Hiking the levee trails along Big Lake, Horr Pond, and the Tule River in the Fall River Valley near McArthur rewards you with views of Lassen Peak and Mount Shasta, plus an abundance of wildlife.
Hiking Big Lake, Horr Pond, and Tule River Trails: Key Data
Distance: up to 8 miles round trip
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: insignificant
High point: 3300 feet
Season: year-round as weather conditions permit; hunting season runs from early October to mid-January
Contact: Recreation Department, PG&E
Maps: USGS 7.5′ Fall River Mills
Big Lake/Horr Pond Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 41 06.002 W 121 24.729
Notes: pit toilet at trailhead
Driving Directions to the Big Lake and Horr Pond Trailhead
Drive CA Highway 299 to the Fall River Valley and the small town of McArthur. Go north on Main Street past the fairgrounds to a dirt road. At 0.5 mile, go right and pass through a gate. The good gravel road continues north another 3.0 miles to the parking area at Rat Farm.
Big Lake, Horr Pond, and Tule River: Birds, Birds, Birds!
This level levee walk features a full range of sensual delights: the smell and taste of fresh mountain air tinged with tangy juniper scent; the feel of the wind bringing cool water vapor to the cheek; the sound of Canada geese, mallards, and redtailed hawks calling out to each other and the world; the sight of volcanoes—far and near, large and small—ringing the Fall River Valley.
Best Day Hiking Trails in Upper California
- Mount Shasta and nearby
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains
- Redding area
- Whiskeytown and Shasta Lakes
Includes trailhead directions and detailed maps and trail descriptions
As you explore the shores of Big Lake and Horr Pond, the large number and variety of birds will astound you. Through the middle of spring, the area hosts large numbers of migratory birds that feed in nearby fields (such as Hollenbeck Swamp just south of Big Lake). The sudden rise of a thousand snow geese, accompanied by a chaotic chorus of high-pitched cries, can be the high point of your day, or your year. Many other species are winter/spring or year-round residents, including Canada goose, cackling goose, Pacific white-fronted goose, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, northern pintail, and northern shoveler. You’ll also see numerous great blue herons and quite possibly some osprey. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the relatively rare white pelican or greater sandhill crane.
Big Lake Hiking Trail/Levee
You have two hiking options. The first leaves along the right-hand side of the narrow water channel by the Rat Farm parking area and initially heads north towards Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park (also has great hiking trails). The path soon bends east to hug the southern shore of Big Lake for a mile. Like many of the rivers and lakes in the Fall River Valley, Big Lake and Horr Pond owe their existence to the porous lava rock that makes up much of the Modoc Plateau of northeastern California. Water from the Tule Lake region 50 miles to the north travels underground to emerge here.
Horr Pond Hiking Trail/Levee to Tule River
The left-hand trail leaves the parking area to run north and then west for over a mile along the shore of Horr Pond. Here you have unimpeded views of Mount Shasta’s snowy crown to the northwest, Soldier Mountain topping the western edge of the Fall River Valley, and a string of massive volcanoes stretching south from Burney Mountain to Crater and Magee Peaks and then to Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags. The levee soon curves south to travel nearly 2 miles along the banks of the Tule River. Now, in addition to having the mountain views, you’ll see pastoral settings of barn and field, reminders of the broad valley’s fertility.
Canoes, Kayaks, Other Boats on Big Lake, Horr Pond, and Tule River
When you’re done hiking the levees, consider taking a canoe or kayak out on Big Lake and Horr Pond. Once on the water, you can explore wherever you want, including heading over to Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park for more hiking.
Your Take: Big Lake, Horr Pond, and Tule River
What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Camp for Free in California National Forests
California’s national forests and BLM lands have thousands of miles of dirt roads with lots of spots for dispersed camping (boondocking). My book provides all the info you need to get started (but is not a guide to specific sites):
- Researching the best locations
- Finding the best camping spots
- Backcountry safety and ethics
- What to take