View of Black Rock from Black Rock Campground photo courtesy US Forest Service

Mill Creek photo Courtesy US Forest Service

Also Read about the last member of the Yahi tribe: Melissa Wynn

Photos courtesy US Forest Service

Ishi Wilderness, within the Lassen National Forest, offers a rare chance to walk miles in the moccasins of the  man for whom the area is named, Ishi, last survivor of the Yahi Yana people.  This tribe of brave and proud Native Americans escaped invading settlers, living free and undetected in the Deer Creek area for many years. In August of 1911, having outlived the rest of his tribe, Ishi, overcome by hunger and loneliness walked out of his wilderness home. He was discovered, emaciated and frightened, in a slaughter house near Oroville, California from which he embarked on an epic journey that eventually led him to UC Berkley where he was an inspiration as well as a living legend.

These days Ishi’s remote homeland remains as it was when Ishi himself walked the trails that we are all free to explore today. The outback, mystical interior of Ishi Wilderness has stunning rugged landscapes and bizarre lava rock formations shaped over the  millennia by wind, water and the powerful eruptions of the Mt. Lassen Volcano. Deer and Mill Creeks have bubbled along in the Ishi Wilderness carving deep canyons since long before the Yahi Yana fished the annually migrating salmon and steel head from their rushing waters. Spanning over more than 40,000 acres, Ishi Wilderness is a mysterious place to explore over and over again.

This is a place to truly walk with the animals as a large variety of wildlife call Ishi Wilderness home. Common sightings include deer, fox, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, wild hogs, rabbits and many, many species of birds from tiny hummingbirds to soaring majestic eagles.  Ishi Wilderness is also home to to a large bear population so visitors should always store food in safe containers and tie it up out of their reach.

One part of Ishi Wilderness that is beyond OUR reach is any artifact that Ishi and his neighbors may have left behind, all are protected by Federal Law and are not to be disturbed. Removal of any native artifact is a felony and strictly forbidden. These rules are  part of maintaining the wild beauty here, leave it for next group of hikers to enjoy. Ishi Wilderness is not for the faint of heart and visits to any remote wilderness should be well planned. Wilderness means no services, anywhere, of any kind. Make sure to bring enough drinking water to last the duration of your stay. Summer temperatures soar in the lower elevations of Ishi Wilderness, and dehydration comes on quickly in hot dry weather. Rattlesnakes like hot weather  as well and sightings are the norm in this wild place. This neck of the woods is as rugged and unforgiving as it is beautiful and enchanting.

Black Rock Campground hosts the only set campsites (no fee) with fire rings, stall toilets and picnic tables but even this area is 20 challenging miles from any main road.   Black Rock Campground can be accessed by following Ponderosa Way just West of Mineral, Ca and East of Paynes Creek, Ca off Hwy 36.  The rough and harrowing road  is part of the Lassen Back Country Discovery Trail and is only maintained late May-November, high clearance vehicles are recommended for this route. A still primitive, but more car friendly way to Black Rock Campground is to turn onto Lassen Trail just a few miles down Hwy 32 from where it meets Hwy36/89 about 13 miles out of Chester, Ca. Follow Lassen Trail to Ponderosa Way which leads to Black Rock Campground. Both of these routes can have complications with weather so calling the Almanor Ranger District (530)258-2141 for road conditions is highly recommended.

Visitors are free to set up camp anywhere in the Ishi Wilderness so many choose to pitch their tents and  camp, roughing it style, closer to the main road. Day hikes and a picnic lunch along the banks of Mill Creek are another great low impact way to visit this historic home of Ishi and his people. Although you may drive into camp, no wheeled vehicles are allowed in the Ishi Wilderness, this includes baby strollers, nothing with tires is allowed off-road. Whether you camp safe or extreme always remember to fully extinguish your campfire (small camp fires minimize impact on the land), gather your litter, camp on a durable surface being considerate of delicate plant life and Leave No Trace as was the way of the Yahi Yana. Some of that delicate plant life includes poison oak , nothing ruins a good hike faster, so mind where you walk, sit and camp. Camp fire permits are required for all campers and can be purchased at any Cal Fire Station. The nearest station to the Ishi Wilderness access can be found in Paynes Creek.

Maps of the area to lead you to camp and the many trail heads are available at any Forest Service office. These maps also clearly show multiple owner areas, always respect private property and no trespassing signs. Ishi Wilderness questions will be happily answered by the Almanor Ranger District Office in Chester, Ca at 900 E. Hwy 36 or by phone at (530)258-2141. Camping at a local campground or hiking a trail just off the highway is one way to discover  the great outdoors but if you ever wondered how the Native Americans of old really lived wild and free, leave civilization far behind and explore the Ishi Wilderness. There is great short version of the story of Ishi’s life online at under Special Topics and the full story in Theodore Kroeber’s book, Ishi in Two Worlds: a biography of the last wild Indian in North America.

Some info from:;;; US Forest Service, Almanor Ranger District; and