Pit River Camping and Burney Falls
All summer, I had been eager to drive Northwest from Reno. I’ve been out hot springs hunting toward Cedarville, CA, and I’ve been mountain biking outside Redding, CA, but there’s a whole stretch of the Sierras in between which remains to be explored by me. I recruited my lovely friends Jacque and Erin this past weekend, and we set out for parts “unknown.”
We decided to head up to Highway 299 near Burney, CA, which was a little under 4 hours from Reno. I had read about Kosk Hot Springs and Hunt Hot Springs, which are just outside of Big Bend, CA, and that seemed like a great starting point for this trip.
The drive northwest from Reno was particularly dramatic due to recent rainstorms. The roads were slick in some areas, but it made for a beautiful sunset through the Hat Creek area north of Lassen National Park on HWY 89. Forest fires have hit the area hard in recent years, but they have opened up some of the vistas certainly.
There aren’t very many forest service campgrounds near Burney, CA aside from Burney-McArthur Falls State Park, and it’s still a good jaunt away from Big Bend. Fortunately, PG&E runs several campgrounds in the area, and two of them are very close: Madesi River Access and Pit 5 Dam. We arrived to the Madesi River Access campground well after sunset. It was not necessarily easy to spot, but I knew it was on the left side right before crossing the Pit River on Hagen Flat Road, 1.7 miles outside of Big Bend. Sure enough, a well-graded dirt road appeared on the left side just before crossing the Pit River. The campground had very few markings, but we spotted several fire rings in a circular pullout/parking area (only inhabited by one camping trailer), and there were a few on cul-de-sacs along the main river access road. We picked a nice secluded pull-in toward the river access and bathrooms and set up shop.
In the morning, we realized what a beautiful spot it really was. We were on a slight cliff above the Pit River, which was running very well for late September (presumably because of dam-controlled flow?) Two beaver were also hanging out in the water below, diving up and down repeatedly in the current. We made breakfast and coffee before setting out to find the hot springs.
To find Hunt Hot Springs, drive into Big Bend and stay on Big Bend Road. Cross the river (technically becoming Summit Lake Road), and keep heading straight for 2.3 miles, staying left at the fork 1.2 miles in. You’ll come to a bridge across Kosk Creek, and you can park there (don’t cross the bridge). The hot springs is on private property, and it appears that the land owners are letting folks walk in – but this is as far as you can drive. There are visible signs that no camping, soap, or dogs are allowed, and access can be revoked at any time. It’s about a half mile walk downstream (on the east side of Kosk Creek) to get to the hot spring.
And boy, was it a nice hot spring indeed. There was some trash collected and piled up, so it looks like either the owners or some visitors had tidied up a bit that morning. There were two large tubs visible to use upon arrival, and both were occupied – we just waited a bit, and they opened up, and we had the place to ourselves. The two tubs were both built up with rocks and mortar, with very little sulfur smell at all. One was a few feet away from the water with a wooden platform, and the other was right on the water. The temperature on the lower tub was a bit hotter and controllable (it had a dividing wall between a hotter and a colder section), but the source water seemed to be 115-120°F. Either one offered a very beautiful spot for a shaded soak, although not necessarily a secluded one.
A short hike over the hill downstream from Hunt Hot Spring takes you to Kosk Hot Spring, and it’s another great spot. We didn’t encounter anyone else over there, but it’s surely just as popular. Someone has built a bit of a shade structure frame over the spring. It’s also got a dividing wall between the source water and a cooler tub – we found the hotter tub to be ideal temperature for soaking. Kosk Creek itself below also offered a very cold, refreshing spot to dip.
Both are amazing, and I’m very thankful that the owners have allowed this spot to remain open to the public. It’s obvious to me that a few people take pride in keeping this spot clean, and hopefully it can remain this way for the public to enjoy. After a dip in all of them (and maybe some delicious mimosas), we headed back to the car for one more stop.
We didn’t have a lot of time left in the day, but we were able to swing by Burney-McArthur State Park and take a peak at Burney Falls. There are hiking trails through the park, and the Pacific Crest Trail actually passes right through the park. The waterfall itself is 129 feet tall, and it’s one of the most beautiful in the state of California.
After a few photos and some lunch, it was time to head home. This trip was a great way to cap off the summer, and the fact I had never been on this section of Highway 299 only enhanced that. I’m definitely planning a return adventure to explore more of the Pit River area and Lassen National Park to the south. Thank you to my lovely hot springs models for keeping me company (even though Erin tucks her shirt into her MILF shorts like a weirdo).