will usually be possible to follow tracks of previous snowshoers, just know that path heads up if you don't see tracks on your trip, and it gets increasingly steep as you approach the lakes.
Beyond the sulfurous odor plumes of Sulphur Works the air gains a stillness, and you'll be sweating out the incline with only the sound of the wind rustling through the tall pines, though there's always the chance the silence may be broken by the backcountry skiers using Mount Diller as a starting point for an epic downhill.
Eventually, after a gain of about 1,300 feet from the trailhead, you'll reach the saddle making up the banks of the Ridge Lakes. The snow-covered surface is surrounded by smaller peaks in every other direction. If you can find it in you to press on another 75 feet in climbing, you can head up the slope to your left for a final vantage point 8,124 feet in the air, where the mountainous topography spreads out in all directions. This is truly wild country, as there isn't a ski resort in site.
Enjoy your rest after that climb. Catch your breath, or even consider making Ridge Lakes your backcountry camp for the night. Then head back down the way you came. You'll know you're making progress toward returning to the trailhead when that sweet smell of sulfur hits you once again.
The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center keeps its bathrooms and drinking fountains open through the winter, though no other amenities are available in the area.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.
Visit California invites you to come catch California’s Winter Wave. The Golden State may be known for its sunny beaches, but its ski resorts provide plenty of dazzle too. Come experience a surf-meets-ski culture you won’t find anywhere else. It’s everything from building a surfer snowman, to bluebird powder days, to the way we après.