Though one of the oldest national parks in the U. S., Lassen Volcanic National Park isn’t as well-known as its Californian sister, Yosemite National Park, only welcoming 507,256 visitors last year compared to Yosemite’s over four million.
Unlike Yosemite, there were no crowds at the entrance gate, in the parking lots, or on the trails.
Lassen is unmatched in the park system because it contains nearly every kind of volcanic feature known.
Established in 1916, the park is one of the only places in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes—cinder cone, composite, shield, and plug dome.
Eruptions have rocked the region for more than 2 million years, but the spectacular landscape visitors see today began to form 100 years ago when a 30,000-foot-high volcanic blast unleashed a 12-mile-long mud flow that mowed down forests and reshaped the land.
Lassen Peak is a plug dome volcano that last erupted in 1917, and is considered to be the most likely volcano in the Cascade Range to erupt within the next 100 years. Plenty of hydro- and geothermal activity is still found in the park today, along with abundant recreational activities. No matter where you explore in the park, be sure to stay safe and stay on the paths.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Be forewarned, however—if visiting from late fall to early spring, heavy snowfall can close roads, so be sure and check the park’s website for up-to-date travel information.
Also note that the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1 through October 30, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, October 31 through March 31.
When visiting Lassen Peak, first get your bearings. Before diving right in, stop by the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center to make the most of your time in the park. A 20-minute film provides a terrific overview of the park’s history and geology, and park rangers are on hand to help you best plan your time.
More of the park’s history can be found at the Loomis Museum, next to Manzanita Lake. Here you’ll find an exhibit of photos by B.F. Loomis, who documented the most recent eruption of Lassen Peak, 100 years ago. The museum is open seasonally, from late-May through late-October.
Discover glacial-fed lakes. Manzanita Lake is perhaps one of the most picturesque lakes in all of California, with its clear water reflecting the blue sky overhead, surrounded by conifer trees and views of snow-capped Lassen Peak.
The primitive camping cabins and camp sites along Manzanita Lake book out a solid six months in advance, so if you want to stay the night, plan well ahead. Kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddling are popular boating activities on Manzanita Lake, as well as on Butte, Juniper, and Summit lakes, but boating is not allowed on Reflection, Emerald, Helen, and Boiling Springs lakes.
Fishing is also popular on the park’s lakes; be sure to check in with a park ranger for California fishing regulations before casting a line.
Though its geo- and hydrothermal features may be the main attraction at Lassen Volcanic National Park, there is even more to see. Take for instance the calm of Kings Creek Meadows at the foot of Lassen Creek, or the Painted Dunes, which can be seen when hiking Cinder Cone.
Kick back on the ranch. Built in 1900, Drakesbad Guest Ranch is in a very remote part of the park, at the end of a dirt road, and has no Internet or phones. Open June through October (the ranch is snowed-in in wintertime), the ranch offers a handful of horseback rides, depending on ability, to some of the park’s geothermal features, and its hot springs pool is a terrific place to soak away the cares of the world, focusing instead on the natural beauty that surrounds you.
When the sun goes down, half the park appears after dark. Lassen Volcanic National Park is removed from most light pollution, so the stars look even brighter when they come out.
Park rangers offer Starry Night and astronomy programs, or make plans to attend the Lassen Dark Sky Festival (August 3-4, 2018) for more nighttime viewing.
For more on Lassen Volcanic National Park, and to help with trip planning, download the free Chimani app to your smart phone to easily navigate your way around the park, with or without cell phone service, which can be spotty.
Miles of its flanks are reeking and bubbling with hot springs, many of them so boisterous and sulphurous they seem ever ready to become spouting geysers…
—John Muir, Mountains of California (1894)