Monday, February 24, 2014

Drakesbad Guest Ranch Takes It Back

It might be the exclusiveness of a single season that makes Drakesbad Guest Ranch so appealing. The ranch won't see its first visitors until June this year. And by the time these initial guests arrive, anyone thinking about reservations might look further ahead. Next summer already seems inviting.

The simple truth is that even if you do have reservations, things might change. The June 6 opening is contingent on weather. So is the October 13 closure. Some guests don't mind a conditional arrival because the stay makes everything worth it.

The lodge itself has only six rooms, each with a double bed plus a rollaway or twin bunk beds. Or you can stay in the cabin, annex, duplex, or bungalow (19 units total). The sizes and rates all very slightly, with the most noticeable difference being electricity. Most rooms do not have it. And you don't really need it.

The Drakesbad Guest Ranch takes you back in history.  

Kerosene lamps light most rooms at night. It's part of the historic and environmentally-conscious rustic feel of the ranch. It also helps visitors take in the place as if it is from another time.

No, none of it is as rustic as the accommodations that Alexander Sifford set up in June 1900. When the ailing school teacher from Susanville first arrived on the site with his wife and son, the only one there to greet them was Edward Drake, owner of the famed soda waters of Drake's Spring.

The couple loved area so much that they bought Drake’s Hot Spring Valley from Drake outright. Eventually they renamed it Drakesbad (Drake's bath) and operated the ranch for two generations. The remote guest ranch became legendary with camping and meals for 50 cents, hot spring baths for 25 cents, and pasturing livestock a nickel a head.

Even after the 1916 Congress established the Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Sifford family stayed on as caretakers until finally selling the property to the government. Since, the National Park Service has leased it to various concessionaires. California Guest Services has held it for 36 years.

Inside Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The park itself is well known for its smoking fumaroles, wildflower meadows, mountain lakes, and volcanoes. Much of the park feels incredibly unexplored and undiscovered.

There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails that pass by active hydrothermal areas like the Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell. There are several ranger-led programs and summer itineraries for guests. (There are winter activities too but the ranch remains closed.)

In addition to backpacking and hiking trail loops, there are dozens of educational adventure workshops, nature photography excursions, geological discoveries, and an amazing array of birding opportunities. Along with these park amenities, the ranch hosts a few of its own.

Several hikes (including the 90-minute walk to Boiling Spring Lake) can be taken right from the ranch. Swimming is even closer, with soothing hot mineral springs located a few steps from the cabins. There are several fishing areas in the park, and the ranch leads several fly-fishing excursions too. And, even more remarkable, the ranch is home to several of the most affordable horseback riding rates in the state, starting at $50 for a one-hour, self-guided tour to half- and full-days rides for $190.

As a real working ranch, you can make arrangements to bring your own. Boarding with feed is only $37.50 per day, about what it costs for overnight parking in some urban areas. And if that doesn't work out, then ask about archery and social starters.

Overall, this is an adventurous vacation for long hikes and horseback riding during the day and relaxation around a campfire at night. There are no room keys. And all meals are family style. Meals are included with the rates.

The Drakesbad Guest Ranch Ticks Off 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

To niche to even be a tourist destination, Drakesbad Guest Ranch is one of those getaways you will talk about forever. While it might be too rustic for some people, those who thrive outside without always being wired up will love it.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch in California is located northeast of Chico, California, and northwest of Reno, Nevada. It is deep in the park, miles from any urban encroachment. You can place reservations directly with the ranch or visit  top travel deals at for other excursions to northern California.
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