A&A Travel Review Of Lassen Volcanic National Park
End of Week #70
Gualala River Redwood Park, Gualala CA > Manzanita Lake Campground, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Summertown CA > Camp-N-Town, Carson City NV > Washoe Lake State Park, New Washoe City NV
Miles traveled since last week's post = 511 miles
Total miles traveled to date = 8,466 with trailer
We are officially not in California anymore! Originally, it was planned to tour several more National Parks through north and then eastern California, making our way south. However with the state of the current wildfires and smoke, we made the hard decision to head into Nevada instead. Thankfully, we were still able to make our way a little north to the Lassen Wilderness prior to entering Nevada, to explore one of the most majestic and wild places I've ever been. Lassen Volcanic National Park was another amazing forest experience, and the perfect stop to jumpstart our new chapter of travel.
After Lassen we headed a bit southeast into Nevada, landing in the state's capitol - Carson City. We only meant to stay here a few days but have extended to a full week as the weather is perfect and the rest of the route south is a bit on the steamy side of things. For now, I'm enjoying this beautiful oasis we have found in the desert, and I'm reminiscing on the wonderful time we had in the Lassen forest.
Keep reading to hear more about our adventures at our very first National Park experience in the state of California!
A&A Travel Review Of Lassen Volcanic National Park
Another true gem in northern California lies deep in the Lassen Wilderness, at 6,000-10,000 feet. Lassen reminds me of a mixture of Yellowstone National Park and the state of Colorado - filled with pine forests, hydrothermals, active volcanoes, mountain tops and alpine glacial lakes. This is also an ideal area to marvel at the Milky Way on a clear dark sky night. With outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, hiking and camping - how can you go wrong? I honestly feel like this was the most perfect first destination after leaving the Redwood forest of Gualala and I'm so happy that we did not have any smoke in the park from the nearby California wildfires.
At Lassen, snow typically arrives early and stays late (so I'm obviously thankful we didn't encounter any), yet far beneath the surface a fire still burns in the volcanic remnants that make up this area. Many u-shaped valleys and roaring steam vents illustrate the endless cycle of creation and destruction found on Earth.
The part of the park that is open to visitors is broken down into 5 distinct areas, all ranging in elevation from 5,600- 6,790 feet, but this doesn't include the 8,500 foot elevation you can find on the highway that runs through the park. The highest point in the park road is at the base of Lassen Peak, sitting at 8,512 feet. After spending 5 months at sea level on the coast, it was definitely a bit of an adjustment for us to be at this high of an elevation. Gratefully, neither of us get sick from elevation, but you can notice differences in your breathing, and definitely while hiking, as well as I sometimes feel foggy or get a bit of a headache for awhile.
Congress has protected nearly 90% of the Lassen Volcanic National Park as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964. Lassen itself became protected in 1972, and became one of the earliest wilderness areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System. By protecting this area it helps benefit generations to come and to protect the land's character and natural conditions.
One of the coolest (or scariest) things about this park is that EVERY single mountain here is a volcano, and ALL 4 different types of volcanoes exist here. Sitting at the most southern tip of the Cascade Mountains, and the most northern tip of the Sierra Nevada - it makes for a very biodiverse area and environment. Rain and snow feed the hydrothermal systems underground, which are also heated by molten rock. The water then rises to the surface and creates evidence of volcanism, with the potential for future eruptions.
Types of volcanoes with examples in the park:
Shield volcano - Found in Mt. Harkness. A shield volcano is a broad, rounded one, built by successive outpourings of very fluid lava that can spread over great distances. Mt. Harkness began forming about 600,000 years ago.
Cinder Cone - Found in THE Cinder Cone. These volcanoes are made up of loose volcanic rock, cinders, and ash that accumulate around a single vent. The Cinder Cone volcano in the park formed during eruptions in 1650.
Plug Dome - Found in Lassen Peak. Plug domes form when lava is too thick to flow great distances. A steam blast shattered Lassen's plug and created an avalanche of melted snow and rock when it last erupted.
Composite - Found in Brokeoff Mountain. Composite volcanoes have layers of volcanic rock, lava, cinders, and ash that erupt from a central vent or group of vents. Brokeoff Mountain is the remnant of the park's only composite volcano left.
Off The Grid
There is no reliable cell service in the park, making this an off-the-grid location, with warm days and cool nights. This park has made its way to the top of my National Park favorites list and I wouldn't be surprised at all to end up here again one day.
Manzanita Lake & Campground
Lucky for us, there was a campground that accommodated RV's right in the park, on one of the most beautiful lakes! It was also off season (and weekdays) while we were there so didn't have any trouble in getting a campsite. This is the largest campground in the park and this area of the park also has the most amenities.
Manzanita Lake also has the best views of Lassen Peak, which can be seen from the northwest shore near the entrance station. There is also a lovely 1.5-2.0 mile hike around the lake that can be done to enjoy all of the views. We completed it by just walking to the trail from our campsite and were blown away by the beauty!
The campground area also includes a dumping station, a gas station, a camper store, laundry and shower facilities and loops for just tent camping only. This is also the only campground in the park that you can reserve ahead of time online right now, so that makes it super helpful in planning your journey. And as an added bonus - they also offer cabins for rent here, in case you want to take your glamping experience to the next level!
There is a nice scenic 30 mile road that runs through the park and connects the northwest and southwest entrances and visitor centers. Without any stops, it will take you roughly an hour to complete the drive, but there are plenty of points of interest along the way worth stopping at! At the northwest entrance there is also a small museum to check out.
Every few miles or so there will be a mile marker sign that correlates to a distinct point of interest found in the maps they provide you at the entrance. Some of the best stops we found included the devastated area from the May 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak. A short trail leads through an educational area with photos and info from what that time looked like.
We also really enjoyed stopping at Hat Creek and hidden Hat Creek meadow. It is a truly stunning area with an open orange hued field, surrounded by forest and mountain tops. A beautiful creek runs through the area resulting in a small waterfall near the highway. The waterfall here doesn't compare to Kings Creek waterfall, but it is still a view worth stopping for. Near the north entrance of the park there is also an area that designates the California National Historic Trail. Wagon tracks once used to roam this area, along a route that welcomed more than 250,000 emigrants traveling to rich gold fields and farmlands during the 1840's-1850's. It was known as the greatest mass migration in American history!
The best part about the highway, aside from the amazing views, is that there are plenty of hiking trails that you can begin right off the highway (with limited parking too of course).
Kings Creek Waterfall
One of the most popular hiking trails in the park leads you to a beautiful waterfall. Kings Creek meanders through an expansive meadow and forest at the foot of Lassen Peak. There are a few different out and back and loop trails in this area, but the primary destination is out and back to Kings Creek waterfall.
We got to take two different routes - one there and one back, that offered an even better glimpse into some of the most wild country I've ever seen. I had to stop every few minutes to really take it in and experience the raw, unfiltered beauty of it all. The route we took to the falls offered insane views overlooking the forest and the mountain tops. The route back took us up the side of some cascading waterfalls above Kings Creek falls, and if you asked me which view was better I don't even know what I would say. You should definitely experience both views, no matter which way you go.
Hiking Kings Creek Falls is about 3.0 miles roundtrip with an elevation change of 500 feet.
Bumpass Hell hydrothermal
From some of the highest points in the park, you can hike right down into the volcanic activity. Boulders and nearby volcanic remnants are all around you. A large hydrothermal area sits below you. It's like you stepped out of California and into Wyoming with the boiling mudpots, sulphur works and hissing steam vents.
The trail down to the hydrothermal is wide and relatively flat, but still sits at about 8,000 feet to start. From the overlook you can descend down into the basin and explore the hydrothermal activity via a boardwalk. Just remember, it's extremely important not to step off of the boardwalk or you could burn yourself or even worse - lose a limb! The man who discovered this area wanted to mine the minerals in the basin and lost his leg from stepping through hydrothermal ground.
Hiking Bumpass Hell is about 2.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation change of 300 feet.
The main attraction herself, miss Lassen Peak is the highest point in the entire Lassen Wilderness and comes in at 10,457 feet high. She is an ACTIVE volcano, last erupting in May of 1915.
The trail to the peak is exposed, steep and full of loose rock and switchbacks. There are incredible panoramic views from the top, but you have to be sure to pace yourself there on the way up. It's also incredibly important to pay attention to the weather and the wind, as there is no coverage from storms or lightning and avalanche conditions commonly happen in this area.
Hiking Lassen Peak is about 4.8 miles roundtrip with an elevation change of 1,957 feet.
Backcountry & Lassen Wilderness
Aside from the points of interest off the main highway through the park, there are a handful of other places to check out and explore in the Lassen wilderness. Some of the key areas I'd love to see next time around include:
Cinder Cone, Painted Dunes, Butte Lake - There is another campground in the Butte Lake area, but it does require taking a dirt road and diving a little into the backcountry region. It is the closest campground to the Cinder Cone volcano, an area of fantastic lava beds, loose sand cinders, painted dunes and spectacular views of Lassen Peak.
Juniper Lake and Mt. Harkness fire lookout - The southeast portion of the park offers another beautiful alpine lake, forest climbs, meadow patches and stunning views of the nearby Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone. You can also climb a few miles through the forest to the Mt. Harkness fire lookout for more panoramic views.
There is also a lot of wildlife throughout Lassen, including deer and bear! We saw a handful of deer but did not encounter anything else on our explorations.
Outside Of The Park
There is so much to see IN the park, but if you get the opportunity there is also a lot to check out nearby outside of the park as well. We didn't have a chance to see it all, but we did take a hike down into the Subway Cave - something that almost caused me to spiral into a panic attack!
Subway Cave - A self guided loop, going about 1/3 of a mile, begins at the top of a lava flow before descending down into a lava tube - named after its similarity to a subway tunnel. It's super important to wear sturdy shoes here and bring a flashlight along so you can make your way through the darkest space you've ever been through. The ground is uneven and jagged and I'm not going to lie, I felt super claustrophobic in here. It took some coaxing on Adam's part to get me to even enter the damn thing, and then we ended up going through it twice because the second time Adam suggested we video tape the experience. His excitement was met with my anxiety, but we made it through!
Burney Falls - This 129 foot waterfall was high on my list for exploring this area, but unfortunately we didn't make it here this time around. The falls sit in nearby McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. Recent lava flows commonly create a lot of waterfalls fed by streams and springs - which makes sense to this entire area of northern California. The park is about 45 miles from the northwest entrance of Lassen Park and has so much to explore!
Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway - One of the 42 All American Roads in the country sits in an area outside of Lassen. This 500 mile route connects the Park to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. It is a beautiful way to experience all of the unique geology formed by the volcanic activity of the Cascade Mountain Range.
"Wilderness... is a necessity of the human spirit." - Edward Abbey
You can feel it in your bones when you're exploring Lassen... wilderness is the heartbeat of this place. You can hear it in the spring-fed streams, in the way the wind rustles through the treetops. You can hear it in the gurgling of the mudpots or in the winter with the silence of the snow. The landscape is rugged and untamable, and completely dependent on the balance of natural systems, but it is an absolute retreat from civilization. Lassen is a place to embrace solitude and reconnect with nature to find more meaning, significance and healing.
Now, more than ever before on our journey, we are constantly adjusting to environmental and climate changes in each new place we go. From the humid, damp - but dry and dark forest of the Redwood coast, to the windy, hot, but cold at night landscape of the desert. From sea level to 8,000 feet. From confined amongst the trees to open and vulnerable. From clean air to wildfire smoke. Everything is different everywhere we go right now and it requires a lot of quick adjustments and flexibility to each new environment we come across. Stay tuned next week to learn more about how we acclimate to these constant changes!
*Currently under construction and paused at this time.*
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