Lassen Volcanic National Park; land of fire and ice!


Lake Almanor in the foreground, with Mt. Lassen, rising over 10,500 feet in the distance!

Lake Helen on Memorial Day Weekend remains frozen solid at 8,000 feet, on the road through Lassen Park; that is Mt. Lassen rising majestically behind the lake.
The Sulpher Works, near Lassen’s southwest entrance, was a privately owned sulfer producer and tourist spa until the1950s; today if offers burbling mud pots and hot springs, right off the main highway!
Huge boulder in left foreground was deposited by a retreating glacier many thousands of years earlier; that’s Brokeoff Mountain to the rear.
This 25,000 pound boulder (with author’s spouse, Susan) was blasted off the lip of Lassen Volcano in the eruption of 1915.  It landed in the Devastated Area, more than three miles away; the blast also leveled many square miles of forests!
Burney Falls, in state park of same name, is only 45 minutes northwest of Lassen National Park and well worth the visit!

Fire and Ice…scalding mud pots, boiling springs and steaming fumaroles set against a snowy backdrop.  The awe of volcanoes, spectacular Cascade’s scenery, quaint towns and sparse crowds are all part of Lassen Volcanic National Park.  It’s one of nine national parks in California, most inspiring but lightly visited.

We had been to Lassen Volcanic National Park six years earlier – arriving on the weekend of July 4 with a campground reservation. However we had not checked the road report and the main road through the park was still unopened, under 10 feet of snow.  Unable to reach much of the park, we retreated to Chester and Lake Almanor for a revamped long weekend.

This time, we checked the road reports, booked our campground, and took the scenic route to arrive on the Friday prior to Memorial Day weekend.

We took a meandering tour up Hwy. 49, passing through the lovely town of Downieville (self-proclaimed mountain bike capital of the Sierra), and followed the advice from a friend and spent a night camping at Gold Lake above Graeagle, another cute mountain town.

The next day we continued our tour along Highway 89, past Lake Almanor where the view of Mount Lassen is spectacular.  Chester is a good stop for provisioning, the largest town to the east of the park.

We entered the park at the south west entrance; the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center is very informative (built on the site of the former Lassen Ski Area, which closed in 1993) and tells the story of Lassen’s 1914 and 1915 eruptions that blasted ash 30,000 feet into the sky and sailed huge boulders for miles. 

Lassen is part of the “Pacific ring of fire”, a ring of volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. It’s part of the ancient Brokeoff Volcano, dating back 400,000-600,000 years. Mt. Lassen itself formed 27,000 years ago from a volcanic vent on the flank of Brokeoff Volcano and is one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes, rising to 10,457 feet. 

Lassen is one of the four types of volcanoes found throughout the world, all represented in this grand park.  They include plug dome (Lassen), cinder cone (Cinder Cone), shield (Prospect Peak) and composite volcanoes (Brokeoff Volcano).  A riveting video at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Center explains each type and demonstrates how they shaped the surrounding landscape.

Beyond the visitor center, scenery becomes increasingly interesting. The winding road gives many views of Lassen looming in the distance. Soon you arrive at Sulphur Works, an area full of eerie hot springs and burbling mud pots. Until the 1950s, it was a privately owned sulfur works and tourist spa destination.

Continuing up Highway 89, one comes to the parking area for Bumpus Hell. A one mile hike takes one to this lively area full of thermal wonders; it’s only a bit further to Cold Boiling Lake.

Visitors should take several days to plan to see the highlights of the park. Many of the sights are found by touring the 29 mile stretch of Hwy. 89 that runs from the southwest to the northwest entrances of the park. The park offers a number of campgrounds, welcoming RVs, tents and walk-in campers.  Only two places offer food in the park, at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center in the southwest, and at Manzanita Lake on the northwest.

However, another scenic area of the park is accessed from Chester, via the Warner Valley which leads to Drakesbad Guest Ranch and offers trails to Devils Kitchen, Boiling Springs Lake and other inspiring and scenic hikes.

Along Hwy. 89, stop at Lake Helen for great photos, which was still frozen-solid beside the road at 8000 feet; another mile takes you to the road ‘s highest point at 8500 feet.  Here is the jumping-off point for hikers trekking to the Lassen summit, 2000 feet above.

Further along Highway 89 is the Devastated Area, which will wow the kids. An easy hike takes tourists past 25,000 pound boulders blasted off the summit of Lassen in 1915, landing some three miles away and knocking down many miles of forest like they were matchsticks.

Our destination for several days camping was at the northwest park entrance, on Manzanita Lake with a stunning view of Mount Lassen looking to the southeast. Manzanita Lake offers marvelous fishing (catch and release only) and a beautiful campground with secluded campsites, showers, store and museum.  Drakesbad Guest Ranch offers the only overnight hotel stay within the park while Manzanita Lake has rustic camper cabins for rent; nearest other accommodations are in Mineral, Chester or Redding.

Despite three days in the park, we saw only a portion of it – the northeast area is wilderness, and offers wonderful hiking over 150 miles of trails (including 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail) studded with lakes and beautiful Cascade Range scenery. 

Several events may peak your fancy: August 1-3 is the Lassen Dark Sky Fest, where park rangers and astronomers will celebrate the night sky; September 27 is Art and Wine of Lassen, toasting local artists and wine (and, park admission is free – it’s National Public Lands Day).  Put your volcano exploration hat on, and visit the incredible Lassen Volcanic National Park!

Next week, we explore nearby Redding and its marvelous Sun Dial bridge (now 10 years old!), plentiful biking and fishing and the nearby Shasta State historic Park.

How to get there: from Stockton it’s about 250 miles taking the most direct route (I-5 to Redding, then east to the park’s southwest entrance). The scenic route, about 100 miles longer, is up I-5 , east on I-80, exit at Auburn and follow scenic and historic Highway 49, connecting with highway 89 into the park.

When to go: definitely check the road report – often Hwy. 89 through the park is not open until July. One can visit the park during snow season, but access to many of the features are difficult unless one is a snowshoer or cross-country skier!

What to see while there: make your first stop at the southwest entrance Visitor Center for insight into Native Americans who have visited the park, and the volcanic history and types of volcanoes. The park offers plentiful thermal features, from mud pots, boiling springs and lakes to the Devastated Area and the Chaos Crags area – which give full measure to the awesome power of a volcano unleashed just 100 years ago.

What’s nearby: Mount Shasta and Burney Falls State Park to the north; Chester and pretty Lake Almanor to the east, and Redding, Shasta State Historic Park and Weaverville to the west.

What to take: Walking shoes, snacks, drinks, a good map or GPS unit, your camera and video camera.

For more information: Lassen Volcanic National Park, PO Box 100, Mineral, CA 96063–0100: phone, 530.595.6100, www.nps/gov/lavo.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,  Happy travels in the west!

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