When a national park has more than 20 volcanoes, you can expect some pretty weird and spectacular scenery. Gurgling mud pots, curves of red earth, sulfur vents, fumaroles, lava tube caves and boiling hot springs are all found in part of northeastern California, mixed with lakes, waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. Just four hours north of San Francisco, Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few places on earth that has all four types of volcanoes (cinder cones, composite, shield, and socket dome – for all the science types out there). Lassen is also one of the oldest national parks in the country. The former hunting ground of the Atsugwei, Yana, Yahi, Maidu and Kohm peoples became the fifteenth national park in 1916.
The geothermal activity and dramatic jagged landscape is one of California’s best-kept secrets, as only around 500,000 travelers visit the park each year, as opposed to the few million found just south of Yosemite even though easy to get to just 130 miles north of Sacramento. .
Within Lassen’s 166.3 square miles of protected land, you’ll find rigorous hiking, 30-foot Kings Creek Falls, and wheelchair-accessible lookout points of rugged volcanic nature. You can experience the best of the park on a day trip, but to do Lassen justice and maximize your trip, stay three to five nights in the national park. Here’s everything you need to know about the volcanic park.
Visit…pretty much any time of the year
Lassen Volcanic National Park can be visited year-round, but expect snow for most of the year. Determining the best time of year to go will depend on what you hope to experience in the park.
The winter season lasts from December to March, but snowfall continues through June, making winter-centric activities in the park available well into spring. During the colder months, visit the southwestern areas of the park, which begin at 6,700 feet in elevation and receive the most snowfall, up to 30 feet each season. Manzanita Lake is a popular spot for snowshoeing.
Summer is the most popular time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, although visitor numbers are still low enough that the park can feel quite empty. Warm weather hikes in Lake Manzanita begin around May, although Bumpass Hell Trail often remains closed due to the risk of snow until July. As the sun rises, you increase your chances of spotting some of the park’s 250 species of wildlife, all looking to bask in the sun.
May through September bring wildflower meadows. The peak of flowering takes place between July and September depending on the altitude of the area. And while leaf-watching isn’t a huge draw to the park, as it’s mostly populated by evergreens, you’ll still find changing leaves on the aspens, alders, and poplars during the summer months. fall. The best place to enjoy the fall colors is Hat Meadow.
Hike around and to the top of volcanoes
Either way, you’ll want to start with the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the southern entrance, open all year. There you can choose between the 150 miles of Lassen trails.
At Butte Lake, hike the challenging four-mile trail to the summit of Cinder Cone and be rewarded with views of the volcano’s crater. The Bumpass Hell Trail, a three-mile round trip, leads to a boardwalk over the largest hydrothermal area in the park. The path takes guests a safe distance from the aquamarine pools in the 16-acre basin. For a longer hike, set off on the park’s 17 miles of Pacific Crest Trail.
Hike at least seven miles in Lassen Volcanic National Park and you might reach the Reach the Upper Trail Challenge, which supports the recovery of the native Sierra Nevada red fox. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with a cool commemorative bandana.
Absolutely don’t worry about breakouts
No trip to the park is complete without a visit to the park’s most famous volcano, Lassen Peak, also known as Yah-mah-nee or Snow Mountain. It’s the world’s tallest plug-dome volcano at 10,457 feet, and its last eruption was in 1917. But don’t worry, volcanologists know well in advance when an eruption will occur and rangers of the park wouldn’t let you venture out if it were a possibility. Although it is often snowy until August, the Lassen Peak Trail is open for hiking year-round. Or stay anchored and take in the sweeping views of the gigantic mountain jutting out behind the tree-lined lake.
To experience Lassen’s famous hydrothermal activity, fueled by the natural underground hot water system, head to Sulfur Works where you’ll see mud pots boiling and steam hissing from vents. Just like in Yellowstone, you’ll want to stay on designated paths to avoid serious burns, though you may witness strange colors of the earth and smell of pungent sulfur.
Where to sleep in Lassen National Park
Camping permit are free in Lassen, and there are eight campgrounds in the park. RVs and trailers can be accommodated at the Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, and Summit Lake campgrounds. You can also find camping cabins at Manzanita Lake Campground. Thanks to the lack of light pollution, those who sleep can often see the shimmering Milky Way or a meteor shower show while gazing at the stars.
If that’s not your thing, book lodges, cabins or bungalows in the historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch, which is the only accommodation in the park. The ranch will prepare your meals while you take a dip in the on-site hydrothermal spring-fed pool after a day of exploring the park.