Lassen National Volcanic Park

Photo Credit: Jim Broshears

by Jim Broshears

Lassen National Park is one of the best kept secrets in the National Park system. It may be hard to call a place that has over 400,000 visitors a year a secret but compared to Yosemite’s 2.5 million and the 9.4 million visitors to Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the numbers are relatively small.

Lassen Peak and the associated thermal activity are the main attractions. At 10’457 feet Lassen Peak is part of a shell of the remains from Mt Tehama, a Stratovolcano that was over 1000 feet taller than Lassen and 10-15 miles across at the base.

The park has numerous hydrothermal areas and is one of the few locations in the world that feature the four different types of volcanos; Shield, Cinder Cone, Plug Dome and Composite.

But Lassen Park is much more than the volcanic geology that prompted its establishment in 1916. There are lakes and streams, trails and mountains, waterfalls and wildlife. My wife and I have spent the past twenty years exploring the 150 miles of trails and the various wonders that they provide. We have backpacked, camped, hiked, fished and photographed Lassen from every corner and still have places yet to visit. My first backpacking trip at age 15 was to Upper and Lower Twin Lakes in the middle of the park and my navigational misadventures are chronicled in two stories called “How Lost Am I” and How Lost Am I Part II,” I will post for you soon.

Most visitors to the park only travel the main park road, which is also Highway 89. That means that the backcountry and other access points are generally uncrowded. Even if you just drive the main road it is worth the trip with features like the Sulfur Works hydrothermal area, Lassen Peak; Helen, Summit and Manzanita Lakes, Kings Creek Meadows and Hat Creek, Chaos Jumbles all accessible along the way. During the winter months the main park road is closed to vehicles due to snow but the area still open to hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and snow-play.

For the slightly more adventurous, the gravel and cinder roads will get you to Butte Lake, Juniper Lake or the Warner Valley, each with their own special features and attractions.

It is hard to describe everything that you can see and do in the park in a short article so I am going to provide a list of my favorites places with brief descriptions and listed by access points

Mt. Brokeoff – This hike is one of my favorites but also one of the more challenging. The 7.5 mile round trip offers incredible views of Mt Lassen and with a 360 degree view of Northern California. In recent years we have climbed it in winter in snowshoes.

I would not advise this for beginners as some navigation and special skills may be required. For those capable of the trip it is worth the effort. See “Peak Bagging in Winter – Mt. Brokeoff” for more details.

Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center – The visitor center is located near the southwest entrance. This accessible center features exhibits, an amphitheater, auditorium, cafe and gift shop, educational bookstore, dining area, and summer patio. Rangers offer summer programs. They also offer Ranger led snowshoe trips in winter.

Sulfur Works – This is a highly accessible hydrothermal area with active mud pots and steam vents. There is a wheelchair accessible interpretive path.

Bumpass Hell – This is a 3 mile round trip hike to a small valley of hydrothermal activity. Lots of mudpots, fumeroles and steam vents. Walkways provide up close views but stay on the paths to avoid serious burns.

Lake Helen – Stop and take in the views of Mt Lassen over the deep blue waters!

Lassen Peak – The parking lot at the trailhead of the Lassen Peak Trail can be one of the busiest places in the park during the summer months. That is because the climb is one of the most accommodating opportunities to bag a 10,000 feet mountain in the entire country. I’m not saying it’s easy and due to a tragic death on the trail it is only open on scheduled Ranger led hike dates. It about 5 miles round trip with an over 2000 feet elevation gain and falls into the difficult category. This year there are 6 hikes scheduled with dates listed on the park website.

Kings Creek Meadows – Lush meadows and Mt Lassen views with spectacular seasonal wildflower displays. Or take the 3 miles round trip hike to the cascading Kings Creek Falls.

Hat Creek – Another beautiful creek and meadow with a beaver pond and Mt Lassen views. On the road between Hat Creek Falls and Manzanita Lake the Devastated Area is also worth a look.

Manzanita Lake – Take the easy 1.8 mile walk around the lake or even easier Lily Pond interpretive trail. This area also offers the Loomis Museum, a campground and some recently added cabins. Reflection Lake is a must for photographers with amazing reflected views of Mt Lassen and Chaos Crags. This area is one of the most photogenic in the park.

This is also a great place for beginners to snowshoe with spectacular winter views and relatively flat terrain.

Just a few miles away outside the park is the Eskimo Hill Winter Play Area. I have fond memories of tubing down the hill with my friends back in the 60′s. Today it is still a family favorite for sleds, toboggans and tubes.

Warner Valley 
Drakesbad – Visitors can enjoy overnight accommodations in the ranch’s historic lodge, cabins, and bungalows; gourmet meals; and soaks in the hydrothermal spring fed pool. Guests can choose from a variety of activities including horseback riding, hiking, swimming, fishing, enjoying a massage, or just relaxing. Evening is a perfect time for a good book, fun games, or a quiet conversation around the fireplace or campfire. An overnight stay is not required to visit Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Day visitors are invited to enjoy horseback riding, massage, and dining. Reservations are required and may need to be placed far in advance.

Devils Kitchen – This 4.4 mile round trip hike offers another variation of the Hydrothermal theme. This is the second largest area in the park offering mud pots, steam vents and boiling springs.

Butte Lake
Cider Cone
 – This 4 mile RT hike offers access to some the most interesting rock features in the park. Cinder Cone is 800′ high and offers views of Lassen, Mt Harkness, Butte Lake, the Fantastic Lava Beds and the Painted Dunes. This hike is moderate too difficult with loose sandy soil and a 900′ elevation gain from the start of the trail.

Butte Lake to Snag Lake – This 14 mile loop could be a long day hike but I would advise it as a two day trip. I would call it moderate to difficult depending on the direction you go. The loop offers lakes, Cinder Cone, the Painted Dunes and the Fantastic Lava bed along the way There are some great campsites on both sides of the lake although the west side of the lake was severely altered by a fire a few years ago.

Bathtub Lakes – This short and relatively easy hike gets you to a great little swimming lake that warms up nicely for a mid-summer dip.

Juniper Lake 
Mt Harkness – Always a favorite hike, this can be a an incredible trip if you time the Lupine bloom just right. The trail winds its way up the side of Mt Harkness through a carpet of blue. The destination does not disappoint either. Visit the fire lookout when staffed and get a tour or just enjoy the panoramic view of Lassen and Lake Almanor and on a good day, Three Sisters in central Oregon. The 3.8 mile round trip is moderate to difficult primarily due to the elevation starting out at 7200′ and topping out over 8,000′.

Crystal Lake – My favorite short hike in the park is Crystal Lake. At .8 round trip miles with a 380 foot elevation gain, the rewards far exceed the effort. A small jewel of a lake perched above Juniper Lake with views and great rocks for picnics and napping and on a hot day, swimming.

This has been a very short description of what is available at Lassen Park. In future posts I will provide more detailed info about individual hikes or areas. For now my advice is, visit the park, you won’t be disappointed.

For more information on the park go to

Jim Broshears was born and raised in Northern California and has enjoyed the great outdoors in the State of Jefferson for over 50 years. Jim worked as a firefighter for 35 years and currently owns and manages Trailhead Adventures, an outdoor outfitter store in Paradise CA. Helping others enjoy the beauty of our amazing area is his passion. Jim co-manages a blog, that is dedicated to providing information about hiking and backpacking gear, local adventures and tips on outdoor safety and survival.