In an annual celebration of the passage between winter and summer season in Lassen Volcanic National Park, park officials spend their spring days conducting the massive operation of removing the snow from the park’s highway in preparation for summer operations. And for a few different reasons, this year was much different.
First and foremost, the park remains closed to the public due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. There hasn’t been any indication if they have imminent reopening plans, despite select other National Parks opening around the United States and Yosemite gearing up for an early-June reopening.
To make things weirder, the park finished the snow clearing operation on April 30th, which would have been the earliest the road has opened in 40 years. To put that in perspective, the road clearing process in 2019 wasn’t finished until June 22, and it went all they way to July 26th in 2017.
Clearing the park highway is no quick or easy undertaking. Snow accumulates on the 30-mile park highway throughout the winter season (typically November through April). Snow depth can reach up to 30 feet at the highest elevations, with drifts occasionally reach as high as 40 feet. The highway may open in sections as conditions allow and as clearing operations continue. The road clearing process can take up to three months due to numerous factors.
The park highway encompasses 30 miles of stunning views through twisty hair pin corners, high elevations, and steep grades. The park highway traverses avalanche prone slopes with up to 2,000 foot drops.
The early completion of the snow removal process is a strong indicator of just how little snow the park received this winter. The Sierra snowpack sits at a paltry 3 percent of average and if it weren’t for Coronavirus closures, we would have been experiencing spring and summer conditions in the park earlier than we’ve seen in years.
So while the road through Lassen is basically ready for vehicle traffic, the park has provided no indication that it has any imminent plans for reopening. The anticipation of heavy foot traffic in the park due to nearby residents longing to practice social distancing in one of NorCal’s most pristine outdoor destinations has to be felt heavily of park officials. How can rangers safely run park operations and keep the public safe while practicing social distancing?
It’s hard to read the minds of the Lassen’s leadership, along with that of the National Park Service, to determine when the park might reopen. But when it does, you’ll most likely be able to enjoy the entire park via the park’s currently snowless highway.