We were blown away by Lassen Volcanic National Park. I honestly didn’t have too high of expectations, but I was so wrong. Lassen Volcanic National Park is the most underrated National Park. There are so many beautiful and amazing things here, but not very many people. There are many breathtaking sights to see that are accessible to people of all abilities and ages.
About Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park became an official national park in 1916. It is a volcanically active area. The most recent eruption here was in 1917. It is named after a Danish man that settled in Northern California in the early 1800’s. It is one of the only places in the world that houses all 4 types of volcanoes in one place. Today, there is still ample evidence of volcanic activity, ranging from bubbling mud pots to the smell of sulfur throughout the air.
Where is Lassen Volcanic National Park?
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in Northern California, USA. It is about 4.5 hours north of San Francisco, CA and 7.5 hours south of Portland, OR.
When can you visit Lassen Volcanic National Park?
Technically the park is usually open from June to October, however it varies each year due to the weather and snow levels. Also, even once it is open for the season, certain areas may be more difficult to reach due to the remaining snow levels. I would suggest visiting anytime between late July through September to assure you are able to get the most out of your trip and have the best chance at having good weather. Please check the NPS website for the latest updates on seasonal openings.
How to Get to Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is mainly only accessed by car or private vehicle. There is not a public transportation option to get to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We rented a car from San Francisco International Airport for our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Where to Stay Near Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is remote and smaller than many national parks, so there are fewer lodging options in the area. There are several campgrounds in the park and many more campgrounds in the surrounding national forests. There are also a few other non-camping options if you plan on staying outside the park.
There are campgrounds located at Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake, and Warner Valley. We stayed at the Summit Lake North campground and enjoyed our stay here. The site we had was not very private, but was clean. Some sites at Summit Lake North are also accessible. The perk of this campground is the proximity to Summit Lake. When we woke up in the morning, we were steps away from the reflective lake views. We would recommend reserving your campsite online at recreation.gov to ensure you have a spot in an area of your choosing. Please note that in the fall, the water at the campground is turned off until spring, so prepare accordingly.
Within the park there are 2 lodging options. Drakesbad Guest Ranch is located in the Warner Valley area of the park and Manzanita Lake Cabins are available in the Manzanita Lake area. Please visit recreation.gov for information on reservations. Nearby towns that have many other lodging options include Redding, CA and Red Bluff, CA.
What To Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park
*We recommend driving from South to North on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway which is the Highway 89 part of Volcanic Legacy Scenic Highway that connects areas of volcanic activity throughout California and Oregon. These things to do are listed in order driving South to North on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway.
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
The visitor center should be the first place you stop on your journey through the park. Here you can find many educational materials about the park and speak with rangers about the current conditions throughout the park. They can help you plan your time in the park with your specific needs and abilities. Also here, you can find a gift shop, a café with some food offerings, trail guides, free WiFi, and electric vehicle charging stations.
Sulfur Works is the first hydrothermal area that you will encounter while driving through the park from South to North. There is a parking lot on the left side of the road. This is not a hiking trail, but rather a paved interpretive area alongside the road that allows you to see what is deemed the “Sulfur Works.” The first thing that you will notice when you stop here is the strong smell of rotten eggs. This smell is hydrogen sulfide gas produced by the hydrothermal area. Here you can find boiling mud pots splashing and bubbling with steam rising around them. It is an interesting area worth a stop and is the most accessible hydrothermal area in this park.
Bumpass Hell is one of my favorite areas in Lassen Volcanic National Park. If you do one hike in the park, this should definitely be it. Here you will find a large 16-acre hydrothermal area with many different colors, clouds of steam rising from the earth, and boardwalks allowing you to see the many features of this area. Bumpass Hell is named after K.V. Bumpass who walked through this area and accidentally broke through the ground during his step, causing his leg and foot to become severely burned. To access Bumpass Hell, you must hike 2.7 round-trip. The hike is gentle and has beautiful views of the Lassen National Forest. Along the hike we saw many adorable grouse families with their babies. Also when we visited in August, there were so many beautiful bright purple wildflowers along the way. When you reach Bumpass Hell, there will be an intersection as to which side to begin on. We recommend taking the left path to “Frying Pan.” The path here is less traveled and showcases all of the beautiful colors of Bumpass Hell. From the Frying Pan area, continue on, following the trail to the boardwalk. All through this area there are many signs that give information on the formation of this area. This area is constantly changing paths due to the volcanic activity, so make sure to follow all the latest signs and information along the path. Although the colors are pretty and the ground appears sturdy, stay on the path to avoid burning yourself and damaging the fragile landscape.
Lake Helen can be accessed from the Bumpass Hell trail or you can park at the Lake Helen parking area shortly after the Bumpass Hell parking area on the left. Lake Helen is a glacial lake at the base of Lassen Peak. It has bright blue water that is some of the clearest water we have ever seen. Here you can see great views of Lassen Peak. The shore around the lake is rocky, but is a nice place to sit and relax after your hike to Bumpass Hell. Swimming is allowed here, but please note that the water is very cold and can be frozen until August every year.
Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome in the world. A plug dome volcano is a volcano that extrudes lava out when it erupts. Lassen Peak is rated as a difficult hike, but is has some of the best views of the park. It is a 5.1 mile hike roundtrip with around 2000 feet of elevation gain. Lassen Peak is a dormant volcano that last had a major eruption in 1914. Though this hike is difficult, it can be doable within a few hours. We met many people on the trail, even one man that was 65 years old! If you are able to do this hike, it will be worth your time!
The trail is straight up for 2.5 miles, but manageable with many switchbacks. The beginning of the trail has some tree cover and beautiful meadows of bright purple flowers. As the trail ascends, there will be less trees with more sun and wind. Be sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and appropriate clothing to protect against the wind. This trail is also very rock with sandy and slick rocks, so proper footwear is essential for this hike. On the way up, there are many informational signs, explaining different features found along the trail. There are many areas to sit and rest as you ascend. Along the entirety of the hike, you will have gorgeous views in all directions. At the top, you will find 360 degree views for miles. On a clear day, you can see Mount Shasta in the distance. Technically the trail ends at the flat viewpoint at the top where you will find many informational signs on the area, however, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can continue on a little bit until you reach a rocky scramble. Follow the indistinct path up and scramble over the pumice volcanic rocks to the very top. This is truly the peak of Lassen Peak at 10,456 feet of elevation. Here you will find a US Geological Survey Marker noting it’s significance. From this point, back track on the trail where you have walked so far and return to the parking lot. It should take you less time to go down than it took you to go back up.
Roadside Pull-offs Along the Volcanic Scenic Highway Throughout the Park
There are many great views from the road in between Lassen Peak and Kings Creek Trailhead. Be sure to stop at some of the pull-offs to soak in the beautiful views as you descend from the highest road in the park to some of the lowest areas in the park.
Kings Creek Falls
Kings Creek Trail is a 2.7 mile trail in which you can see a few different falls along Kings Creek. Reportedly, you can see the main waterfall from the side, but you can scramble down to the bottom of the waterfall as well. Note that that the Kings Creek Trailhead is a little farther down the road than the Kings Creek Picnic Area. We were unable to do this trail during our trip here, but it seems like a trail that would be worth your time.
Summit Lake is to the right on the road as you continue from the Kings Creek Trailhead. Here there are 2 campgrounds, picnic area, and day use area. If you are not camping here, the picnic area has several picnic tables right on the water. Summit Lake is one of the lakes in the park that you are able to swim in. This lake is also one of the warmer (still cold, but warmer than the others haha) lakes in the park since it is shallower than many of the others. This lake is very reflective and surrounded by beautiful pine trees. If you are interested, there are also several trails leaving from here, including Echo Lake.
This lake will be the last stop on your drive. Here at this lake there is a campground, picnic area, and several trails. From here, you can see several different views of the lake. If the lighting is right, you can see the reflection of the Chaos Crags on the lake’s surface. Here there is also a museum, called the Loomis Museum, which houses information about the park and photos from the 1914 volcanic eruption. Across the road from Manzanita Lake, there is Reflection Lake which has a trail around it. Facilities available at Manzanita Lake include a store, showers, gas station, and dump station. Soak in all your last views of Lassen Volcanic National park because if you drove from South to North, this is the last stop before you exit the park.
1 Day in the Park
If you only have 1 day in the park, I recommend started at the South side of the park on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway and going towards the north. However, if you start from the north and drive south, just do this list in reverse.
Stop 1: Visitor Center
Stop 2: Sulfur Works
Stop 3: Bumpass Hell
Stop 4: Lake Helen
Stop 5: Summit Lake
Stop 6: Manzanita Lake
2+ Days in the Park
If you have more than 1 day in the park, stop at the “1 day” stops above, plus add Lassen Peak and/or Kings Creek Falls. If you have a 3rd day in the park, you could add another hike such as Cinder Cone in the Butte Lakes area or Devil’s Kitchen in the Warner Valley Area.
Important to Note
-In 2021, Lassen Volcanic national Park and Lassen National Forest experienced many large wildfires. Certain areas of the park and surrounding towns may be closed or under construction. Please be sure to check with the National Park Service to verify the status of the location you plan on visiting.
-There are few facilities in and around Lassen Volcanic National Park, so make sure you fuel up your car and bring plenty of food and water for your trip. If you are staying for the entire day, plan on bringing a picnic lunch as there are little food options in the park.
We visited Lassen Volcanic National Park around the time that the California Dixie Fire, so many of our pictures reflect this time. Some parts of the park were very smoky, making it difficult to breathe. Our time here coincided with the fire and we evacuated during our second day when we received evacuation alerts to our cell phones. The night before evacuating, we experienced a surreal moment of watching the sunset against giant plumes of smoke. We sat in awe and sadness as we could see the line of fire on the next hill over. The fire was absolutely crazy and I have never seen anything like it in my life. I say all this here just to emphasize for you to pay attention to all announcements and postings from the National Park Service as your trip approaches. Keeping up with the latest information on the area you plan on visiting will help keep you safe and prepared during your trip.
Do you have any questions? Did we miss anything in the park? Let me know down below in the comments!
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