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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.

Powerful Forces

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!

Lassen Highway

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 th