About this Itinerary
Lying east of Lassen Volcanic National Park, the spectacular Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail connects Westwood to Susanville in Lassen County. This rail-trail follows the route of the old Fernley and Lassen Railroad line and scenically winds through the Susan River Canyon and three distinct bioregions: the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Range. With this comes quite diverse terrain, from woodlands to grasslands and high deserts, plus plenty of opportunities for adventure and recreation while crossing the Susan River on bridges and trestles and passing through original rail tunnels.
Beginning at 4,200-feet on the east side of the Sierra and Cascade Ranges and climbing to an elevation of 5,500-feet at Westwood Junction, the Bizz Johnson Trail (BJT) is a high-elevation, multi-use trail that is popular during each of its four distinct seasons. In the spring and early summer, trail users can hike, mountain bike and horseback ride, and 18.5 miles of the trail are open in the winter for cross-country skiing. For many, highlights of this trail include fishing in the Susan River for rainbow and brown trout and camping on the surrounding Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service lands; the camping is primitive and permits are required for campfires.
Many recreationalists opt to experience the trail one way, often traveling west to east to take advantage of the 3-percent downhill grade. Shuttling between Susanville and Westwood is fairly easy to do on the Lassen Rural Bus (available weekdays). Local cab companies can arrange shuttle services for weekends or other times not served by the bus. (Contact the Susanville visitor center at 530257-3252 for more information.) Wide-tired bicycles, ideally multi-geared mountain bikes, are recommended for this gravel and dirt pathway, as are head lamps for the tunnels. There are no services or safe drinking water sources on route (just a series of trailheads), so either come prepared to treat the water or stock up on enough liquids (and snacks) for the duration. If traveling by air, fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport, 88 miles southeast of Susanville.
If you are staying overnight at the Roseberry House B&B, you have already been introduced to the charm of this small, high desert town. Or perhaps you first encountered it at the legendary Pioneer Salon, an old watering hole established in 1862, now known as Lassen Ale Works. In any case, Susanville is a fun place from which to begin or end a Bizz Johnson Trail adventure.
The Bizz Johnson’s main trailhead is at the Susanville Railroad Depot (circa 1927) and Lassen Land and Trails Trust offices. Part offices, part visitor center and museum, they can tell you pretty much anything you want to know about the trail and the area.
Leaving Susanville, the route parallels the Susan River for 16 miles. Winding through the rugged Susan River canyon, be prepared to cross the water 12 times on bridges and trestles and pass through two tunnels. This corridor was originally established in 1914 for transporting logs and milled lumber to and from the Westwood Mill. The railroad connected Westwood to the main rail line in Fernley, Nevada, for 40 years. In 1978, Southern Pacific Railroad received approval to discontinue use of the old line and the BLM and former Congressman Harold “Bizz” Johnson (the trail’s namesake) spearheaded conversion of the corridor to a trail.
The rail-trail passes through BLM land for the first 6.75 miles and there is little to remind you of civilization until the BJT crosses State Highway 36. Look for the birds that live in this riparian ecosystem, including canyon wrens, hooded orioles and belted kingfishers. Beavers, muskrats, raccoons and even black bears can be seen near the trail as well. Access to Hobo Camp Picnic Area is at mile 0.5, and, 6 miles farther (before the trail crosses the state highway) is Devil’s Corraltrailhead; both locations have vault toilets. Keep in mind that camping is not permitted within a mile of these sites.
West of Devil’s Corral, the trail leads into Lassen National Forest and pine and fir forests fill in the semi-arid desert landscape more and more. There is an undeveloped drive-in campsite at the halfway point of the trail at Goumaz (mile 12.9) which consists of five sites on U.S. Forest Service land between the trail and the river. Though it may be hard to imagine in this secluded, serene environment, logging camps, spur lines and switching stations once created quite a bustle in this corridor, as interpretive signs along the BJT remind us.
Westwood Junction, 5 miles beyond Goumaz, is the highest elevation point on the trail. If you are traveling westward, congratulations: you just climbed 1,300-feet. If you are traveling eastward, smile: you have a nice descent to look forward to. The trail leaves the canyon and the Susan River and quickly turns south for the final 7.5 miles to Mason Station and the end of the rail-grade portion of the Bizz Johnson. You can meet your shuttle here, connect to the Lassen Rural Bus, turn around for a return ride, or continue another 4.5 miles on country roads to Westwood.
If you carry on to Westwood, you can’t miss the 25-foot carved redwood statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox at the trailhead, a rather large nod to the town’s long history in the timber industry. Actually, the Red River Lumber Company (originally established in Minnesota) opened a mill in Westwood in 1913 and it is this company that is credited for popularizing the tales and images of Paul Bunyan through their advertising campaigns.
If you are in need of food, Buffalo Chips Pizza is just down the block, located in what was once a company bunkhouse. Before leaving the trailhead, however, stop in at the Westwood Station and Lassen County Visitor Center, built as a replica of the historical Westwood Railroad Depot (open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). The nearby Westwood Museum also houses photos of the Red River Lumber Company mill, but note that it is run by volunteer s and has limited hours.
Today, explore Susanville, a former logging and mining town; learn about its history at the Lassen Historical Museum. Adjacent to the museum is Roop’s Fort, the oldest building in Lassen County; it was built in 1854 as a trading post and ranch though was used as a fort for three days during the Sagebrush War of 1863. Pick up a walking tour guide at the visitor center and wander the historic uptown. Many of the buildings still reflect the frontier and Wild West nature of bygone times and some have outside wall murals artistically depicting this legacy.
If possible, plan your visit to coincide with Lassen Land and Trails Trust's annual Rails to Trails Festival, which takes place at the Susanville depot the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend in October. The festival, which raises funds to support the region's trails, includes live music, a chili cook-off competition, railroad handcar races and other fun family activities.