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Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway; US Route 97, California State Route 161, Tule Lake, and Lava Beds National Monument

Back in 2014 and 2016 I visited a large number of the highways that consist of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway in northern California.  In 2016 I traveled much of the Byway in Siskiyou County via; US Route 97, California State Route 161, and Hill Road to Lava Beds National Monument.


The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway consists of over 500 miles of roadways in the Cascade Range which crosses paths with many of the notable volcanic peaks.  From Lava Beds National Monument of California Segment of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway gradually loops southward towards Lassen Volcanic National Park via mostly California State Routes.  A map of the entire Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway can be found on the link below:

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Map

Back in March of 2016 the weather was clear enough to make an attempt for Lava Beds National Monument in northern California and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.  I started the day by heading north on Interstate 5 in the direction of US Route 97.  While the weather appeared gloomy it was still about 60 degrees which kept snowy conditions at bay.  Mount Shasta could barely be viewed from I-5 alongside Shasta Lake.


US 97 begins at I-5 exit 747 in Weed.  While US 97 is one of the original US Routes it is not original to California.  Until 1934 the routing of US 97 dipped directly west of Klamath Falls, OR and terminated at US 99 in Ashland on the rough alignment of modern day Oregon State Route 66.  USends.com displays a map from Oregon showing the original southern terminus of US 97.

USends.com on US 97

The routing of US 97 in California was first adopted into the State Highway System in 1931 as part of Legislative Route Number 72 according to CAhighways.org.

CAhighways.org on US 97

LRN 72 first appears on the 1932 State Highway Map as a mostly unimproved roadway between Weed and the Oregon State Line.

1932 California State Highway Map

By 1934 the routing of LRN 72 was still shown as mostly unimproved with a intermediate section of roadway.  The act to shift US 97 into California wasn't passed until October of 1934.

1934 California State Highway Map

By 1936 US 97 made an appear on the State Highway Map.  From the Oregon State Line US 97 is shown as a High Type roadway south to Macdoel with a significant divergence following the railroad largely southward on unimproved roads.

1936 State Highway Map

The US 97 divergence shown above on the 1936 State Highway Map can be seen in far greater detail on the 1935 California Division of Highways Map of Siskiyou County.  The original alignment of US 97 can be observed passing through Macdoel and Mount Hebron southward via Old State Highway south towards the old rail siding of Bray.  From Bray US 97 traveled westward on Forest Route 8001, Forest Route 44N25, and over Butte Creek via Tenant Road.  US 97 followed Alder Creek Road and Deer Creek Mountain Road where it joined the modern highway alignment at the siding known as Cougar.

1935 California Division of Highways Map of Siskiyou County

By 1938 the modern alignment of US 97 can seen on the State Highway Map.

1938 State Highway Map 

Today US 97 northbound has three significant junctions in California; I-5 at the southern terminus in Weed, the unsigned CA 265 on Weed Boulevard (a former segment of US 99) in Weed, Signed County Route A12 at 99-97 Cutoff Road, and California State Route 161 just prior to the Oregon State Line.

US 97 is part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway in California and I took it northbound from I-5 in Weed.  While the weather was too cloudy to see much on US 97 in 2016 there is a dramatic vista overlook of Mount Shasta along the highway north of Weed.  The overlook briefs over the 14,179 foot tall stratovolcano, my photos below are from May of 2014.







Upon reaching CA 161 I turned eastward.  CA 161 is a 19 mile State Highway which runs east/west from US 97 to CA 139 and as is known as State Line Road.  CA 161 was first numbered during the 1964 State Highway renumbering.  CA 161 prior to the 1964 State Highway Renumbering was of a 1959 extension of LRN 210.  The entirety of CA 161 is part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.

CAhighways.org on CA 161

The 1959 extension of LRN 210 on State Line Road between US 97 and CA 139 can be seen on the 1960 California State Highway Map.

1960 State Highway Map

State Line Road first appears connecting US 97 to CA 139 on the 1949 State Highway Map.  Given State Line Road doesn't appear on the 1935 California Division of Highways Map above it is likely Siskiyou County didn't built it until the late 1940s.

1949 State Highway Map

CA 161 first appears on the 1964 State Highway Map.

1964 State Highway Map

CA 161 is notable given it straddles the Oregon State Line and passes through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  To the south of CA 161 Lower Klamath Lake can be observed from the highway.


Lower Klamath Lake is a seasonal lake that was once a singular lake with Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon.  As the Klamath Lake Project Dams were constructed from 1907 to 1921 it split Klamath Lake into the two lakes present today.  Lower Klamath Lake and CA 161 roughly lie at an approximate elevation of 4,000 feet above sea level.

From the eastern terminus of CA 161 the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway continues onto CA 139 south to the community of Tulelake where the World War II Tule Lake Unit of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument can be visited.  The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway heads west out of Tulelake on E Street over the Lost River to Hill Road.

Given the weather was turning poor quickly from CA 161 I took a shortcut off the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.  I headed directly south from CA 161 on Hill Road towards Lava Beds National Monument along the western shore of Tule Lake.  Tule Lake is a natural seasonal lake that measures 8 miles by 4 miles at full crest.  While Tule Lake is natural it is heavily regulated by the Klamath Project which essentially made the shape square.  Tule Lake became part of the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 1928.


The California section of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway ends at the southern boundary of Lava Beds National Monument but continues to CA 89 as the Modoc Volcanic Scenic Byway on a series of unpaved roads.  I followed the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway from the northern monument boundary to the Visitor Center through the namesake Lava Beds.  Lava Beds National Monument dates back to 1925 and protects the largest lava fields within the Cascade Range.  The lava beds come from the Medicine Lake Caldera which is about 30 miles northeast of Mount Shasta.  The primary attraction in Lava Beds National Monument is the lava tubes ranging in age from 30,000 to 115,000 which can be hiked (provided you have a flash light). 










After clambering through a couple lava tubes I headed northward on Hill Road and entered Oregon towards my destination for the night in Klamath Falls.  Luckily the weather cleared up significantly the follow day on the way to Crater Lake.


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