Skip to main content
California Adventures

Siskiyou Wilderness: Wild and *Very* Remote

How Remote Can We Go?

To get to the Siskiyou Wilderness, we depart Redding, California, on a mid-afternoon day. We planned to drive to the Elbow Springs Trailhead and then camp for the night. This way, we would awake at our initial destination, ready for sunrise and beautiful views.

We double-check our camping equipment and day hike materials. For camping:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Flashlight
  • Warm Clothing (long johns, fleece, puffy, wool socks)
  • Extra water and snacks

The day-hike up to Bear Peak (our destination) has a couple of unknowns. For one, we can’t be completely sure how much snowpack is left on the mountain. Up until this early April day, the winter and spring have been mild. We consistently checked the USFS Snowpack Map during the week, and snowpack is being reported as well-below average, so our chances at less snow are more likely.

Because of this uncertainty, we make sure to bring our snowshoes and some winter clothing. For a full list of day hike essentials:

  • Daypack (15-30 liters)
  • Water Reservoir/Bottles
  • Hiking Clothes: Pant, Polyester Shirt, Rain Jacket, Fleece Sweater, Hiking Socks, and Hat.
  • Hiking Shoes
  • GPS and/or SPOT device
  • SunGlasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking Poles (optional, but recommended!)
  • Meals and Snacks for the summit and along the way
  • Flashlight (with extra batteries)
  • Knife
  • Backpacking First Aid Kit

The drive starts north on Interstate 5, the classic scenic byway through the heart of the California Adventure District. Within one hour, we journey through the forest, past the majestic Mount Shasta, and enter the high desert. This classic road trip is nothing short of breathtaking and helps make the long drive an experience in itself.

The California Adventure District features some of the most rugged and remote national forests in the western United States. In the wilderness-designated areas, where motorized vehicles and highways are prohibited, adventurers can hike and backpack for hundreds of miles through old-growth forests, alpine lakes, and extensive mountain terrain.

Pristine rivers and forests have stood the test of time through histories of gold mining, logging, and other human use. Where these remnants remain, are the network of forest service roads that zigzag along river canyons and up into the mountains.

These roads, in many ways, are gateways to special places. They provide access to old lookout towers, scenic river gorges, and mountain passes.

On the CAD Crew’s latest adventure, we find ourselves taking one of these remote mountain roads up to Elbow Springs Trailhead. This trailhead and spring provide easy access to Bear Peak, a prominent summit in the Siskiyou Wilderness.

This will be the focus of an ‘off-the-beaten-path day hike: highlighting where Elbow Springs is, how to get there, what to bring, and the incredible views that await in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Join us on our objective to Bear Peak. With a roundtrip mileage of 6.3 miles and an elevation gain of 941 feet, this hike is built for explorers of all ages.

General Stats:

  • Trailhead Elevation: 4,774 ft (1,455 m)
  • Summit Elevation: 5,715 ft (1,742 m)
  • Elevation Gain: 941 ft (287 m)
  • Trail Type: Out-and-Back
  • Distance: 6.3 miles (10.1 km)
  • Difficulty: Beginner

Mount Shasta’s prominence is obvious for a large portion of Interstate 5, from Redding to the HWY 96 turnoff. The terrain goes from pine forest, high-desert chaparral, to lush river canyons.

At Yreka, the county seat of Siskiyou County, we stop for dinner. Etna Brewery’s Taphouse is a great local eatery in the heart of Yreka’s historic district. I always opt for the classic American fare of a veggie burger, fries, and beer — to prepare for tomorrow’s adventure.

Once again, we are on the road into new terrain. At the HWY 96 turnoff, we meet up with the Klamath River and follow the Bigfoot Scenic Byway. The corridor through this river valley is a beautiful stretch, with plenty of character. Along the way, we witness rural life deep in the Klamath Mountains. Small farms and homesteads make their home along the Klamath River. This culture feels both quaint and rugged — owing to a different set of systems and values.

The Klamath River is a majestic river that flows along with the majority of HWY 96. This is otherwise known as Bigfoot Country, and it represents the best qualities of wild and scenic.

We pass Seiad Valley, most known as a Pacific Crest Trail resting point. Additionally, Happy Camp is another small town on the banks of the Klamath.

At Clear Creek, an unincorporated town south of Happy Camp, we turn right on Forest Service Road 15N19. This road starts as a paved road and immediately gains elevation out of the river valley corridor.

  • Remember to use a GPS here. I typically use downloaded Google Maps, with ‘Elbow Springs Trailhead’ punched in as the destination. This way, the turn-on Forest Service Rd 15N19 won’t be missed!

Quickly, we find ourselves meandering through dense forest terrain. Judging by the ruggedness, I am surprised that this road is so well-maintained. Considering the logging operations that still go on, it seems doubly effective as an industry and a place for accessing recreation.

After 7 or so miles, at a straight junction, the road transitions to ‘unmaintained’ dirt. This last 4-mile section pushes through a fork in the road. A right turn up to a Klamath National Forest sign (Elbow Springs) and picnic area is the end of the road. A left turn would presumably head to other parts of the national forest.

The trailhead heads to the right of this fork in the road. There are no indicators telling you the trail is here, but a GPS and some exploration will head you in the right direction. The keyword here is REMOTE!

This picnic area is a great place to camp, with plenty of flat ground as well as unimpeded views of the Siskiyou Mountain’s Oregon-California border to the north.

We camp here for the night and enjoy conversation around the fire (still possible in early spring!). Judging by the forests here, it’s obvious how much fire has changed this landscape. There are deadfalls everywhere and whole gulches were burned. Although some might say this aspect of nature looks ‘ugly,’ it remains a healthy part of ecosystem structure.

This picnic area is a great place to relax, camp, and have a fire. Just make sure to watch out for fire regulations in the summer and fall!

In the morning, we are feeling refreshed. A night and day spent in the backcountry, far from light pollution and digital life, is just what we need.

Location: Located in northwest California — southwest of Happy Camp.


  • From Redding, take I-5 North past Yreka, to HWY 96.
  • Go west towards Happy Camp and Clear Creek.
  • At Clear Creek (an unincorporated town), turn right on Forest Road 15N19.
  • This half-paved road/dirt road will take you to an open parking area, right before the beginning of the Elbow Springs Trailhead. Keep in mind this road is accessible for 2WD cars.

Pit Stop: Etna Brewery’s Taphouse, in Yreka, California


Elbow Springs!

Elbow Springs’ route to Bear Peak and the surrounding region.

We eat a breakfast full of granola, fruit, and mushroom tea. This is a hearty meal, that will last us until lunch. I decide to save my Organic Food Bar and Everyday Daal packets for the summit indulgence.

We set off from Elbow Springs Trailhead, with our trekking poles, fleece sweater, rain jacket (just in case), hat, and other daypack essentials. We also make sure to apply sunscreen and check the battery levels in our headlamps.

This trail is short and sweet. It begins on the ridge that links the camping ground/parking area with Bear Lakes Basin — the alpine lakes region just below Bear Peak.

Starting in the Klamath National Forest — which is where the Siskiyou Wilderness is contained — the trail traverses across the boundary of national forest land and wilderness area.

  • The difference between these sides lies within the difference in regulation. On national forest land, logging and motorized vehicle use can occur, but in wilderness-designated areas, it’s primitive use only.

This present-day route is a historic one — having been part of the old 1800’s Kelsey Trail — which was a mule pack route connecting Crescent City to Fort Jones. In addition, this route is a good connector point from HWY 96 to the famed Bigfoot Trail: a 360-mile trail that runs through the Siskiyou Wilderness.

Siskiyou Wilderness’s top half has a well-connected trail system, with the Bigfoot Trail heading straight through its core!
Courtesy of

Our first feature within the forested terrain is Elbow Springs itself. Strangely, this sign shows no ‘W’ in ‘Elbo.’ In historical terms, I don’t know if this is a person or referencing the literal shape of the springs. Regardless, it presents a great place to grab clean water or rinse off.

The pine forest doesn’t last for long. Because this trail stays on the boundary, the views are wide open for most of the way. In fact, due to the burnt-up slopes, the Siskiyou Mountain backdrop is even easier to see.

The views stay wide-open for a good majority of this hike. The Siskiyou Crest commands attention in the backdrop. Bear Peak, to the right, is our objective.

Within 2 miles, we are traversing the ridge to a clear vista point of Bear Peak’s summit. With this view, it’s clear that the snow levels aren’t presenting a navigation issue. In addition, Preston Peak — the tallest summit in the Siskiyou Wilderness — looms in the background.

The east face of Bear Peak is viewable from the ridge coming from Elbow Springs Trailhead. At this vista point, Preston Peak, the tallest summit in the wilderness, is seen for the first time.

We head up the south face of Bear Peak, to the Siskiyou Wilderness sign. The views here become dominant. Preston Peak’s south face commands attention.

Below this sign is where the trail heads down to Upper and Lower Bear Lakes. However, because the lakes are in a north aspect basin, the snow appears pretty deep at the lakes. To allow for more time on the ridgelines, we decide to skip the lakes on this adventure. Otherwise, during the summertime, Bear Lakes can be a great place to camp, swim, and explore.

The Siskiyou Wilderness boundary sign is displayed at the confluence between Bear Peak and the Bear Lakes Basin. Nicaylen, of the CAD Crew, agrees that the views are outstanding at this juncture… PC: Samuel Furey

The Views Are for SiskiYOU!

We spot a faint use trail towards Bear Peak, which is just to the east of the sign. This can be a quick scramble through rock outcrops and Manzanita bushes. However, because of the stunning views on the western horizon, our pace slowed significantly.

To the west, the entire Siskiyou Crest shines in the mid-day sun. These rugged, 6,000-foot peaks are still snow-covered. Like a spine, they extend from the southern end of the Siskiyou Wilderness all the way to Devil’s Punchbowl, a granite basin farther north. Preston Peak signifies the northern end of the crest.

The Siskiyou Crest rises above a snowy Bear Lake Basin — showing the dramatic relief and ruggedness in the Siskiyou Wilderness.

Bear Mountain (center) rises above Devil’s Punchbowl, an alpine lake. Preston Peak (right) is the tallest summit and northern terminus of the Siskiyou Crest. Together, the southern end of the range from the picture above makes up a majority of the Siskiyou Wilderness.

As we take our first steps onto Bear Peak, the reward is splendid. The broader Klamath Mountains can be seen at a 360-degree angle. From this view, we can see the impact of every subrange and valley for hundreds of miles.

To the east, the Klamath River Valley is on display. Rising above it, are the backs of the Marble Mountains. Sparkling from winter snow, this subrange extends from the Oregon border to the Russian Wilderness and beyond. The Trinity Alps’ iconic granite faces can also be seen to the southeast.

To the east, the Marble Mountains rise above the Klamath River Valley. This whole region, towards Mount Shasta, is another section of the broader Klamath Mountains. From Bear Peak, the 360-views are phenomenal!

For someone that has spent a lot of time in the Trinity Alps, Mount Shasta region, and other wildernesses closer to Redding, it’s mind-boggling to know just how much wilderness exists out here.

The Siskiyou section of the Klamath Mountains contains a whole host of their own alpine lakes, waterfalls, and hidden valleys to explore. While it’s one of the lesser-known and lesser-visited regions of the California Adventure District, it boasts a tremendous variety of flora, fauna, and alpine terrain.

For those that want to experience solitude, ruggedness, and a variety of mountainous terrain, then look no further than the Siskiyou Wilderness. Indeed, Bear Peak and its’ Elbow Springs entrance, are a perfect introduction to the exploration that awaits on this side of the California Adventure District.