Summer has officially hit Northern California, which means we ceremoniously trade out our snowshoes and hard-shelled jackets for swim shorts and hiking boots.
One of the best places to visit in Northern California during the summer months is Lassen Volcanic National Park, with amazing hikes, picturesque lakes and fascinating hydrothermal activity.
There’s so much to do in Lassen, it can be overwhelming. So we’ve put together our 10 favorite summer activities in the park:
10. Fish Hat Creek
Talking about fishing Hat Creek as if it were one, homogeneous fishery is like saying all California anglers are the same. It just ain’t so. Hat Creek is an iconic fishing stream named long ago in a hailstorm of profanity.
It first sees daylight when it gushes out of the volcanic earth in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It leaves the park a diminutive spring creek holding small, wild trout before merging with other subterranean waters at Big Springs near Old Station. There it begins taking on the characteristics of the fine trout stream that it is.
9. Go Stargazing
Lassen is one of the best locations in NorCal to get away from streetlights and see some amazing astronomy. With the elevation and location away from modern lights, Lassen is like a real life planetarium.
The best way to stargaze at Lassen is probably the annual Dark Sky Festival where you can learn from park rangers and NASA employees. With your own equipment and some research, you can see meteor showers or full moons. You can even hike to the top of Lassen Peak during the full moon!
Learn about Lassen astronomy and the Dark Sky Festival here:
8. Explore a Cave
Exploring a cave at Lassen is great way to escape from the summer heat. Probably the most popular cave is the Subway Cave, which has been made accessible to the public through a set of stairs. It’s an easy hike and a great experience for the family.
Another cave to explore is the Jot Dean Cave. Jot Dean Ice Cave is certainly not the only cave in the area, simply the most well-marked, easiest to find, and one of the more dramatic in this specific area. The cave is not particularly deep, and can be explored in a short time if people want to err on the side of caution, which is recommended for families. There also seems to be two levels as you go farther in.
Several hundred thousand years ago, ancient stratovolcano Mt. Tehama blew forming Brokeoff Mountain. Experts suggest Tehama’s explosion matched the destructive proportions of Mt. Saint Helens’ 1980 eruption. Erosion from melting glaciers and volcanic activity has left Brokeoff with a steep north face that appears to have ‘broken off’ from another formation, hence its name.
Lassen Peak hogs a lot of the attention centered on Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, visitors to the area ought not overlook Brokeoff. Sitting only about four miles from Lassen Peak, 9,235-foot Brokeoff Mountain provides hikers with a slightly more challenging 6.8-mile haul.
A panoramic view from Brokeoff Mountain’s peak provides incredible views of the Coast Range to the west, Mt. Shasta and more notably, Lassen Peak. Be sure to bring cold weather gear as the summit can be quite chilly at times.
6. Go Camping
Between eight different campgrounds in the park, there are almost 500 campsites available for any kind of experience you want to have. Some have flush toilets and others vault toilets. Others have pay showers and laundry facilities close by. The entire park is gorgeous, but more than most other campground offerings, Lassen has elevation. The campgrounds are found between 5,700 and 6,800 feet, meaning they open later than others in the area. When camping anywhere in the park, be prepared for chilly conditions after the sun goes down. Many campers have been unprepared for 30-degree nighttime weather during the summer.
Butte Lake Campground is located six miles south of highway 44 at the end of the Butte Lake road. This remote campground offers a few amenities, but numerous recreation opportunities. Enjoy a hike up Cinder Cone, a dip in Bathtub Lake or a paddle along Butte Lake’s lava rock shores.
The Juniper Lake Campground is located on the east shore of Juniper Lake via a 13-mile paved/gravel road. From the town of Chester on Highway 36 East, look for signs to Drakesbad and Juniper Lake. At the Chester Fire Station, turn onto Feather River Drive. After about a half mile, bear right and follow signs to Juniper Lake. The last 6 miles is rough dirt road not suitable for buses, motor homes, or trailers.
Manzanita Lake Campground is located one mile east of the Manzanita Lake Entrance. This popular campground is ideal for families, RVs and trailers. Located adjacent to Manzanita Lake, campers can enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, and hiking.
The Summit Lake Campground is located 12 miles south of Manzanita Lake, 17.5 miles north of Southwest Entrance. The campground is comprised of a North and South section, each with access to the lake. Hikers and backpackers should begin the Cluster Lake loop trail from the Summit Lake Ranger Station trailhead parking lot.
The Southwest campground is located on the east side of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center parking area. A short walk along a paved walkway provides easy access to each site. The Mill Creek trail begins from the north side of the campground. Additional areas nearby include the Brokeoff Mountain trailhead, Ridge Lakes trailhead and Sulphur Works hydrothermal area.
The campground is located one mile north of Warner Valley Ranger Station via gravel road, and 17 miles north of Chester. Not recommended for trailers. Numerous trailheads are located nearby including: Terminal Geyser, Boiling Springs Lake, Drake Lake, and Devil’s Kitchen. Nearby Drakesbad Guest Ranch offers dining, horseback riding, massage, and thermal pool swimming. Call ahead for reservations.
Butte Lake Campground is located six miles south of highway 44 at the end of the Butte Lake road. This remote campground offers few amenities, but numerous recreation opportunities. Enjoy a hike up Cinder Cone, a dip in Bathtub Lake or a paddle along Butte Lake’s lava rock shores. Group campsites are located in the north end of loop B.
Lost Creek Campground is five miles south of Manzanita Lake on the main park road. The campground offers easy access to the Lost Creek and Devastated Areas, in addition to Crags and Manzanita Lake.
For more information on campsites, or to book one, click here.
The trail to Kings Creek Falls in Lassen Volcanic National Park probably sees more hikers than any other route in the park during the warmer months. A 3-miles roundtrip walk on the path includes jaunts through peaceful woods, a stroll around wildflower-speckled Kings Creek Meadow and the main attraction, tranquil Kings Creek Falls. For a short hike, it offers a lot of different scenery. If you’re a novice hiker or just getting to know Lassen, you should head to the Kings Creek Falls trailhead.
It’s been a hundred years since Lassen Peak’s last eruption, but evidence of its violent volcanic potential still pervades Lassen Volcanic National Park. Areas like Bumpass Hell (shown below), Sulphur Works and Devil’s Kitchen hold true to their namesakes, and give visitors a glimpse of the largely hidden hydrothermal workings at Lassen.
The remarkable hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park include roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. Water from rain and snow that falls on the highlands of the park feed the hydrothermal system. Once deep underground, the water is heated by a body of hot or molten rock beneath Lassen Peak. Rising hot water boils to form boiling pools and mud pots. Super-heated steam reaches the surface through fractures in the earth to form fumaroles such as those found at Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works. These features are related to active volcanism and are indications of the ongoing potential for further eruptions from the Lassen “volcanic center.”
There are over 8 different hydrothermal areas in Lassen. Learn all about the hydrothermal areas here.
Lassen Volcanic National Park can be accurately described as both a geologist’s wonderland and an adventurer’s paradise. The hike to Cinder Cone combines both characterizations. A notable geological feature, the 700-foot Cinder cone was formed from scoria or gas-charged lava rocketed into the sky during a volcanic eruption. The Fantastic Lava Beds as well as the Painted Dunes, which flank Cinder Cone, also serve as a reminder of the volcanic origins of the area.
After a gentle hike for the first mile or so at the beginning of the trail, prepare for the strenuous climb to the top of the cone. As you climb, be on the lookout for views of Lassen Peak, Chaos Crags, Prospect Peak, Snag Lake, the Fantastic Lava Beds and the Painted Dunes. At the top of the cone, you have the option of traversing down into the cone’s crater (highly recommended). Cinder Cone is a must-hike for frequenters of Lassen or those with an interest in our region’s geology.
Lassen first showed signs of coming to life on May 30th, 1914 with steam explosions near the summit. These continued for almost a year, more than 180 releases in all, expanding the summit crater by 1,000 feet. On the evening of May 15th, 1915, the first lava was sighted spilling down the flanks of the volcano and filling in the summit crater. A few days later on May 19th another explosion created a new summit crater. There was still 30 feet of snow at the summit, and the hot rocks created a half-mile-wide avalanche that spilled down the side of the volcano and into Hat Creek four miles away.
As the snow in the avalanche melted it mixed with volcanic materials to form a mudflow called a lahar. This then raced down Lost Creek canyon for another seven miles. Hat Creek Valley was flooded with muddy water on May 20th, which damaged several ranches in the Old Station area. Floodwaters headed down Hat Creek to the Pit River, over 30 miles, and witnesses claimed the muddy waters killed many fish. Of course, there were salmon and steelhead in all these waters back then. More lava spilled from the summit on the 19th and 20th reaching down the mountainous flank another 1,000 feet.
The next powerful explosion happened around 4:00pm on May 22nd blowing rocks high into the air above the summit. Shortly thereafter a column of volcanic ash and gas rose some 30,000 feet above the mountain, which was visible from 150 miles away. A pyroclastic flow, an angry burst of hot gas and rock blasted down Lassen’s flank at up to 450 miles per hour and 1,000 degrees clearing three square miles of virtually everything in its path.
It’s hard to beat the experience you get when you’re standing at the summit of a significant mountain, especially when it’s an active volcano. The hike to the top of Lassen Peak is not a strenuous as one might think and you will experience amazing views of Lassen Volcanic National Park and NorCal.
This hike is much easier than the hike to Shasta Bally and Mount Shasta. It can be fun hike for the family and can be a great hike at night during a full moon.
Here is all the hike info:
Start: Lassen Peak parking area
Round Trip Distance: 5 miles
Round Trip Time: 3-5 hours
Terrain: steep 2000 foot elevation gain
Elevation: 8500 feet at trailhead, 10,457 feet at summit
What’s are you going to do in your summer trip to Lassen? Let us know in the comments!
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine