In honour of the U.S. National Park Service’s 100th Anniversary, I’ve introduced a feature called “Find Your Park,” named after the popular hashtag the NPS has been using this year to promote the parks. Each unique post will feature one of the U.S. National Parks that I have had the chance to visit.
Park: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Location: Mineral, California
Established: August 1916
Size: 106,452 acres
Annual visitors: 407,653 (2012)
Entrance fee: $20/vehicle/week
Times visited: 1
Lassen Volcanic National Park offers an awesome exploration of all things volcanic. The main highlight of the park is Lassen Peak, standing proudly above the surrounding geology at 10,457 feet high. It pulls the eye as you drive towards the park (usually approaching from west.)
I visited Lassen Volcanic National Park this past summer as part of a California National Park tour after my hike on the John Muir Trail. We stayed in Redding at my husband’s grandma’s house and did a day trip up to Lassen National Park. The drive from Redding was about an hour along SR 44, bringing us to the Manzanita Lake entrance in the north-west. There is alarge campground and a lovely lake-side loop hike that offers great views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags.
Lassen Volcanic National Park hosts a collection of four different types of volcanoes: shield, cinder cone, plug dome, and composite.
The first pullout after leaving Manzanita Lake is at Chaos Crags and Chaos Jumbles. Chaos Crags is the youngest of the lava domes in the park and the Jumbles are rock debris from a rock avalanche that travelled down the northwest slope of the dome, flattening forest and damming a creek.
For those feeling a bit adventurous, there is a 4 mile round-trip trail to a lake at the base of Chaos Crags that leaves from near Manzanita Lake.
We continued along the road as it curved north and then headed south-east, passing through the “Devastated Area” an area of forest that was flattened during the eruptions of Lassen Peakbetween 1914 and 1917. There is a short interpretive trail as well as great views of the east side of Lassen Peak.
From that point the road heads south, passing by Summit Lake, which offers backcountry access to the east side of the park. We caught glimpses of the distant Cinder Cone volcano, which is made up of loose volcanic rocks, cinders and ash. I would have loved to get up close to the Cinder Cone, but it would require an hour-long drive around the north perimeter of the park, which we unfortunately didn’t have time for with our single-day visit.
Our goal for the morning was to hike to Lassen Peak. The trailhead is just past the Park Highway’s high point, above a collection of peaceful meadows. The strenuous, switchbacking trail is 5 miles roundtrip and gains nearly 2000 feet of elevation, finishing on top of Lassen Peak at 10,457 feet.
The trail has recently undergone an impressive project of restoration and rehabilitation. The trail follows well-graded switchbacks through unique examples of volcanic rock and structures. There are a number of interpretive signs along the trail offering education and an excuse to stop and catch your breath.
Perhaps the most impressive part of our hike was the plethora of butterflies greeting us along the trail. Lassen is home to the California Tortoiseshell Butterfly. This butterfly is known for it’s population explosions and specifically getting caught up in the wind vortices around Lassen Peak. They were a beautiful sight to behold, flitting around the summit of the mountain.
We made it up to the summit within an hour or so of hiking and then scrambled up to the second summit so I could touch the USCGS summit marker and claim the peak. We had great 360 degree views and could even spy Mount Shasta off to the north.
After our successful summit, it was time to relax and enjoy a nice picnic lunch beside Lake Helen before venturing into Bumpass Hell.
Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area of the park, and is accessible via a 3 mile roundtrip trail. The trail crosses through a rocky and sparsely forested area before dropping 100 feet into the basin (Hell!) The basin is filled with hydrothermal pools, vents and fumaroles, emitting super-heated acidic steam and sulphuric odours. Boardwalks criss-cross the basin allowing you to get rather close to these bizarre features. It is truly other-worldly!
Leaving Bumpass Hell, we continued along the road, curving southwest and dropping us down to Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the southwest entrance of the Park. We stopped there for a brief tour of the exhibit hall as well as to grab a snack and a drink from the café.
It was a wonderful one-day tour of Lassen Volcanic National Park that just gave us a taste of the marvels to see. With a few days more we could explore the Fantastic Lava Beds, hike up close to Chaos Crags or even go backpacking into the eastern section of the park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is an easily accessible park that is worth taking a few hours or a few days to explore. It offers a phenomenal variety of volcanic and geothermal areas, as well as many miles of forest, lakes and meadows to explore.
Historic video of the 1915 eruption of Mt. Lassen:
Video I took of a bubbling fumarole at Sulphur Works roadside pullout