Subway Cave and the Hat Creek Trail are on opposite sides of Highway 89 in Lassen National Forest near Cave Campground. And their opposites in another sense: Subway Cave takes you deep underground in a dark, cool, and still lava tube, while the Hat Creek Trail takes you through the open air beside clear, tumbling waters, where you’ll always have sky above and trees, shrubs, and flowers trailside.
Subway Cave and the Hat Creek Trail Key Data
Length: 9.1 miles round-trip
Hiking time: 5 hours
High point: 4,350 feet
Total elevation gain: 500 feet
Season: early April through late November
Water: none; bring plenty
Map: USGS 7.5’ Old Station
Information: Hat Creek Ranger District, Lassen National Forest
Subway Cave Parking Area GPS coordinates: N 40 41.126 W 121 25.141
Notes: dogs prohibited in Subway Cave, but allowed on Hat Creek Trail; toilets at the Subway Cave parking area, and in Cave Campground and Bridge Campground
Driving Directions to the Hat Creek Trail and Subway Cave Trailhead
To start your explorations, take the Subway Cave access road on the east side of Highway 89, across the road from Cave Campground and 0.3 mile north of the junctions of Highways 89 and 44 East.
Exploring Subway Cave
It’s always cool in Subway Cave, so bring a sweater and two flashlights per person. Also follow any posted regulations at the entrance to Subway Cave.
Subway Cave, a 1,300-foot-long lava tube, formed around 30,000 years ago. Vast eruptions of fluid basalt flowed northward through the Hat Creek Valley. Lava closest to the surface cooled more rapidly than the lava below, allowing the hotter lava to move farther before solidifying, leaving the cave as an empty space behind it.
Lighted information signs discuss the cave’s natural history and explain the formation of such colorfully named features as Stubtoe Hall and Lucifers Cul-de-Sac. Several parts of the tunnel are completely dark though, so you’ll be glad you brought the flashlights. When you emerge into daylight on the far side you have two options: Return through the cave or take the path back to the parking area.
Hiking the Hat Creek Trail
To do the Hat Creek Trail (5E27), head across Highway 89 to the northwest side of Cave Campground, where a wooden footbridge spans the stream near a 5-foot waterfall. Cross over, turn right, and soon reach a massive sugar pine and its foot-long cones. Continue the mostly level stroll through vegetation that varies from open chaparral dominated by greenleaf manzanita to an open forest of incense cedar, ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, and white firs. Alders and willows flourish in the wet environs near the creek’s banks.
Look for a small waterfall just beyond a bridge at 0.6 mile, and occasionally look behind you for tree-framed views of Lassen Peak. You’ll also enjoy views of many other Cascade notables, including Mount Shasta, Burney Mountain, Crater Peak, Magee Peak, and Freaner Peak. The mountain to your immediate left is Sugarloaf Peak; its basalt talus often borders the trail.
Find two more small waterfalls at 2.2 and 2.4 miles as you and Hat Creek drop gently into a canyon. Reach another bridge at 3.7 miles, and finally reach the end of the path at 4.3 miles at Bridge Campground (3.6 miles north of Cave Campground if you’re arranging a car shuttle).
Hat Creek Trail Video
Here’s my Youtube video that I shot from the bridge in Cave Campground:
My guidebook Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions features Subway Cave, the Hat Creek Trail, and dozens of other nearby hiking trails in Lassen National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Your Take: Subway Cave and the Hat Creek Trail
Have you done one or both? Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below…