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California's Unknown National Park - Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park - most people have never even heard of this amazing National Park. Located in Northern California less than an hour east of Redding, this park offers mountain peaks, lakes, great campgrounds and even a 'mini Yellowstone' and is truly a must visit when visiting Northern California.

Snow capped Lassen Peak over the bright blue waters of Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Breathtaking view of Lake Helen and Lassen Peak

Initially established as two National Monuments in 1907 - Lassen Peak National Monument and Cinder Cone National Monument, it was upgraded to a single National Park in 1916. In 1914, Lassen Peak began erupting and erupted on and off for about three years which helped add interest to the area and lead to the creation of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen Volcanic National Park is unique in the fact that all four types of volcanoes can be found within this park - shield, plug dome, cinder cone and stratovolcano. Today, the area is still quite active with fumaroles, steam vents, mud pots and hot springs. Here is how we spent four wonderful days exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park.


DAY 1:

Manzanita Lake and Campground

Loomis Museum & Visitor Center

McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Fishing on the Pit River

DAY 2:

Devastated Area Trail & Hat Creek

Summit Lake

Highway Summit - Lassen Peak Trail - Lake Helen

Bumpass Hell

Sulphur Works

Kings Creek Falls

DAY 3:

Subway Cave Lava Tube

Butte Lake

Cinder Cone Trail

DAY 4:

Snowy Lassen

Warner Valley & Devil's Kitchen Trail



Father and son standing at the north entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park
North entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Day 1: Arriving to Lassen Volcanic National Park - we headed to Manzanita Campground to get our gear all set up. The campground was located right near the northwest entrance on Manzanita Lake and offered great facilities such as a general store, deli, showers and laundry facilities. Arriving early in the day, we spent some time walking along the shores of Manzanita Lake, enjoying the great views. On our itinerary for the day was to spend some time kayaking at Lake Manzanita - but due to a quick unexpected change in the weather - it was now too cold to kayak. While visiting in early September is usually a great time to visit this area, we had an early cold spell come thru where instead of 80's for a high, we were now seeing highs in the 50's.

Manzanita Lake surrounded by forest.
Enjoying the beautiful views of Manzanita Lake


Stone building of the Loomis Museum & Visitor Center
The historic Loomis Museum & Visitor Center

We began our exploration of the park by visiting the Loomis Museum/Visitor Center. The building was first built by Benjamin Loomis to showcase his photography of the Lassen Peak eruptions. In 1929 the building and 40 acres surrounding it were gifted to the National Park. Today, this Museum & Visitor Center still display some of the original photographs by Benjamin Loomis. From the Loomis Museum, we then walked the Lily Pond Nature Trail (0.75 miles). Luckily, this was a pretty short trail because it began hailing rather intensely while we walked this trail and we hustled back to the car as quickly as we could!



Family of three standing in front of Burney Falls at McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
Beautiful Burney Falls

Thankfully the hail didn't last too long and we were able to enjoy the rest of the day hail and rain free. For our next stop of the day, we drove out of Lassen to nearby McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park - this was about an hour north of the park, but is a definite must see site! Offering access to Lake Britton, camping, fishing, a visitor center and the highlight of the park - 129 foot Burney Falls, this was a wonderful place to visit. Burney Falls may just be the most beautiful waterfall we have ever seen - it was spectacular! President Teddy Roosevelt actually called Burney Falls the 'eighth wonder of the world'. Walk the quick 75 feet to the overlook, then continue down the trail 0.3 miles to the base of the waterfall. The views just get better and better as you walk this trail and enjoy this beautiful location. If you have time, spend some time fishing Burney Creek above or below the falls - my husband caught a couple big ones here!

Beautiful Burney Falls surrounded by the early colors of fall.
Burney Falls may just the most beautiful waterfall in California!


As we drove back to Lassen, we continued to do some fishing on the Pit River just outside the National Park boundaries - we were able to find some easy access points that enabled us to do some fishing as a family. The Pit River is famous for it's giant Rainbow Trout and is known as one of the best rivers to fish in California - but for us, no luck!

Father and son fishing along the Pit River in Lassen National Forest.
Fishing along the Pit River in Lassen National Forest


Little boy standing on a rock with Lassen Peak in the background at the Devastated Area Trail.
View from the Devastated Area Trail

Day 2: First stop of the morning was at Hot Rock - this giant rock is a 300 ton rock that was carried down the mountain as Lassen Peak erupted back in 1915 - observers say that the rock actually sizzled for over 40 hours after it came to a stop after being thrown from the volcano. We then walked the 0.5 mile roundtrip Devastated Area Trail - this great trail offers great views out towards Lassen Peak and includes rocks and boulders that were thrown here during the eruptions. Plaques line the trail offering more historical information about the volcanic activity of the area. Just down the road, is scenic Hat Creek - worth a quick stop for a beautiful picture!

Small child standing among large lava boulders in the forest.
Exploring the lava rocks that were flung to this area during the eruptions of Lassen Peak.
Stone bridge crossing Hat Creek with snowy peaks of Lassen Peak.
Stunning Hat Creek with Lassen Peak in the background


As we continued driving south along the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, we made a quick stop to see Summit Lake. Two more campgrounds are located here near this beautiful alpine lake. At 6,700 feet in elevation, it was quite a bit chillier here than at our campsite at Manzanita Lake!

Sunny blue skies over the blue waters of Summit Lake.
Beautiful blue waters of Summit Lake


Father and son standing in the snow in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Playing in the snow at the Summit!

We then came to the highway summit, at 8,511 feet in elevation - there was still snow along the sides of the road, and as we love snow, we couldn't resist getting out of our car and playing in the snow a bit! Just across the street is the parking for the Lassen Peak Trailhead, at 5 miles roundtrip with just under 2,000 feet in elevation gain - this hike was a little past our capabilities with a 2 year old. Someday though, we will have to attempt this hike! Continuing on, for some of the best views in the park, stop at the Lake Helen picnic area. From Lake Helen, enjoy the breathtaking views of Lassen Peak towering over the bright blue waters of Lake Helen.

View of the trailhead to the top of Lassen Peak with a light dusting of snow.
The trail to the top of Lassen Peak
Little boy standing on rocky shoreline at Lake Helen with beautiful Lassen Peak in the background.
One of the most beautiful places in the park - gorgeous Lake Helen


Father and son hiking along the the Bumpass Hell Trail with Lassen Peak in the background.
Hiking along the Bumpass Hell Trail

Just up the road - visit Lassen's own 'mini Yellowstone' at Bumpass Hell. The popular 3 mile Bumpass Hell trail is a relatively easy hike with only minimal elevation gain making for a great family hike. Named for the unfortunate settler - Kendall Vanhook Bumpus who first came across this area in the 1860s and fell thru a thin soil layer badly burning his leg. His leg was eventually amputated and the area became known as Bumpass Hell due to his unfortunate incident.

Overlooking the colorful and steaming Bumpass Hell area in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
First view of Bumpass Hell as you descend down the trail
Steaming hillsides of Bumpass Hell geothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Beautiful geothermal region of Bumpass Hell

Today Bumpass Hell is the largest and most popular geothermal area of the park, covering over 16 acres and is easily accessed via a couple different trails thru the area. The Bumpass Hell Trail is the easiest way to reach the area. The trail itself is beautiful throughout the entire length of the hike providing views and overlooks of the surrounding area. Upon reaching the first glimpse of Bumpass Hell, you are provided with a great view of the entire area below. As you walk thru the boardwalk that takes you down and along side the various mud pots, fumaroles and hot springs you forget you are in California as the geothermal features make it feel as though you are in Yellowstone!

View of the boardwalk thru the Bumpass Hell geothermal area.
Lassen's own 'mini-Yellowstone'
Colorful steaming hillside and boiling pools in Bumpass Hell.
We absolutely loved visiting this area of Lassen National Park
Steaming colorful hillsides through the Bumpass Hell geothermal area of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The steaming and colorful hillsides of Lassen's Bumpass Hell


Boiling bubbles of mud in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Boiling mudpots at Sulphur Works

Back along the main park highway, we headed next to another geothermal feature called Sulphur Works. This is actually the easiest geothermal feature to see in the park as it's located right along the road. Back in 1865 a sulphur mill was built here and it eventually became a tourist attraction called 'Supan's Springs' that by 1941 included a bathhouse, gas station and restaurant. Today those buildings no longer remain, but this interesting although slightly smelly site is a must-stop when visiting Lassen. Continuing a bit further down the road is the Kohm-Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center - the main visitor center for Lassen Volcanic National Park - stop in and grab your passport stamp and enjoy the exhibits offering history and insight to this wonderful park!

View of the colorful orange, red and brown hillside of Sulphur Works
The Sulphur Works geothermal area
Looking out along the geothermal area around Sulphur Works with colorful hills and boiling mudpots
The beautifully colored hillside along the Sulphur Works geothermal area


Having driven from the north to south along the main road thru Lassen, we still had a bit of time left in our day to take in another hike. The Kings Creek Falls (2.3 miles roundtrip) trail was a perfect choice - just the right length with minimal elevation gain, ending at a beautiful waterfall. We really enjoyed this hike! Following a creek thru the meadow, eventually leads you to this beautiful 40 foot waterfall - the view is stunning! After enjoying the waterfall and heading back, the trail will lead you back uphill along a wonderfully built rock staircase built into the hillside - we loved this part of the trail! While a bit tiresome as you head up the stairs - the craftsmanship that went into building these stairs is amazing!

Large cascading Kings Creek Falls in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Beautiful cascading water of Kings Creek Falls
Little boy standing along a stone stairway along the Kings Creek Falls Trail.
Enjoying the wonderful Kings Creek Falls Trail - we loved the stone stairs!


Day 3: Besides the main north to south highway that runs thru Lassen Volcanic National Park, there are three other remote areas of the park that are worth exploring. We spent day three exploring in and around the northeast Butte Lake region of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Leaving from Manzanita Campground, it is a little over an hour to drive out to this remote corner of the park. Along the way - just outside of the park boundaries is the Subway Cave Lava Tubes. Located within the Lassen National Forest lands - this self guided cave tour is a fun stop! The cave itself is only about 0.3 miles and was pitch black - don't forget to bring your flashlights!

Mother and son walking down the stairwell into the Subway Cave Lava Tubes
Descending the stairs into the Subway Cave Lava Tubes
Lava formations inside the Subway Cave Lava Tubes.
Exploring inside the lava tube


Continuing on - our next stop once back inside Lassen Volcanic National Park boundaries was to visit Butte Lake. Again - our original plans were to spend some time kayaking on this beautiful lake but due to the change in weather (highs in the low 50s) it just was too cold to attempt to kayak. Instead we took in the views, wandered along the shore for a bit and made friends with some curious chipmunks before we set out on our hike up the Cinder Cone.

Little boy standing along the blue waters of Butte Lake that is surrounded by forests and black lava rocks.
Beautiful Butte Lake is surrounding by black lava rocks


Large hills of black lava rock called the 'Fantastic Lava Beds'.
The Fantastic Lava Beds along the trail

The Cinder Cone trail (4 miles roundtrip) is probably the hardest hike we have tackled with a toddler on our backs and only one of us was able to make it to the top. As you head out on this hike, you walk along side the 'Fantastic Lava Beds' where rugged black lava rocks are piled high - in some cases up to 100 feet high. As you reach the base of the cinder cone, you begin the steep climb - 640 feet in elevation as you climb thru loose lava rock/sand - for every two steps you seem to slide back one step. As we continued the slow slog upwards, the wind began to kick in and the temperature dropped, creating for one very unhappy toddler. About three quarters of the way up the side of the cone, my husband decided to turn back with our son as it was just becoming too tiresome and just too cold. I though was able to continue on and reach the summit of the cinder cone - and boy was it worth it! The views were phenomenal - including looking out over the Fantastic Lava Bed's, Butte Lake and Lassen Peak.

Father with a baby on this back looking out over the views of Butte Lake, the Fantastic Lava Beds and surrounding region from the side of the Cinder Cone trail.
Enjoying the scenery as we headed up the cinder cone
View from the top of Cinder Cone of Butte Lake and the Fantastic Lava Beds.
Looking out over the Fantastic Lava Beds and Butte Lake from the top of Cinder Cone
View into the Cinder Cone from the top of Cinder Cone Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Making it to the top of the Cinder Cone - looking down into the Cinder Cone


Lassen Volcanic National Park - Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway
Driving thru the sudden wintry conditions at Lassen

Day 4: Waking up our last morning in Lassen, we were iced in! Over the previous few nights we had been hitting freezing temperatures but now with a little precipitation in the air, we had ice everywhere! Luckily we were nice and cozy warm inside our tent with our cold weather sleeping bags and gear but it does make for some tough mornings trying to stand outside and cook up a breakfast! After a chilly start to the morning, we set out to head to the remote Warner Valley region of Lassen. Driving from Manzanita Lake Campground to the Warner Valley usually takes a little over two hours - but the ice and snow definitely made for a slower than normal drive. The really cool thing though about this extreme weather we were having was getting to see parts of Lassen Volcanic National Park covered in snow! The views were gorgeous as we drove through the summit near Lassen Peak and beautiful Lake Helen! We of course had to get out and throw a few snowballs while enjoying this winter wonderland!

Father and son enjoying snow covered Lassen Volcanic National Park near Lake Helen.
Enjoying the freshly fallen snow at Lassen!
Lassen Volcanic National Park - Lake Helen
Gorgeous view of Lake Helen with a fresh coating of snow


Overlooking the Warner Valley with meadows and forests in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
View of Lassen's Warner Valley

As we continued down the pass, the snow began to fade and by the time we arrived to the Warner Valley area, we had a bit of blue skies and sunshine!The Warner Valley is actually located only three miles off the main Lassen Volcanic National Park Hwy - but you actually have to drive 55 miles to reach this area. Located in the Warner Valley is a Ranger Station, a campground, the Drakesbad Guest Ranch and a couple wonderful geothermal areas that are accessible by hiking trails. The two main hikes in the area are the Boiling Lake Springs Trail (1.8 miles roundtrip) which takes you to a boiling lake surrounding by steam vents or you can hike to Devil's Kitchen (4.2 miles roundtrip) which is a colorful geothermal area full of mudpots, fumaroles and hot springs. We choose to spend our day hiking to Devil's Kitchen. If you want to get away from the crowds that can be found at Bumpass Hell - this is the place to go! This hike is beautiful from start to finish - first start by walking thru the meadows of Warner Valley, this area is teeming with wildflowers and wildlife - we happened upon numerous deer during our hike here. Upon reaching the Devil's Kitchen area, you can wander along a quarter mile trail that leads you thru the area to view the numerous fumaroles, hot springs and boiling mud pots.

Mother and son walking thru the meadows of Devil's Kitchen Trail in the Warner Valley of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Hiking thru the Warner Valley to Devil's Kitchen
Steaming hillsides of Devil's Kitchen geothermal area.
Exploring Lassen's Devil's Kitchen
Hot springs and fumaroles in Devil's Kitchen geothermal area.
We loved the hike to Devil's Kitchen - such a stunning geothermal area to visit!

Interested in planning your own trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!

Day 1: Kayak Manzanita Lake (if weather allows), Loomis Museum, Lily Pond Nature Trail (0.75 miles), McAuthur Burney Falls State Park (Burney Falls Loop - 1 mile, fish Burney Creek), stop in Lassen National Forest and fish Pit River

Day 2: Drive the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway: Hot Rock, Devastated Area Trail (0.4 miles), Hat Creek, Summit Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park Hwy Summit (8,511 feet), Lassen Peak Trailhead, Lake Helen Picnic Area, Bumpass Hell (3 miles), Emerald Lake, Sulphur Works, Kohm-Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center, Kings Creek Falls (2.3 miles).

Day 3: Explore Butte Lake region of Lassen Volcanic National Park: Subway Cave Lava Tubes, kayak Butte Lake (if weather allows), Cinder Cone Hike (4 miles)

Day 4: Explore the Warner Valley, region of Lassen Volcanic National Park: hike Devils Kitchen (4.2 miles) or Boiling Lake Springs (1.8 miles). If extra time, drive up to see Juniper Lake.

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