12th July 2021 through 16th July 2021.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is California’s biggest surprises. While relatively smaller than other parks, it boasts a wide range of fabulous natural landscape with plethora of activities to pursue. This is a volcanic park where you will find alpine forests, clear lakes, stunning mountainous scenery and water falls; all in one place, while you get a glimpse of remarkable hydrothermal areas, unforgettable volcanoes and outstanding lava beds. It is strange that the park has not received the credit it deserves. Hopefully my post will convince you to pay a visit.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The most popular time to visit this park is considered to be the summer months between July and October when all of the park is open. Having said that, the park is open all year except that certain parts such as the favored Bumpass Hell Trail is thought to be open only early July through the summer months. However, summers in this part of Northern California are hot and dry and with persistent changes in climate and frequent heat waves, temperatures in the park can range from high in the high 70s and even high 80s with a lot of sun exposure, to low in the high 40s. Days are long with sun setting not until 830-900pm. Moreover, temperatures outside the park are even hotter with the closest town: Redding, CA, being at very high temperatures of over a 100 degrees during the month of July. Therefore, my guess is that, while traditionally the summer months were ideal to visit this park; given the climatic changes, the most pleasant time to pursue it would be the months of May and June, perhaps even in April to witness some snow-capped peaks, or between Mid-September to Mid-October.
You will most definitely need a car to get to the park. The closest big city in California, to the park, is Sacramento which is a 3hr drive from the park. Following airports can be used to fly before renting a car to get to the park:
- Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), Reno, Nevada. 154 miles to the park.
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF), Sacramento, California. 185 miles to the park
- Rogue Valley, International-Medford Airport (MFR), Medford, Oregon. 186 miles to the park
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California. 245 miles to the park
- San Jose International Airport (SJC), San Jose, California. 265 miles to the park.
We flew to San Jose, CA from San Antonio, Texas as we wanted to visit a friend in town prior to driving to the park and noticed that the flight choices and prices were better to this airport than SFO at the time of our visit.
Rental Cars are easily available from the airports and took us no more than 4 hours from SJC to drive to Redding, CA which is where we stayed at. Apart from initial traffic while driving out of the city, the drive was very pleasant and easy, although the landscape mainly comprised of dried hay fields and hills with sporadic fruit tree farms. This was unpleasantly surprising at first given that we were in Northern California, but strangely enough, the dry topography grew on us with time. Drive time to the park entrance from Redding, CA is about 45-50 mins.
Lassen volcanic national park has several campsites and only one hotel-like lodging facility within the park. The Drakesbad Guest Ranch is a getaway lodge within the park that is only open between mid-June and mid- October and offers cabins, lodges and bungalows for groups of various sizes with home-made meals included in the price. The facility also features swimming pool, horseback riding, fishing and hiking trails. However, the ranch requires reservations way in advance and the pictures of the facility aren’t available on the website for you to get some virtual impression about the rooms.
There is also the new Highlands Ranch resort that I wish i knew of before my trip. It is situated in Lassen National Forest, only 12 mins from the southwest entrance of the park and is a 4-star hotel featuring cozy cottages, dining options and mountanious views. It defenitely needs adavnce booking of the cottages and the rates can run quite expensive during the peak season.
Alternatively, Airbnb and hotel options are available outside of the park and the closest small-towns with considerable lodging and dining options are in Redding and Anderson, CA located about 45-60mins from the park. Both these towns are adjacent to each other and offers several hotel and Airbnb options, although the earlier you book, the better housing options will be available to you. If you are lucky, you might even grab housing closer to Shasta Lake located just 20 mins north of Redding.
We stayed at a house rented on Airbnb in Redding, CA which was essentially a basic one-story, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house within a small neighborhood. The house did have some nice features including functional WIFI, Netflix on TVs in the living room and the master bedroom, spacious and clean rooms, California king bed in the master bedroom, fully functional laundry facility, a full box of trash bags in the kitchen and a great customer service. In fact, the host was extremely helpful and prompt to all our questions and even offered to mail out our phone charger that we left at the house. Unfortunately, there were some major downsides to the rental such as uncomfortable pillows and linens that made sleeping through the night challenging, dim lighting in all bedrooms, mediocre quality furniture, limited cookware, dishware and cutlery in the kitchen and bad coffee. Also, despite having 3 bedrooms, the place could get crowded and a lot more uncomfortable for a group size larger than 3-4. Overall, I would rate this place a 3.5 out of 5.
- Scenic Drive
The Lassen Volcanic National Park highway is a 30-mile scenic byway that takes you through many major attractions throughout the park with splendid vistas, picnic spots, hiking trails and water activities. It winds around the Lassen peak through the pine forest and connects the northwest and southwest entrances of the park. Depending on the number of stops you take, it can take you all day to complete this drive although a non-stop drive can be accomplished in an hour or so.
Following are the highlights of the drive:
- Manzanita Lake and Reflection Lake: The Manzanita Lake is a very popular stop along the scenic drive for families, couples and small groups. It is a very quaint, charming and a beautiful lake that offers picturesque spots for painters, swimming and picnic tables for families and kayaking and fishing for the water-lovers. Rentals for kayaks and canoes are available too. There is also a playground for kids. For explorers, the easy 1.9mile loop trail is ideal for a peaceful stroll through the shaded forest around the lake and for some gorgeous views of the Mt. Lassen Peak and Chaos Crag. We spotted some beautiful bright, blue-colored dragon flies along the way too! Near the lake, there is also the historic Loomis Museum that is open only during the summer months. The Reflection Lake is across from Manzanita Lake with reflected views of the Mt Lassen peak as well as a 1-mile easy loop around it.
- Hot Rock: Take a snapshot of this huge rock that was reported to be too hot to touch after it was ejected out of the crater of Lassen Peak in 1915. Unfortunately, we missed this one on our way.
- Devastated Area: This is a 0.5mile easy looped trail that takes you through the details of the aftermath of the massive 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak. Pink and gray lava rocks are disseminated throughout the area.
- Summit Lake: Summit lake is similar to Manzanita Lake where you can sit back and relax on the grassy banks overlooking the serene waters, hike the 1mile easy loop or simply jump into the lake for some refreshing dips. A sunrise walk is considered a must-do if you are camping in that area.
- King’s Creek Falls Trail: Described below.
- Lake Helen and Lake Emerald: Stop by these two lakes for their colors of the water and spectacular photo shots. These lakes are located at the highest point in the park and therefore often has snow and ice except for during the heated summers. Lake Helen is a cute little lake that has its water colored in sapphire blue and is absolutely splendid. The only other lake that I have seen with this color is the Crater Lake at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, USA. Emerald Lake, as the name suggests is made up of emerald-green water that gives its stunning look. There aren’t any hiking trails around these lakes, however if you are looking for a tranquil and gorgeous place to snack or lunch or simply lay down with a picturesque backdrop, these lakes could be your ideal choice.
- Bumpass Hell Trail: Described Below.
- Sulphur Works: This is an active hydrothermal area right on the scenic byway. Stop by to experience a close-up of the boiling mudpots and steaming vents and smell the unpleasant sulphur. There is another hiking trail here that is 1.1 mile long from the parking lot to the Ridges Lakes, in case you aren’t ready to call it a day by now.
- Bumpass Hell Trail: This trail falls within the scenic byway of the park and is the most crowded of all trails within Lassen National Park and rightly so. It is a 3-mile moderate roundtrip hike that is scenic, pleasant and features the largest active hydrothermal area within the park. Hiking through the cliffs overlooking the valley with beautiful views, takes you to a boardwalk to witness several hot springs, steaming fumaroles, boiling mudpots with acidic waters and colorful rocks. The nasty smell of sulphur is strong and evident as you approach the boardwalk. The hike gives you a glimpse of the hikes at the Yellowstone National Park. A word of warning: please ensure that you stay on the boardwalk and not deviate from it as the rocks and the waters are astonishingly hot with temperatures greater than 150 degrees F. The largest boiler in the park, the Big Boiler is reported to be at 322 degrees F making it the hottest fumarole in the world. The Trail is named after Mr. Bumpass who discovered it in the 1860’s when he accidently stepped into the boiling waters and the volcanic terrain and ended up losing his leg 😦
- Cinder Cone Trail: This trail is truly a very, very special one! It is one of the most extraordinary, exhilarating and a memorable hike I have ever been to. If you ever wish to witness how an erupted volcano looks like in reality, this is the trail for you. It is a total of 4-mile round trip that starts at the edge of Butte Lake taking you through deep shaded forests of pine trees along with black lava beds on the left side. The initial approach to the cone is an easy to moderate walk on black sand that leads to the base of the cinder cone, when the climb gets real challenging with the trail fully exposed to the sun and forcing you to steeply climb the cone on a trail made of volcanic ash and loose gravel. The site of the cone and curvy trail on the cone, from the base itself has a ‘wow’ factor and is quite intimidating. The accent to the top of the cone is short and strenuous and can be nerve-wrecking as you climb 500 feet in elevation in less than half a mile. The steep curvy path can make it feel like a never-ending endeavor, especially if you don’t know what to expect. The primary challenge comes from the volcanic scree that easily shifts and slides underfoot as you try to ascend. Needless to say that you need good hiking shoes with considerable traction and while it is technically possible to hike without hiking poles, they do help significantly and expedite the trek. However, with all that hard work, the reward is simply jaw-dropping when you reach to the rim of the cone to witness thrilling views of the volcanic crater and the volcanic valley underneath. There are several trails throughout the rim of the cone that can be explored including going down to the bottom of the crater. Regardless, you will not get enough of the magnificent views of the Lassen Peak, Prospect Peak, the fantastic lava beds, the Snag and Butte lakes and the unique painted dunes. The ride from start-to-finish is extremely satisfying, grand and exclusive. During the summers, it is suggested that you start early in the day for a cooler and bearable weather. I have also read that sunrises and sunsets are spectacular to watch on the cone. Note: The 6.5 mile road approaching the parking lot for the trailhead is covered in gravel making the drive a bit uncomfortable. All-wheel drive vehicles are recommended but not required.
- Lassen peak Trail: Another very popular hike within the park. It is a difficult 5.2 miles round trip that apparently offers breathtaking views of the wilderness along the hike as well as panoramic views of the entire park at the summit.
- King Creek Falls Trail: Witness a 30-foot waterfall into the canyon at the end of a 3mile moderate hike. Trailhead for this hike is located on the scenic byway.
- Boiling Springs and Devil’s kitchen Trail: Hike to Boiling Springs is an easy 3mile round trip that extends to Devil’s kitchen for a total of 4.2miles round trip. Boiling Springs leads you to a green boiling lake (125 deg F) surrounded by red rocks and soil and additional fumaroles and mudpots. Devil’s kitchen is another hydrothermal area, albeit smaller than Bumpass Hell Trail.
- Brokeoff Mountain Trail : A long strenuous 7.4mile trek for a sense of adventure and mountain scenery that takes you to an elevation above timberline for panoramic views.
3. Burney Falls
The 129-Foot Burney Falls at the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, located 1-hour north of Lassen or Redding, is absolutely spectacular and highly recommended to include in your itinerary. It is a very popular attraction and can be crowded but completely worth the visit. Burney Falls is California’s biggest surprises and understandably so. The fern-draped cascade gushes down a clear blue pool with a refreshing mist that is felt even while you are on the trail several yards away. From the parking lot, upper view of the falls is immediately visible, and a short path down will take you right to the lower falls. From what I have read, the water in the pool never goes above 42 degrees and therefore swimming, a quick dip or even simply wetting your legs can be a rejuvenating experience, although not really for cold-sensitive individuals like me. The trail continues past the falls to an easy 1.2 mile loop through the lush wet forest and is very calming and elating. I hear that the falls are most intense during the spring when the snow melts at its peak.
4. White Water Rafting
White water rafting is an excellent way to beat the scorching heat of Redding in the summers and fortunately there are plenty of opportunities around town to pursue this water sport. Rapids of class 3 waters are easily accessible in the Sacramento and Trinity River and the Upper Klamath; and Willow Creek features Class 5 rapids for more adventurous rides. Half-day and full-day guided tours are available for groups of all sizes by several companies and typically prefer advance reservations (at least a day in advance). Prices per person are quite reasonable although every company will quote slightly differently so it is best to call multiple companies before you book with one. Some will have lunch included in the tour. A lot of these services are located about 1.5-2 hour drive from Redding, so planning ahead of time will likely be required. Companies and their contact details are listed here. We used Big Foot Rafting for a half-day guided tour that cost 85 USD per person incl taxes. The guide was friendly, pleasant and very patient with us while we took our own sweet time to jump off a 20-foot tall rock into the river during the tour 🙂 . The company had the rafts ready for us in a timely fashion and also provided water, home-made hummus and chips for the ride. They also carried a dry bag in case we wished to carry some of our own food and drinks. They do not recommend carrying phones or go-pro cameras on the tour although can be carried at your own risk if you really wish to do so. A professional photographer will take pictures as you cruise through one of the rapids that can be bought for a price after the tour (75 USD for 20 pics on a flash drive). Taken together, white water rafting is a fun-filled activity for all ages providing a wonderful balance of therapeutic tranquility as you sail and swim through the calm and serene waters, with the thrill and adventure of cruising through the rapids.
Alternatively, sailing on a personal kayak and canoe on the rivers is also very common and popular among the locals in the area.
Other things to do in and near Redding
- Drive or walk through the Sundial Bridge: It is a famous bridge with a working sundial and is the largest in the world. Located in downtown Redding.
- Stroll or Bike the Sacramento River National Recreational Trail.
- Cruise the scenic Jet Boat Ride.
- Visit Lake Shasta Caverns : Guided 2-hr tour that takes you in a scenic catamaran cruise across Shasta Lake and a bus ride to the cave entrance followed by a information-filled tour of the caverns.
- Visit Shasta lake for a weekend getaway for a variety of land, water and snow activities.
- Hike the 4-mile easy to moderate Middle McCloud River falls trail that passes through three waterfalls along the way. About 1hr 20 min from Redding.
- Hike to Mossbrae Falls.
Day 1: Flew to San Jose, rented a car and drove to Redding, CA.
Day 2: Drove the scenic route through the park from Manzanita Lake through Sulfur Works. Hiked Manzanita Lake trail and Bumpass Hell Trail on the way. Picnicked at Summit Lake.
Day 3: White Water Rafting at Bigfoot Rafting. Explored Redding for souvenir shopping.
Day 4: Drove early morning to the park and hiked the Cinder Cone Trail. Then, drove to Burney Falls, hiked the 1.2mile falls loop trail and drove back to Redding.
Day 5: Drove back to San Jose to take the flight back to Texas.
Our hiking was cut-short due to the warm weather. Otherwise, we would have accommodated the Kings Creek Falls Trail and the Lassen Peak Trail within our itinerary.
There are some limited food options available at the park such as the café at the visitors’ center, the camper store at the Manzanita Lake and the restaurant for breakfast and lunch at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Non-guests can call ahead to make reservations at the Ranch. For some casual dining, the nearby town of Chester located about 30 min from the southwest entrance of the park may be suitable. My guess would be that finding vegetarian options anywhere within or close to the park may be challenging. For such diet restrictions and other extensive eatables, towns of Redding and Anderson are your best bet. Delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats work well in Redding for you to be able to order home delivery, if needed. My recommendation is to carry food with you while visiting the park to be able to save time in commute and searching for the desired grub for your pallet. Moreover, this will give you the opportunity to picnic at the several picnic areas by the various lakes within the park and enjoy the scenic landscape and fresh air while you satisfy your bellies.
There is no phone or data service within the park or in areas about 15-20miles around the park. Ensure that you download offline maps for secure navigation.