Pacific Southwest Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Willow Lake in summer. Photo by Don Lepley.
Alpine aster. Photo by Sallie Herman.
Shore sedge. Photo by Don Lepley.
Hybrid sundew. Photo by Craig Odegard.
Marsh cinquefoil. Photo by Don Lepley.
Willow Lake Botanical Special Interest Area
Forest: Lassen National Forest
District: Alamanor Ranger District
Description: Willow Lake Fen is a rare, botanically special place. Located about 10 miles southeast of Lassen Peak, Willow Lake is surrounded by forest-covered mountains rising up into Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Besides being beautifully set, the lake is adorned along its shores by extensive floating mats of sphagnum moss two feet or more thick. These sphagnum mats have no mineral soil and are a kind of wet meadow called a fen. They support a variety of unusual plants, some typical of arctic and subarctic climates but rare in California. American scheuchzeria (Scheuchzeria palustris ssp. americana), once thought to have been eliminated from California by the creation of Lake Almanor, was rediscovered at Willow Lake in 1988. Two species of carnivorous plants, English sundew (Drosera anglica) and roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), grow here and also hybridize with each other to produce Drosera x obovata. A variety of other fen species thrive here as well, including pink-flowered American laurel (Kalmia polifolia ssp. microphylla), western blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum ssp. occidentale), and shore sedge (Carex limosa), with its gracefully nodding inflorescences. Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) is common here—Native Americans used its bitter rhizome, after several boilings, for food. A shrub of the rose family, Douglas spiraea (Spiraea douglasii), adds color to the shores with spikes of small pink flowers, and various herbs add flowery color to the fen: pale violet from alpine aster (Aster alpigenus), red from marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris), and white from western tofieldia (Tofieldia occidentalis).
Because of the unusual assemblage of plants that occur here, Willow Lake was designated a Botanical Special Interest Area in the Lassen National Forest’s Land and Resources Management Plan (1993). The best time to visit for wildflowers is July through August.
Forests surrounding Willow Lake include red fir (Abies magnifica var. magnifica), white fir (Abies concolor), sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ssp. murrayana). A small primitive campground is located in the forest adjacent to the lake, for visitors wishing to linger in the area, and a hiking trail leads northwest about a mile from Willow Lake to Terminal Geyser, a geothermal feature within Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Safety First: Forest Road 29N14 is muddy and slick during spring snowmelt and/or rain. Please use extra caution on National Forest roads, particularly on blind curves, and watch out for deer and cattle. There are no established trails except along the upper shore north of the lake. Use caution where footing is spongy or uneven and around down logs. Help to maintain this special area by limiting walking on the fen and on its rare plants. Please do not pick any plants: doing so may further endanger rare species. Leave them undisturbed in their habitat so that you and others may enjoy them another day.
Directions: A Lassen National Forest map is helpful and can be purchased at local Forest Service offices or on the Lassen National Forest website. From Chester, California, turn north off Highway 36 onto County Road 318, signed for Lassen Volcanic National Park, Juniper Lake. After a half-mile, turn left on County Road 312, and go about 5 miles to a “Y” road fork. Take the left fork (County Road 311), following the sign for Domingo Springs. (The right fork is signed for Warner Valley and Drakesbad.) After about a mile, turn right on Forest Road 29N14, a gravel-surfaced road. Follow this road to its end at Willow Lake Campground, about 3.5 miles. The road surface changes to maintained dirt but is passable for ordinary motor vehicles.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Lassen National Forest, Almanor Ranger District, (530) 258-2141.
Closest Town: Chester, California.
View of Willow Lake from Kelly Mountain in the fall. Photo by Don Lepley.