Established in 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a stunning array of beautiful mountain lakes, bubbling geothermal springs and all four types of volcanoes waiting to be explored. Lassen NP is located in northern California and its most prominent peak Mt. Lassen is the first and only volcano to erupt in California since it became a state. The colorful names given to sections of the park, including Bumpass Hell and the Devastated Area reflect the tumultuous seismic activity that occurred there in the past and can still be seen through the boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles.
History of the Park
The area now known as Lassen NP was originally settled by four Native American tribes: Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu. They referred to the peak now called Mt. Lassen as Kohm Yah-ma-nee or snow mountain and it remains a sacred place for them. When a Spanish officer saw the peak in 1821, he named it Mt. San Jose. Later, European settlers used the mountain as a reference point and the name was changed to Mt. Lassen after a homesteader and trail guide Peter Lassen. In 1905 Lassen National Forest was created and 2 years later President Roosevelt signed a proclamation establishing Cinder Cone and Lassen Peak National Monuments. Attempts by local California congressman John Raker to establish a national park failed as it was seen as too small and too far away from the major railroads. This changed in 1915 when Mt. Lassen, which had been volcanically active since the previous year, spectacularly erupted. Photographs of the eruption generated public interest, which led to President Wilson signing a law creating Lassen NP as the country’s 17th national park. Visitors came to the park to see the volcano, which remained sporadically active into the 1920s and visiting became easier when the park highway was finished in 1931. Currently Lassen NP has around 432,000 visitors annually.
Interested in seeing Mt. Lassen’s 1915 eruption? Check out this link: Mt Lassen 1915
Getting to Lassen NP
Lassen NP has two entrance stations: the northwest entrance and the southwest entrance. However, those planning to visit the Cinder Cone or Juniper Lake are accessed through roads entering the park in the northeast and southeast corners of the park respectively. These entrances do not have an entrance station and the roads are closed in winter.
For visitors driving from California take I-5 to Redding, CA and then California Route 44 east to the northwest entrance. This route is approximately 3.25 hours from Sacramento and around 4 hours from San Francisco. This is the entrance closest to the Lake Manzanita Area, which has the largest campground in the park.
For visitors from Nevada take I-80 east and the U.S. Route 395 to Susanville, CA. Then take California Route 44 west to the northwest entrance. This will take approximately 2.75 hours from Reno, NV.
For visitors driving from California take I-5 to Red Bluff, CA and then California Route 36 east to the southwest entrance. This is approximately 3.75 hours from San Francisco and 3 hours from Sacramento.
For visitors from Nevada take I-80 east and the U.S. Route 395 to Susanville, CA. Then take California Route 36 west to the southwest entrance. This will take approximately 2.75 hours from Reno, NV.
Juniper Lake Entrance
For visitors from California take I-5 to Red Bluff, CA and then continue east on California Route 36 past the Southwest Entrance to Chester, CA. Once you reach Chester, CA continue north on Juniper Lake Road. The first 6 miles north of Chester, CA are paved and then it becomes a narrow dirt road for the final 7 miles. High-clearance and 4-wheel drive vehicles are not required in dry weather. Also, keep in mind that Juniper Lake Road is closed in winter.
Cinder Cone Entrance
For visitors from California take I-5 to Redding, CA and then California Route 44 east past the northwest entrance to Lassen NP. From the entrance take California Route 89 east 13.5 miles to the junction with California Route 44 in Old Station, CA. At the junction head east on Route 44 for 11 miles and then turn south onto Butte Lake Road (Forest Route 32N21), which will take you 6 miles to the Butte Lake Campground and the trailhead to get to the Cinder Cone. The forest road is an unpaved dirt road that should be fine for most vehicles in dry weather. The road is not well marked so keep an eye out, so you do not drive past it. Also, like the road to Juniper Lake the forest road to the Cinder Cone is closed in winter.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway (California Route 89)
This is the main highway through Lassen NP connecting the Northwest Entrance and the Southwest Entrance. Most of the places to see in the park are accessed from this highway, including Lassen Peak, Devastated Area, Bumpass Hell, Sulphur Works, Summit Lake and Chaos Crags. Keep in mind the highway is closed in winter.
Fees & Passes
Entrance fee for Non-commercial cars is $30.00 and this fee is valid for seven days.
7-Day Vehicle Entrance Pass - Winter $10
Lassen Annual Pass $55
If you have National Parks Pass it covers park entrance fees
Places to Stay
Manzanita Lake Campground
The Manzanita Lake Campground has 179 sites and is the largest campground in Lassen NP. The campground is located next to its namesake lake, Lake Manzanita near the northwest entrance to the park. The campground can accommodate both tents and RVs and is open from May until it is closed by snow in September/October. The campground also offers cabins and group campsites by reservation. Starting in 2023 reservations are required for all campsites.
Butte Lake Campground
Butte Lake Campground is in the northeastern part of Lassen NP with 101 campsites and is located at the end of a 6-mile dirt and gravel road. It is a perfect place to stay for those looking to hike up the Cinder Cone. However, it is about 60 miles from the campground to Lassen Peak. The campground is open from early June until September. Reservations are recommended for regular campsites and are required for the group campsites. At this campsite potable water may not be available so make sure to check the National Park Service website ahead of time to see if you should bring water.
Juniper Lake Campground
The Juniper Lake Campground is a small campground in the southeastern section of Lassen NP with 18 campsites. Group sites are reservation only and single sites are first come, first served.
The campground is accessed via a 13-mile paved / gravel road. Potable water is not available, so you should bring water with you. The campground is open from June until September. Also, the opening may be delayed for the 2023 season, so make sure to check the National Park Service website for details on when the campground opens.
For those looking to stay in a hotel, Redding, CA is the closest large town that has multiple hotel options. Redding, CA is approximately an hour from the Northwest Entrance to Lassen NP. Red Bluff, CA is about an additional 10 minutes away. Most of the hotel options can be found up and down the I-5 corridor, which is about an hour from Lassen NP. You may also have some luck with Airbnb or similar services that may have availability in Mineral, CA, Viola, CA or one of the other small towns surrounding the park.
Things to Do
The Manzanita Lake trail is an easy 1.5-mile loop starting near the Manzanita Lake Campground. You can start the loop near the boat launch area or by the Loomis Museum. The loop provides superb views of Mt. Lassen and Chaos Crags and a great place for bird watching…I saw several bald eagles during my walk around the lake. Swimming is allowed in Lassen NP’s many lakes including Manzanita Lake. Although, when I was there swimming was prohibited in Manzanita Lake because a visitor was injured by a river otter. So, make sure you watch out for wildlife if you decide to take a dip. In addition, Lassen NP has multiple hydrothermally active areas. Swimming in those areas is prohibited, even in areas where the water is not scalding. The hydrothermal areas release sulfuric acid, which can damage skin and the steam can damage lungs. With that being said, there are many awesome, safe places to swim in Lassen’s many mountain lakes of all shapes, sizes and colors!
Chaos Crags and Crags Lake
A 4.0 mile out and back trail in the northwest area of Lassen NP. The first section of the trail is forested and uphill. You then descend to cross a small creek at mile .06 and then you head uphill until a relatively level stretch at mile 1.5. At mile 1.9 you reach a ridge overlooking Crags Lake, which is overlooked by Chaos Crags. Depending on the time of year and rainfall, Crags Lake may be small or completely dry. When I went in June it was completely dry. Also, you will be able to see the remnants of a long ago avalanche that occurred from Chaos Crags, which is referred to as Chaos Jumbles.
The Devastated Area trail is a short 0.5-mile trail that includes signs and information about the eruption Mt. Lassen in 1915. While short, it is cool to see the results of a volcanic eruption that occurred over 100 years ago. This is a great spot to stop and stretched your legs while travelling on the Lassen Volcanic Highway between the northwest and southwest entrances.
The southwest entrance is the closest entrance to Lassen Peak. The trail itself is 4.0 miles out and back and is accessed from a parking lot off Lassen Volcanic Highway. The first 1.3 miles provide excellent views of Lake Helen and Lake Amador, and it is approximately 2.6 miles to the summit with a 2,000-foot elevation gain. The trail has many switchbacks and there are stairs in some of the steeper sections. When you approach the summit there is typically a small snowfield to cross even in summer. When you reach the summit, you are rewarded with awesome views of the surrounding area including Mt. Shasta and Lake Almanor. Also, the the hardened lava flows offer a reminder that you are standing atop a volcano. Wind is common near the summit, so make sure to pack a jacket.
The Bumpass Hell trail is the most popular trail in Lassen NP and is also located in the southwest area and is 2.6 miles roundtrip. There is only a small parking lot, so make sure you come early, or you will have to wait. Walking the Bumpass Hell trail you’ll see steam vents, boiling mud pots and fumaroles all within a basin made of volcanic rock. The trail starts with a 500-foot climb before a 250-foot descent into the basin. Once you reach the basin you will be able to explore the hydrothermal features from a boardwalk. The Bumpass Hell area gets lots of snow, so it does not open until late June or early July. When I visited in early June the trail was closed due to snow.
Cinder Cone Trail
Follow the road to Butte Lake Campground in the northeast of Lassen NP. You will find the campground on the right and Butte Lake on the left. The trail starts from the parking lot for Butte Lake. In total, the Cinder Cone trail is 4.0 miles. The trail starts easily with portions of the trail composed of volcanic sand / rubble. At 1.5 miles you will reach the Cinder Cone cutoff. This is where the trail gets more intense as you will gain 800 feet in a ½ mile. The trail itself to the summit is essentially walking straight up a ramp of volcanic sand. From the summit you can see Mt. Lassen, two lakes and into the caldera of the dormant Cinder Cone volcano. You can also see the Painted Dunes and Fantastic Lava Beds to the south.
I hope you find these tips useful in planning your own adventure to Lassen National Park! Safe travels, happy adventures and I'll see you on the trail!