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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Updated on December 11, 2015
Kings Creek Waterfall
Kings Creek Waterfall

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the lesser known national parks in the U.S. When I told my backpacking friends I was going there, they all asked where it was. Well it's in northeastern California. To get there we flew into Sacramento, rented a car, and headed north on Interstate 5. Be sure to fill up your gas tank before you leave the interstate. Gasoline is available at the park, but it costs considerably more.

The park has numerous volcanic features, including fumeroles and mud pots. About the only thing it lacks is a geyser.

Lassen Peak

The dominant feature in the park is Lassen Peak. It is the southernmost peak of the Cascade range, which stretches northward to Canada. Until the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, it was the site of the most recent volcanic eruption in the lower 48 states. There were eruptions between 1914 and 1917, with the strongest in 1915. Portions of the park had been declared national monuments by President Teddy Roosevelt, but after the eruption Lassen Volcanic National Park was created in 1916.

You can hike up to the peak. It's a strenuous five mile hike and it took us five hours. The trail starts at around 8,500 feet and the peak is almost two thousand feet higher. There was some snow on the trail when we visited in late July. If you hike to the peak, be sure to take along food and water. Sunscreen and sunglasses are highly recommended. Sunlight is more intense at high altitudes. At the top of the peak there was some vegetation that was roped off to protect it. From the peak you can see some of the parks other features.

Lassen Peak
Lassen Peak

Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell is named after an early settler who who burned his leg while visiting the area. Be sure to stay on the boardwalk so that you don't suffer a similar injury. In some places off the trail there is steam just under the surface and you make break through the upper crust and get burned. Some of the pools in Bumpass Hell are a beautiful turquoise color. The trail is flat, easy and about 3 miles round trip.

The Bumpass Hell Trail normally opens on July 1, weather permitting. We visited in 2005 and it opened about three weeks later than normal. A late snowstorm dumped about a foot of snow in June.

Stay on the boardwalk when visiting Bumpass Hell
Stay on the boardwalk when visiting Bumpass Hell

Cinder Cone

Cinder Cone is very interesting. We passed by it while doing a five day backpack trip, but it can also be reached by a four mile round trip hiking trail from a parking area. The hike is fairly easy until you get to Cinder Cone. There the trail goes up at a steep angle and you are walking on loose volcanic material. Once you get to the top there is an excellent view of Lassen Peak. There is also a trail that goes down into the crater.

Because of the lack of vegetation around it, you might think that Cinder Cone was formed by a relatively recent eruption. In 1875 an amateur scientist named H.W. Harkness estimated it erupted about 25 years earlier. After the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, the U.S. Geological Survey began examining other volcanoes to see if they posed a threat. During this work they found trees that had been killed by Cinder Cone's eruption. Carbon-14 dating placed the eruption in the 1630 - 1670 range,

Cinder Cone
Cinder Cone

The Backcountry

The backcountry in Lassen is excellent for backpacking. The terrain isn't too tough, and there are plenty of lakes, so water isn't a problem. There were numerous deer, like the buck below on the edge of Snag Lake, and they didn't seem afraid of people. They told us when we entered the park that mountain lions had been spotted in the park recently, but we didn't see any. Here is the 5 day loop that we took (Click here for a map):

  1. Summit Lake to Rainbow Lake
  2. Rainbow Lake to Butte Lake
  3. Butte Lake to Snag Lake
  4. Snag Lake to Swan Lake
  5. Swan Lake to Summit Lake

Note that each day we camped by a lake. This made getting water for cooking and canteens easy.

Deer along the shore of Snag Lake
Deer along the shore of Snag Lake

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