Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park
By Laura Christman
Get Out There
Story by Laura Christman
Photos courtesy of California State Park, 2019
AHJUMAWI LAVA SPRINGS STATE PARK is tucked away in the northeast corner of Shasta County, but the far-flung location isn’t the only thing that makes it a bit tricky to reach. Access requires a boat. And not just any boat – one that can deal with shallow water (a canoe or kayak will do nicely).
“Ahjumawi is kind of untouched,” says state park ranger Justin Edwards. “You are immersed in nature. There are no paved roads. No parking lots… I think that is what makes it kind of a gem.”
“It’s a different type of adventure,” says Lori Martin, superintendent of the California State Parks Cascade Sector.
Ahjumawi’s unique hydrology, geology, natural beauty and cultural history create a one-of-a-kind state park, she says. The waters of the Tule and Fall rivers, Horr and Shallow ponds, Ja She and Lava creeks and Big Lake converge at Ahjumawi. A large system of underwater springs sends water bubbling up through volcanic rock, resulting in bays with brilliant underwater views of lava formations and big trout.
“The water is super crystal-clear,” Edwards says. “It’s beautiful out there.”
Located in the Fall River Valley, the views to the distance take in Lassen Peak and Mt. Shasta. The state park has 13 miles of shoreline to explore. Basalt-rock fish traps are a highlight. The Achumawi people, from whom the state park’s name is derived, built traps in shallow to channel spring water to lure and capture fish. The traps also functioned as protective spawning grounds that benefitted the fishery. The resourceful system continues to be used by descendants of the area’s original people.
The state park draws lots of birds – white pelicans, great blue herons, geese, ducks, osprey, bald eagles, woodpeckers and owls. Some are year-round residents; others stop by on Pacific Flyway migrations.
Ahjumawi also is home to mule deer, coyotes and bear. A special resident is the Shasta crayfish, an endangered crustacean with dark brown coloring on top and orange underside that lives in places with volcanic rock and spring-fed waters. The crayfish is found only in northeastern Shasta County.
A much more common creature at Ahjumawi is the mosquito. “Certain times of the year the mosquitoes are very abundant,” Martin warns.
While Ahjumawi is most known for its watery features, the
6,000-acre state park has a range of habitats – from marshy to parched. And
that makes for an interesting mix of botany. Plants include western juniper,
bitterbrush, sagebrush, mountain mahogany, pines and Oregon
“On the old lava flows, it’s dry and vegetation is sparse. It is a very different feel than when you are up next to the springs, pond or lake,” Martin says.
There are 20 miles of trails. Some lead to small lava tubes, a spatter cone and pit craters formed by lava flows from Medicine Lake volcano some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.
California acquired the property that makes up the state park in 1975, according to Martin. The place had been a ranch, and structures from that era remain. Ahjumawi was a little-known state park in its early years, Martin says, but visitation has been on the uptick the past 10 years. Social media posts, the growing popularity of kayaking and more people seeking unique places are factors.
Camping – first come, first serve – is allowed in a few designated areas for $15 a night. The camping areas have pit toilets. There’s no running water.
Edwards says the best times to visit Ahjumawi are spring and fall. “Summer is not bad, but it can get hot. I would definitely not travel out there in the wintertime.”
At any time of the year, check the weather forecast, he advises.
The state park is accessed via Big Lake at Rat Farm, a public-use boat launch owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and named after an old muskrat operation. Reaching the park’s coves and camping areas from Rat Farm requires a couple miles of paddling. Be mindful that wind often picks up in the afternoon, Edwards says. “The return is facing the wind and there’s a bit of distance to cover.”
For anyone planning a first-time trip to Ahjumawi, Martin recommends reading the state park brochure; search for “Ahjumawi” at www.parks.ca.gov.
“What I hope for visitors who come for the first time is that they go away with a meaningful experience and are motivated to visit again,” Martin says.•
Directions: From McArthur on Highway 299, turn north onto Main Street, continue past the Intermountain Fairgrounds, crossing over a canal and proceeding three miles north on a dirt road that ends at Rat Farm boat launch.