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I’m still but a wee babe when it comes to exploring the National Parks. However, I was excited to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in the fall of 2019 for the first time, making it my fifth National Park in the USA! Out of…sixty-one. So. I’ve got quite a ways to go. But even with my limited exposure to the protected outdoors, Lassen quickly became one of my favorite national parks! Honestly, I was surprised because I never hear anyone mentioning the park, let alone it ranking in someone’s top twenty.
So I’m here to share a mini guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park so you can have the best first trip experience in the park!
- State: California (Northern)
- Nearest City: Redding, California ~1 hour drive
- Closest International Airport: Sacramento (SMF), Reno-Tahoe (RNO) ~2.5hrs drive
- Ancestral Lands: the Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu Indigenous peoples
- Best season to visit (in my opinion): Hands down, summer and the summer-shoulder months! Summer offers the most park activities and programs and the shops have extended hours. For a less crowded time, early fall is beautiful!
- Transportation: You will need a car.
When to Visit
It honestly depends on your weather preference. Located in Northern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park experiences a good amount of all four seasons. My favorite season to visit, and the one I would recommend, would be summer. Summer offers the most ranger-led activities and programs, and the shops and visitor centers have extended hours. That said, it is also the busiest time.
The next best time would probably be fall, as the surround forests are beautiful with orange, red, and yellow hues. It is a personal favorite for me. However, the park gets cold fast as soon as the sun sets. Spring is also a great season to visit, as the trails are spotted with wildflowers and fresh green foliage.
Winter is the least busy, but it also has the most limited activities. Campsites shut off water due to the freezing temperatures, and some trails are inaccessible due to snow and weather.
About the Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park covers over 160,000 acres around an active volcano (Lassen Peak/Kohm Yah-mah-nee). In fact, there are over twenty volcanoes in the park, including at least one of every type of volcano in the world. For reference, there are four types of volcanos in the world. Fun fact. It’s been over 100 years since Lassen Peak erupted though (1915), sooo…you’ll probably be fine. Plus, there are also other cool natural things like geysers, hot springs, and lakes!
And, like, animals and stuff. Bears included.
Another fun fact (I have a feeling this post will be full of them), the snowmelt from Lassen are a major part of the California State Water Project, which supplies 2/3 of California’s population with water and 750,000 acres of irrigation for farmland (plus another 25 million California outside of that area, give or take).
What about the People of the area?
Before there was Lassen Volcanic National Park, or even white settlers for that point, the Yana, Atsugewi, Maidu, and Yahi people lived in the Lassen area. Buuut then, of course, that was interrupted. The California Gold Rush of 1840 brought massive amounts of settlers to the west coast. Two particular men, William Nobles and Peter Lassen (who the park is named after), led settlers through an alternate route to California, one that passed through Lassen.
Peter Lassen encouraged settlement of the area and attempted to establish a new town. In 1864, the new miners brutally attacked the Yana Tribe in an overt extermination campaign. INTENTIONAL GENOCIDE. Their acts of cruelty, backed by federal protection, massacred nearly three thousand tribal members and forced the Yana people and other Tribes off of their land.
Lassen Volcanic National Park was officially established in 1916.
Fast Foward A Century
Members of these Tribes and bands still live in the area. Indigenous people ARE STILL HERE AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. The National Park Service partners with members for cultural demonstrations so that visitors are able to get a glimpse of both the historical and modern Indigenous culture around Lassen. In fact, the park’s first woman naturalist was Selena LaMarr (given name Boonookoo-eemenorra), a member of the Astugewi tribe. She worked at the park for twenty years, sharing her culture, experience, and knowledge.
LaMarr led Atsugewi traditional cultural programs and activities, including basket weaving demonstrations and acorn pounding, and quickly became one of the most popular activities in the park. Karr-ah-taht-menoo (Dessie) Snooks joined the program two years after.
Why are these programs and information vital? In 1988, Snooks told a Los Angeles Times reporter, “The old Indian ways of the Atsugewis are dying fast. That is why I give the programs about my people, a little-known Indian tribe, to help perpetuate what is still known about them before all is lost.”
The closest major city is Redding, California, which is only an hour away. San Francisco, the hub of NorCal, is a four-hour drive. Or you can hit it from Reno, Nevada or Sacramento which are both about two and a half hours away.
Wherever you start, you WILL need a car because there is currently no public transportation to the park. Though, there are a number of incredible campsites and RV hookups available for an overnight stay. The park hosts eight campgrounds, and while some are first-come, first-served, the campgrounds that do offer reservations – you will definitely want to reserve!
Each campsite has a grill, picnic table, fire ring, and a metal bear box for food storage. A dump station (fee) is located near Manzanita Lake. There are no hookups in the park.
Reservations are available through www.recreation.gov or by phone; reservations are required for group sites and stock corrals. Reservation fees range depending on which campsite you choose (more popular site -> more expensive), but are generally between $16-26 USD a night for single sites. Group campsites and cabins are more expensive.
My Favorite Campgrounds
|F||Flush toilets||S/L/S||Pay showers/laundry services nearby|
|V||Vault toilets||DS||Dump station|
|RV||RV sites available||A||Accessible sites available|
|R||Partly reservable||B||Boat launch|
|RR||Reservations required||N||No Reservations|
Manzanita Lake Campground is the most scenic campground in my opinion, which also makes it one of the busiest. Thankfully, you are able to reserve sites here, and it is highly recommended. Prices are $26 USD a night, $72 USD for group sites, or $76 – $101 for the cabins (you have to reserve cabins online). There are accessible campsites, as well as RV hookups. A, F, V, W, B, RV, S/L/S, DS, R
I also like Juniper Lake Campground (I’m a sucker for lakes apparently). It’s also considerably cheaper than Manzanita at $12 USD a night, and $32 USD for group sites. It’s also more spread out and less busy, which I like, but you can’t reserve sites. There are no flush toilets at the site though *cry emoji*. V, B
**You can also camp for free at Mud Lake Trailhead in the Lassen National Forest, which surrounds the National Park.
If you’re not really into the idea of camping-camping, you can stay at Drakesbad Guest Ranch. It is a rustic retreat that offers gourmet meals and lots of outdoor activities. The good news is that kids under 6 and under stay for free, and 7-14 stay at super-reduced rates. The other side is that the accommodations start at about $220 a night for single occupancy. The ranch operates June-October (usually, weather dependant), and you will want to make reservations in advance because they always book up!
- Campsites are limited to three tents, six people, and two vehicles (including RV or trailer) per site. Group sites are limited to between 10-25 people and six vehicles, or 1 RV or trailer.
- Quiet hours are from 10 pm to 6 am. Generators may be used only from 8 am to 10 am, 12 pm to 2 pm, and 5 pm to 7 pm.
- Senior and Access pass holders are entitled to a 50% discount on camping fees. Other passes including the Interagency and Military do not entitle holders to a discount. Learn more about park fees and passes here.
- You may gather downed, dead wood. Do not cut, saw, or break any standing trees, dead or alive. Wood brought into the park from outside of the local area may introduce invasive insects. The Camper Store and the Lassen Cafe and Gift sell bundled firewood.
- Showers and laundry machines take quarters; a change machine is located by the showers. Your quarters maintain the wastewater treatment system in the park and help return clean water to the park environment. Open late May through mid-October.
- Pets are welcome in park campgrounds, however, they must be attended and physically restrained on a leash not longer than 6 feet at all times.
Are Dogs Allowed?
Err…yes and no. Short answer, dogs are not allowed on the trails. So…no hiking with dogs. You CAN have your dog basically anywhere a car is allowed – so your campground, picnic areas, and on the shoulder of the road (which probably isn’t a very safe place to be anyway).
In my opinion, if you have the option, it might be better to leave the pooch at home.
In general, most National Parks, pets are not allowed on trails, restaurants or visitor centers, or wilderness areas. This is for their own protection, as well as that of the local wildlife and environment.
Where to Get Food
I’ll start out by saying if you are staying longer than a day, you should bring food.
There are only three locations within the park where food can be purchased. The first is at the Lassen Cafe, located inside the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. They serve a surprisingly healthy menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches (hot and cold). And, since it IS a cafe, they have a number of hot beverages (including espresso)! Oh, there’s also a microwave that is free to use!
The second spot is the only REAL restaurant at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch, and has a full dinner service, as well as buffet breakfasts and lunches. You can even order packed lunches to go! The restaurant sources local and sustainable ingredients.
The last place to grab food and snacks in the park is the Manzanita Lake Camper Store. It is more of a convenience store, but you can pick up ready-to-go meals, snacks, basic groceries (pasta, beans, bread, etc), and drinks.
The menu for all three places is found online here.
Things to Do
Now for the fun part, right?? Let’s jump into actually enjoying the beauty and excitement of the area!
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
First things first, stop by the visitor’s center! Although the Visitor Center is open year-round, they close for any bad weather or heavy snowfall. So if you visit during the winter season, you may be out of luck! However, between the months of May and October, you should be in the clear! There are restrooms and water bottle filling stations!
The hours are 9am-5pm and it offers more in-depth info on geology and volcanic history. You can also find out about ranger-led programs and activities for your duration of stay! The visitor center is named after the original name of Lassen Peak, Kohm Yah-mah-nee, given by the Indigenous Maidu people meaning “snow mountain.”
Here you can also find the Lassen Cafe and Gift Shop. Their hours are basically the same as the Visitor Center, though in the winter (October-May), they have limited hours 11am- 2pm.
The museum is a meet up spot for a lot of the summer ranger-led programs, a bookstore, and the Lassen Association Store (which is online too!). It also features a park film, original equipment used to document eruptions within the park, as well as traditional Atsugewi basketry (did they pay for that??). The museum is open May-November, 9am-5pm.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch
Now, back to the retreat. Even if you don’t stay overnight at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, you can still sign up for activities! There are the standard hiking trails, fishing, and swimming opportunities (the pool is heated by natural hot springs – not open for 2020). But, there are also activities like massages, horseback riding, and archery!
Free activities include horseshoes, badminton, volleyball, and basically any other casual summer-BBQ activity you can think of.
Annnnd of course, there’s hiking. That’s a very broad category, for any National Park, but especially for Lassen Volcanic. I mean, the PACIFIC CREST TRAIL passes through the park!! So, instead of just listing ALL of them (there are literally hundreds), I’ll just list my favorites depending on the vibe you are looking for. I’ll also list their milage (roundtrip) and an estimated time frame. And for all of these hikes, remember to bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen! Yessss, even you hikers of color! Y’all need UV protection too! If you are looking for sunscreen brands that won’t leave that unsightly white sheen on your skin, check out my post for sunscreen brands for darker skin tones!
- Manzanita Lake Loop (2 miles, 1hr): More of a walking trail than a hike, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. It’s also a great area for fishing and non-motorized sports (like kayaking) on the lake.
- Bumpass Hell (3 miles, 2hrs): Personally, my favorite hike. And I’m not just saying that because it’s short (though, that is one of the reasons). You came to Lassen to see some geothermal activity, right?? WELL HERE YOU GO! Although most of the path is paved/has a boardwalk, there are a few stairs so it can be more challenging in a wheelchair. Check out Sulfur Works for more accessible geothermal fun (though, that’s more just looking at bubbling pools of mud).
- Devastated Area Interpretive Trail (0.5 miles, 30min): Super super short, but pretty cool to see the aftermath of the 1916 volcano. If you go outside of summer, there’s a good chance of seeing snow on the ground.
- Ridge Lakes (2.5 miles, 2hrs): It’s short, but it will have you SWEATING! Thankfully, there is a beautiful lake waiting for you that you can swim in! It’s also usually not too busy and there are lots of wildflowers!
- Mill Creek Falls Trail (3.8 miles, 3-4hrs): It can be surprisingly challenging since the trail goes up and down a lot, but the waterfall at the end is so worth it. The hike is suitable for younger children, though it will add some time. However, if you want to leave the kids at the campsite, continue on to the harder trail to Crombaugh Lake for a longer loop!
- Terminal Geyser & Boiling Springs Lake (5.7 mile, 3.5hrs): It bit of a more challenging hike for geothermal experiences, but it’s still incredibly beautiful and interesting! No dogs allowed on this trail, but you will probably spot some wildlife on your hike.
- Cinder Cone Nature Trail (4 miles, 3hrs): yoooo, I did not expect such a short trail to be so hard!! Towards the end, you are basically just walking on sand and soft gravel. It’s killerrr, but also one of the most unique hikes you will ever do. Plus, at the end, you get a sweet view of colorful hills.
- Lassen Peak (5 miles, 3-5hrs): This hike is more on the challenging side, since it is switchback heaven with steep and rocky terrain, buuuut it isn’t THAT long. You’ll survive! The Lassen Peak trail has incredible views of the entire park. It’s iconic.
- Brokeoff Mountain Trail (7.6 miles, 4-6hrs): People just love hiking hills. I would say Lassen Peak trail is the iconic hike, but if you want the amazing views AND see Lassen Peak, do Brokeoff Mountain. It’s longer, but nothing beats the views with Lassen Peak in the background.
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Conclusion
So, what do you think? Are you ready to take a trip over to Lassen Volcanic National Park? What are some of your other favorite national parks in California?
14 thoughts on “Lassen Volcanic National Park: First-Timer’s Guide to this Hidden Gem”
I love visiting parks and volcanos, can’t believe I’ve never heard of this one, defiantly on the list now!
Yay!! Glad I could help you find a new travel destination!
Ahh, so much great info here! I meant to visit here a couple weeks ago but it was 109 degrees and a couple hours away + my car’s AC was broken so I decided it might be best not to chance it. :[ Hopefully next time (+ I’d love to go when there are more programs + activities available)!
Yeahhhhh … good call. Hahah. Next time though! Thank you for reading!
Wow – that post is pure gold. You’ve covered everything, thank you. I was particularly interested to learn about Indigenous history and experience in the area. I didn’t know anything about this park, and now I can’t wait to visit.
Omg yay!! I’m glad it helped spark an interest!
I have been dying to visit Lassen and this post has made me want to visit it even more! I have the National Parks pass this year so I figure I may as well utilize it! Bumpass Hell looks like my kind of hike! The Terminal Geyser and Boiling Springs Lake also sounds interesting as well.
YO SAME!!! I think I’ll hit up some of the parks in the mid-west this summer! Gotta make use of it somehow!
I have never been to Lassen National Park. I would love to hike in the geothermal areas. I always find them interesting, even if they smell of sulphur.
Definitely worth the smell!! They’re so cool!
This looks gorgeous! California has so much to see.. it could take a lifetime. Adding this much to my list when I next get a chance to visit Cali 🙂
Seriously! I go back at least twice a year and there’s always a new adventure to be had!
HI KAYYYYY!!! I’ve been wanting to visit here but just can’t convince myself to drag a toddler along for camping/hiking right now HA. Anyway, will save this for future reference! Thanks for all the details 🙂 I can’t find you on Instaaaa! Where’d you go?? Anyway, miss you and hope you are doing okay! xoxoxoxoxo -Jas
JASS!!!!!! AHHH ITS BEEN TOO LONG!! Yeah, I’m taking a break from IG but I’m glad you found my info on Lassen at least a tiny bit helpful! Miss you too friend!!