Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park: California’s Forgotten National Park

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When you think about national parks in Northern California, what are the first ones that pop in your head? Yosemite, Sequoia, and Redwoods. Perhaps, a few of you thought of Lassen Volcanic National Park. And, that’s fair. If it were not for a wilderness medicine weekend while I was at Travis Air Force Base, I would not have even known it existed. But, let me tell you California’s forgotten national park is one you will never forget if you take the time to visit it.

Where is Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park found in a secluded, sparsely populated area in the mountains of Northern California is home to boiling hot-springs, beautiful waterfalls,  wildflower-filled meadows, and even volcanoes. Believe it or not, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all four types of volcanoes found in the world. They are the shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite volcanoes. Think about how cool of an Instagram photo you could get from the top of a volcano! That can happen at Lassen, California’s forgotten national park.

Getting There

plane

The closest airports to Lassen Volcanic National Park are Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) and Sacramento International Airport (SMF ) 154 miles and 185 miles, respectively, by car to Lassen National Park. 

Car

Lassen Volcanic National Park is located approximately three hours northeast of Sacramento and accessible via Hwy 44 (to the north) or Hwy 36 to the South. It is essential to know that there is no public transportation to the park at this time. Gas stations are limited in the remote area surrounding the park, so make sure to fill up in a neighboring town such as Redding, Red Bluff, Shingletown, or Susanville before arriving at the park. There is one gas station located in the park.

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Where to Stay Near Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you’re planning to stay inside the park, campsites and cabins are your only option. Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins and Drakesbad Guest Ranch are both located within the park. Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins are available between mid-May through October, and Drakesbad Guest Ranch is open early June through early October. It is strongly encouraged that you make a reservation.

If you want to stay outside of the park, there are numerous lodges and hotels available. Pricing varies on the season. Some of the top-rated lodging near Lassen Volcanic National Park includes The Highlands Ranch Resort, Best Western Rose Quartz Inn, and The Bidwell House.

Fees

Like all national parks, you do have to pay a fee. The entrance fee is $30.00 and covers all passengers in a single non-commercial vehicle for up to seven days. If you are visiting during wintertime, you can get a nice discount, as the fee per vehicle is only $10.00. You can enter with a winter pass between December 1st – April 15th. 

If you are visiting the park by motorcycle, which is on my bucket list, it is $25.00 and valid for seven days as well. Lastly, if you are entering by foot or bike, I hope you filled up your Camelback before your arrival, and your seven-day entrance fee is $15.00. 

Like all national parks, current U.S. military members, as well as Reserve and National Guard members and their dependents get free admission. Thank you for your service! 

Best time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park tends to only have two seasons: winter or summer. Winter conditions extend from November to May. Summer conditions last from June to October. The best time to visit the park is from Mid-June through October.  Believe it or not, snow can be present even into August, which is when we visited.

Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Peak 

Lassen Peak Summit Panorama

Lassen Volcanic National Park has numerous fantastic hiking trails. However, Lassen Peak, the most massive plug dome volcano in the world, is undoubtedly the most famous. It stands a remarkable 10,457 ft high and is also known as Mount Lassen. Mount Lassen is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range.  And guess what? You can climb it!

Few things are as badass as climbing an active volcano. Lassen Peak last erupted from 1914-1917. So, hopefully, it won’t explode while you are climbing it. But, that sure would be an epic Instagram!

The hike is strenuous but certainly doable, so be sure to bring plenty of water. You may smell a rotten-egg smell on the ascent, which may be your body odor, but is more likely hydrogen sulfide lingering from the active volcano. 

It is a 5 mile round trip with a steep 2,000-foot elevation gain to reach the summit at 10,457 feet. At the summit, you will be greeted with absolutely breathtaking panoramic views of Lassen Volcanic National Park and probably some snow. Enjoy a snowball fight in August as we did. Also, we do not recommend drinking alcohol while hiking, but a nice swig of Maker’s 46 hits the spot. 

Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell or “hell” is a hell you want to visit. It is the largest hydrothermal area in the park. The acidic waters are hot, so we do not recommend skinny dipping. The temperature has measured as high as 322 degrees Fahrenheit. The hike is an easy 3 mile round trip on a trail as well as a newly renovated boardwalk. You will easily be able to find hell if you follow the smell.  Hike the trail at night as we did, and enjoy excellent stargazing and taking in the sounds of the belching mud pots and bubbling pools. But, make sure to stay on the trail, so you don’t “bump your ass.”

Bumpass Hell Image from NPS

Manzanita Lake

Manzanita lake is the center hub of tourist activity in Lassen National Park. The lake is one of the most photographed lakes in Lassen. And it is for a good reason! There are plenty of activities to do at the lake, including kayaking, swimming, cabin rentals, camp store, fishing, and hiking. It is a perfect place to bring your kids!

The Manzanita Lake Trail is a 1.5-mile simple hike that circles that lake. The trail wanders along the shoreline, allowing you to observe numerous waterfowl, beavers, and occasionally a mountain lion.

Mill Creek Falls

Mill Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall located in Lassen Volcanic National Park, dropping 75 feet. You can reach the falls by hiking on the trail behind the amphitheater. You will traverse through rugged forests and fields of wildflowers on the 3.8-mile round trip to the falls.

Kings Creek Falls

Kings Creek Falls is a majestic 40-foot waterfall located in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The hike is a 2.3 mile round trip through a pine forest, a meadow, with 700 feet of elevation gain. The views of the falls are supposed to be fantastic. Unfortunately, the trail was closed when we visited. Be sure to check this hike out when you go to Lassen!

Stargazing in Lassen Volcanic National Park

The stars in Lassen were breathtaking. Few times in my life have I experienced the grand vastness of the Milky Way as I have at Lassen. Catch the stars twinkling over Manzanita Lake or while huffing some rotten eggs while in hell. Regardless, you won’t forget it. Bring your camera and a sturdy tripod (which I, unfortunately, did not have) to get that perfect shot of the Milky Way.  Lassen even has an annual Dark Sky Festival to wet your astronomy whistle further.

Biking Lassen Park Highway

Unfortunately, when I visited Lassen, I did not have my bike. But, Lassen National Park permits bicycling on established public roads such as the park’s 30-mile highway. The highway is narrow, winding, and full of sharp turns, so be careful and watch out for cars.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park, located in Northern California, is a can’t miss the national park. Few places exist where you can climb to the summit of an active volcano. Take a trip to hell—Stargaze upon the milky way. Bike the highway. And, potentially get eaten by a mountain lion while hiking along the beautiful Manzanita Lake Trail. We hope that you will never forget California’s Forgotten National Park.

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Alex Schloe

I’m an Air Force Physician stationed in Florida. I'm passionate about travel, photography, wilderness medicine, books, coffee, and Washington Nationals baseball. I’m thrilled to share those passions with you. Favorite Destination: Machu Picchu

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