Nestled in northeastern California and surrounded by Lassen National Forest, Lassen Volcanic was originally designated as two separate national monuments – Cinder Cone National Monument and Lassen Peak National Monument. On August 9, 1916, however, the monuments were combined to form the 106,000-acre park that visitors adore today.
The park’s namesake summit, Lassen Peak, is also a dominant feature in the park. Reaching 10,456 feet in elevation, Lassen Peak is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range and one of the largest lava domes on Earth. On May 22, 1915, Lassen Peak erupted, sending volcanic ash as far as 200 miles to the east in one of the most powerful eruptions in the 20th century. The 30,000-foot-high volcanic blast initiated a 12-mile-long mudflow that completely reshaped the landscape. Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is often considered California’s best-kept secret, was established to preserve the devastated area and its important volcanic features.
Lassen Peak reflected in Manzanita Lake
This lively landscape is also part of the “Ring of Fire” – a worldwide circle of active and impressive volcanoes that surround the Pacific Ocean and boasts a healthy variety of hydrothermal features including remarkable steam and volcanic-gas vents, bubbling mud pots, and boiling pools. Within the park boundaries visitors can experience four categories of volcanoes – shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome volcanoes.
The Lassen dome field contains 30 dacitic lava domes including Bumpass Mountain, Mount Helen, Ski Heil Peak, and Reading Peak. Nearby, impressive lava domes like Chaos Crags, Eagle Peak, and Vulcans Castle dominate the landscape. Shield volcanoes include the Prospect Peak and West Prospect Peak, while three infamous cones lie beside Lassen Peak – Cinder Cone, Hat Mountain, and Raker Peak.
Though the park’s most recent history is dominated by volcanic activity, glaciation is also an important part of the park’s geological history. Though no glaciers can be found within the park boundaries today, glacial moraines, U-shaped valleys, and enlarged lake basins point to expansive periods of glaciation. Crystal-clear glacial lakes, like Lake Helen, depict the interesting dichotomy between the park’s active geothermal features and alpine-like landscape.
Despite being one of the least-visited National Parks in the country, Lassen Volcanic is visited by over 400,000 people each year. Most visitors travel to the park to hike, backpack, or experience the park’s geothermal features. Surprisingly, despite the summit’s modest elevation, Lassen Peak also receives record snowfall each year and is an excellent winter recreation destination. The summit receives an average of 600 inches of snow each year and unbeknownst to most visitors, the park offers ideal conditions for skiing and snowshoeing.
Lassen Peak remains an active volcano and is monitored continuously for physical and chemical changes. Geothermal activity varies based on the season and can be observed at Bumpass Hell, Little Hot Springs Valley, Pilot Pinnacle, Sulphur Works, Devils Kitchen, Boiling Springs Lake, and Terminal Geyser.
Bumpass Hell is where visitors go to experience the largest hydrothermal area in the park. Bumpass Hell is also home to Big Boiler, the largest fumarole in the park and one of the hottest fumaroles in the world. The 3 mile Bumpass Hell trail takes hikers safely through acres of boiling springs, mud pots, steam vents, and impressive fumaroles. Along the way, a short spur trail leads to a sweeping panorama of surrounding summits and the remnants of Mount Tehama, a volcano that exploded more than 500,000 years ago.
Hike to the top of the park’s impressive namesake summit, Lassen Peak for incredible vistas of the surrounding terrain. This popular 2.5-mile (each way) trail is said to offer one of the very best views of the devastated area from the volcanic eruption in 1915. The trail climbs 2,000 feet to the summit and hikers should expect to be greeted by the lovely scent of rotten eggs from Lassen’s active geothermal features.
The Painted Dunes are arguably the most breathtaking and unique attractions in the park. These colorful pumice fields are the result of falling volcanic ash that has been oxidized. The dunes, along with Fantastic Lava Beds, sit near Cinder Cone, a 700-foot cinder cone volcano. The hiking trail to the top of Cinder Cone is an excellent option for admiring the surrounding landscape and the Painted Dunes can be found along the southeast face of the cone.
For a scenic view one can hike Mount Harkness in the southern part of the park. It is a shield volcano with an old fire lookout tower at the summit. The trailhead is located at the end of the road from Chester by Juniper Lake.
Nestled at the base of a glacially carved valley, Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Warner Valley offers visitors a rustic retreat within Lassen Volcanic National Park. The ranch, which includes a historic lodge, cabins, and bungalows, is the only lodging option within the park boundaries. Guests of the lodge appreciate the proximity to a variety of activities including hiking, swimming, fishing, and horseback riding. The lodge, which lacks Wi-Fi and cell phone service, is also the perfect place to disconnect from electronics and reconnect with nature.
Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins are popular cabins that sit within walking distance from Manzanita Lake, a popular fishing destination, and offer stunning views of Lassen Peak. The cabins are rustic and lack modern amenities, making them ideal for adventurers looking for tranquility. Just a mile south of the park entrance, the Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins provide visitors easy access to hiking trails and attractions in the park. The cabins only operate in the summer and are very popular, so it’s important to book in advance.
Unlike the other two accommodations listed, Highlands Ranch Resort is a newly built, elegant resort that offers modern amenities and facilities. The resort sits at the southwest gateway to Lassen Volcanic National Park on Childs Meadow, offering idyllic views of the surrounding landscape. In addition to modern amenities, the resort is home to a full bar and American Bistro restaurant, so you won’t have to go far to grab a bite to eat.