The Lassen Volcanic National Park sits where the Cascades crash into the Sierra Nevada. It’s a part of the Golden State that’s at once strange and alien, but also stunning and eye-catching. At first glance, you might spy an alpine vista, peppered with pines and reflective lakes. On another, it could be a belching fumarole or a smoke-spluttering sulfur hole.
At the park’s epicenter is 3,189-meter-high Lassen Peak itself. That’s one of the first in a string of active volcanos that make up the Cascade Volcanic Arc. Back in the early 1900s, the mountain blew its lid and sent ash and magma flying skywards. That eruption, along with millennia of geological history before it, is what shaped the vast reserve seen today.
Aside from learning all about the violent history of the volcanoes in California and beyond, there are oodles of adventures on the menu here. Whether you come for a spot of Lassen camping with the family or want to conquer the famous Lassen Peak Trail, you’re covered. And on top of that, there are pretty lakes to boat across, unique fauna to see, and gushing waterfalls to boot. It’s all part and parcel to this list of the 10 must-do things to in the Lassen Volcanic National Park…
Hike Lassen Peak Trail
Nothing says “adventure” like a trail that starts at 8,500 feet above sea level. Cue the Lassen Peak Trail – your ticket to the soaring top of Lassen Peak itself. Things begin at the dedicated Lassen Peak parking area. From there, you get onto rocky paths that switchback over the ridges of the volcano time and time again.
The distance to the summit if 2.5 miles in total. As you go, you’ll pass slopes of scree and igneous rock. It’s even possible to find yourself traversing snowdrifts and ice, especially if you come in the early spring or late autumn. Panoramic views can be expected on both sides. Be sure to stop and wonder at the vast Devastated Area (the wasteland left by Lassen’s last eruption) and the misty silhouettes of the Cascades on the horizon.
Expect round trip hikes to take around five-six hours in total. You’ll need a $15 Lassen Volcanic National Park pass to get to the trailhead, and it’s crucial to take enough water and food for the whole journey.
Enjoy The Serene Manzanita Lake
Plenty of folks agrees that one of the most stunning views of Lassen Peak is from the edge of Manzanita Lake. It’s a place where the snow-plumed cone of the great volcano is reflected in cobalt-brown water. Rows of spear-like pine trees frame the scene. And there are reed beds and meadows of grasses that sway in the breezes that roll down from the mountains.
Put simply, Manzanita Lake is one seriously relaxing and handsome corner of the Lassen Volcanic National Park. You can come to laze on its grassy banks. There are picnic spots with sweeping views across the Cascades. And you can hop onto some beautiful hiking trails from here. They clamber over the rocky cliffs that rise from the lakeside, revealing local campgrounds and boating spots.
Talking of boating – hitting the water is one of the top things to do in Manzanita. Motorized vessels are totally prohibited, which means you should find plenty of peace as you paddle your kayak from shore to shore. Fly fishers will also find loads to like, what with good numbers of brown and rainbow trout in store.
Traverse the Cinder Cone
Some 10 miles north-east of Lassen Peak under the gaze of craggy Mount Tehama is the so-called Cinder Cone. It’s another of the Lassen Volcanic National Park’s iconic summits. This one is shaped like a bulbous mound of ash and solidified lava, rising 2,102 meters high.
The Cinder Cone Trail is the route to the top. It’s a great adventure. You’ll start deep in forests of pine and willow close to the edge of Butte Lake. Then, you pass the edge of centuries-old lava fields. Next, you’ll meet at the bottom of the mountain itself. From there, the walk is steep, going up loose scree and gravel, eventually topping out at the summit.
When you get there, it’s nothing but awesome. Below, it’s possible to see the so-called Fantastic Lava Beds. They are the remnant of the last eruption of Cinder Cone. Nearby, the curious Painted Dunes rise and fall in shades of rust, orange, and beige. In the distance, the outline of Lassen Peak and other mighty volcanoes in California command the skyline.
See the geological wonders of Bumpass Hell
The presence of several of the most active volcanoes in California makes the Lassen Volcanic National Park a hotspot for aficionados of geology, volcanology, and tectonics. If you count yourself among them, there’s nowhere better to go than Bumpass Hell.
This part of the reserve reveals the powerful forces that have shaped Lassen Peak and the Cascades. The 3-mile Bumpass Hell Trail passes right through its heart. Hop on that and you’ll soon be lost in fields of smoking vents and steam-blowing geyser holes. Hot springs babble and gurgle above ridges of built-up mineral deposits. There are water holes that have tinges of pink and white, created by the boiling content of the water that comes straight up from the core of the planet.
Uniquely, visitors to the Bumpass Hell boardwalk trail can get really close to these wonders. At some points, it’s possible to peer straight into a crater or fumarole. You’ll also feel the heat that cooks Lassen from underneath throughout the whole walk.
Spend a night under canvass with Lassen camping
Sleeping a night amid some of the mightiest volcanoes in California? You bet you! That’s precisely what Lassen camping offers. There are eight individual campgrounds in the reserve itself, ranging from barebones pitches to group sites with excellent facilities. And that’s not even mentioning the abundance of Lassen camping that sits on the edge of the national park.
Some of the most popular places to settle for an evening between the pines include the Manzanita Lake Campground and the Butte Lake spot. The first is set right on the edge of beautiful Manzanita Lake (just as the name implies). Head there and you’ll wake to visions of snow-dressed Lassen Peak in the distance. The second can be reached off Highway 44 and is a real remote gem, close to the trailhead for Cinder Cone.
For young’uns, the Volcano Adventure Camp is a top choice in the summer months. There, regular workshops in outdoors skills, trekking, and volcanology are the perfect intro to this wild corner of California and the Cascades.
Learn all about volcanoes in California at the Kohm-Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
Straddling Route 89 by the south-west entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park is a place every first-time visitor should have on their itinerary. It’s the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. Inside, you can delve into rooms that are packed with information about the whole region. There are hands-on exhibits that help folk understand seismology and volcanic eruptions. And there’s even a movie that details the unique geology of Lassen Peak and the Cascades.
Dedicated on-site staffs are also at hand to help you plan your trip. Searching for a hiking path? This is the place to grab a map and get those all-important tips. Planning an expedition? This is where to ask advice on Lassen National Park weather and walking conditions.
When you’re done plotting your adventure, be sure to rejuvenate with a tipple in the on-site eatery. That’s got a gorgeous alfresco patio for summer lunches. But there’s also an inside that’s warmed by a crackling wood fire. A gift shop next door covers the souvenir search, too.
Wonder at the Kings Creek Falls
If you’re looking for a hiking trail in the Lassen Volcanic National Park that has a little bit of everything, this fits perfectly to your itinerary. Wiggling paths through venerable pine forests? Check. A dramatic view of a crashing waterfall? Check. Staircases cut into cliffs that rise from narrow creeks? Check.
Of course, the piece de resistance is the Kings Creek Fall itself. It is perhaps the most amazing in the vicinity of Lassen Peak. It drops 30 feet in total; water draped like ribbons of white across dark volcanic stones.
However, the cataracts aren’t the only draw. Walkers will also move through meadows covered in all sorts of spring blooms in months like April and May. You’ll see soaring California red firs. And that’s not even mentioning the presence of unique native fauna – keep your eyes peeled for deer, woodpeckers, and weasels.
Hike the Boiling Springs Lake Trail
The Boiling Springs Lake Trail can bring you to one of the most striking wonders of the Lassen Volcanic National Park. One of the largest hot lakes on the globe and one of the largest active water features in Lassen itself, the Boiling Springs Lake is a must-see for anyone interested in revealing the secrets of the region.
It sits on the southern edge of the wide Warner Valley. Nestled between pockets of evergreens and firs, it glows a curious hue of grey and turquoise blue. The water is acidic and hot – a constant 125 degrees is maintained by the steam vents below the surface. Sometimes, you can even spot the lake fizzing, bubbling, and boiling.
Getting to the site of Boiling Springs Lake is a joy on its own. You’ll cross-sections of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail as you go. What’s more, there are chances to spot spurting geysers and ponderosa forests along the route.
Smell the Sulphur Works
Like the Bumpass Hell hot springs before it, the Sulphur Works is another example of the amazing landscapes created around Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone over the millennia. Once upon a time, this part of the reserve was an active mine. These days, it’s been reclaimed by the planet and now plumes with steam and smoke and other elemental forces.
An interpretive trail can take you right through it all. It starts at the Sulphur Works parking lot and begins by dipping beside clusters of pretty pine trees. Then, suddenly, you find yourself surrounded by yellow-tinged cliffs and orange-hued walls of mud. Between those, Mars-like landscapes of dusty rock take over. There, you’ll be able to smell the rising sulfur in the air, wherever you go. You’ll spot visions of water vapor twirling from holes in the ground. And there are broiling mud baths peppering the whole basin.
See volcanic wilderness on the Devastated Area Trail
Colossal eruptions of the great volcanoes in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park back in 1915 created what’s known today as the Devastated Area. It’s a huge cut-out of the reserve, stretching three miles long and extending one mile wide. As it goes, it blasts great holes in the ancient pinewoods and crumbles over creeks. The result is somewhere primed to take the breath away.
These days, the whole barren landscape is navigable. That’s thanks to the Devastated Area Trail. It’s a simple half-mile loop with a paved surface. From start to finish, it offers amazing visions of huge Lassen Peak, which rises overhead like a sleeping giant. On either side of the path are the remnants of pyroclastic flows. They come peppered with debris that once crashed straight down from the caldera of Lassen as it exploded.
A series of interpretive plaques help visitors to get a feel for the geology of the area as they walk. They talk of several unique rocks made from crystals and cooled lava. And they help you understand the amazing power of the mudflows and ash streams that followed the 1915 eruption.
How To Get There
Getting to Lassen Volcanic National Park is not as hard as expected. A weekend trip to Lassen is also very doable from other nearby cities. These include Nevada (2.5 hours), Vacaville/Sacramento (3 hours), Concord (3.5 hours), and even San Fransisco (4 hours). The best way of getting here is either self-hiring a car, joining a scenic tour or simply go on a road trip with an RV rental. Expect to pay an individual entry pass $15 and the ticket is valid for 7 days.
When To Visit
Though Lassen Volcanic National Park is accessible all year long, there is a certain time you need to take note. The best time to visit this national park is during the late summer and early fall. Otherwise, come here during the winter for winter activities including sledding, snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and more. However, do look out for the snow avalanches especially during the winter.
Lassen Volcanic Park Camping
There are several campgrounds at Lassen Volcanic that ranges from developed to primitive. Though some of these campgrounds are reservable, don’t expect to find a spot here without making a booking a few months earlier. If you plan to visit for an excursion, make sure you arrive as soon as possible to secure a campground as they are mostly first-come, first-served only. Don’t worry if your RV needed a power site, there are several campgrounds that provide everything you need. Including flush toilets, showers, barbecue pits, and more.
The seven campgrounds include:
- Butte Lake
- Volcano Adventure Camp
- Juniper Lake
- Manzanita Lake
- Summit Lake North & South
- Southwest Walk-in
- Warner Valley
Though campfires are allowed, it only at the designated area. Campers are not advisable to cut, saw or break any standing trees, dead or alive. Apart from campgrounds, Manzanita Lake Camping cabins are a great option for those who desire a rustic stay in the woods. Check out here for more information about the campgrounds.