Bubbling thermal springs. Volcanic peaks and craters. Pristine turquoise lakes. Lassen Volcanic National Park, located in the northeast corner of California, is an under-the-radar National Park home to a prehistoric landscape dotted with thermal hot spots and volcanoes.
Besides the burbling acidic pools that smell like cooking sulfur, you’ll find densely wooded forests and wildflowers sweeping over hills and valleys. Following the 30-mile road that winds throughout the park, watch for one of the 200 lakes and try to identify one of the four types of volcanoes that are all concentrated in this unique and magical place.
And while you may have never heard of Lassen Volcanic National Park, it’s one of America’s oldest protected places, established in 1916 shortly after Lassen Peak blew its top in 1914 – and kept on erupting until 1917.
We are lucky to have Jenny Peters, a longtime freelance reporter covering travel both in the U.S.A. and around the world, give us the scoop on Lassen Volcanic National Park. She has made it her lifelong mission to see as many of America’s national treasures (parks, monuments, historic trails and battlefields, museums, etc.) as she possibly can, and Lassen National Park is no exception. Take it away, Jenny!
- Update: Unfortunately, the Dixie Fire broke out in July of 2021 and burned 73,240 acres, or 69% of Lassen Park. Some trails and facilities have been closed until they can be properly repaired, and have been marked in their respective sections. Please follow safety guidelines within post-fire areas about falling trees and branches, hidden stump holes, and loose or falling rock.
Psst: Planning more USA National Park trips? We have other posts on our favorite National Parks.
- The Perfect 2-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary
- 10 Incredible Zion Hikes: a Complete Guide To Hiking in Zion National Park
- 14 Epic Things to do in Yosemite National Park, California
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Lassen National Park FAQ’s
What’s the history of Lassen National Park?
Lassen National Park, despite its inhospitable winters, was the home to four Native American groups before European-Americans descended and took the land for themselves. The Atsugewi, Yana & Yahi, and Mountain Maidu groups (the Greenville, Enterprise, and Susanville Rancheria) all lived in the foothills of the volcanic mountains that now make up Lassen, roaming into the mountains in the spring and summer and staying in lower, more temperate areas during winter.
The area was rugged and remote and the Indigenous peoples’ lives there were generally not disrupted by settlers until the California Gold Rush of the 1850s and 1860s brought white men in droves searching for fortune.
The result was the decimation of those groups, particularly the Yana and the Yahi, who were systematically massacred from 1865 to 1911. In 1911, a Yahi man came out of the wilderness of Lassen and was identified as the last man of his people; known as Ishi, he became a celebrity known as “the last wild Indian.” His story is told by the University of San Francisco, whose anthropologists studied Ishi, his tribal stories and tribal skills.
In more modern society, members of the Atsugewi and Mountain Maidu nations have had a strong influence on the park. In 1952, the park’s first female naturalist was Selena LaMarr, an Atsugewi, who began demonstrating the group’s traditional activities; and as the years passed, other tribal members have become an integral part of Lassen National Park’s cultural landscape.
The main visitor’s center was christened Kohm Yah-ma-nee Visitor Center, the Mountain Maidu words for “Snow Mountain”, which was their name for Lassen Peak.
How do I get to Lassen National Park?
You’ll need a car or a camper van to navigate Lassen, as the only way through the park is a 30-mile long, two-lane mountainous road that peaks at a height of 8,512 feet and takes from 45 minutes to an hour to drive. So locals living in California, Oregon and Nevada should plan to drive to the park.
There are two main entrances to Lassen National Park, near Manzanita Lake in the northwest (near the Route 44 and 89 intersection) and off Route 36 from the south by the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, entering via Route 89. There are no towns near the entrances; you’ll find very small outposts 15 to 30 miles from the park entrances.
If you’re visiting from farther away, fly into Redding Airport (RDD) from San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX) and rent a car. We recommend using Kayak to compare car rental prices. Redding RV Rentals also has rolling homes that begin at $99 per day, but often sell out during the high summer season. Then expect about an hour’s drive on route 44 to the Manzanita Lake park entrance.
Route 89, also known as the Lassen Peak Highway and/or the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, is the artery that runs throughout the park. There are three other roads that go into the park: Butte Lake Road to the northeast, Juniper Lake Road to the southeast and Warner Valley Road, also in the Southeast. All three turn into rugged dirt roads and are not recommended for campers or cars pulling trailers.
Something to keep in mind is that there is no public transportation to/from the park, Lassen is truly remote and requires you to get in, and out, on your own.
What’s the best time of the year to visit Lassen National Park?
Summer (July to September) is the best time to visit Lassen National Park, after the snow has melted and the weather turns fine and dry. Note that we say “summer”; that’s because Lassen is so far up in the Cascade Mountain Range that most of the park is blanketed in snow and often impassable with a car during the winter months. So plan to go in the summer or early fall, unless you love snow and are happy only seeing a fraction of the park. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!
In fall (October to November), winter (December to March) and even spring (April to June), expect limited access into the park, but during the snowy months (November to April) you’ll find chances for sledding, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, but remember, you carry your equipment both in and out.
How do I get around Lassen National Park?
You’ll need a car or RV to get around Lassen, as there are no shuttles in the park. If you’re of sturdy stuff, you can bicycle throughout the park, but only on “established park roads and parking lots.” In other words, no mountain biking is allowed on trails, dirt roads or any other part of the park wilderness. Electric bikes have recently been allowed in the park, too, following the same rules as regular bikes.
Is Lassen National Park crowded?
Lassen National Park remains one of America’s least-visited national parks, with an average of 450,000 to 500,000 visitors a year. Compare that to Yosemite’s four to five MILLION people per year and it’s pretty obvious that Lassen isn’t a crowded park. Even at the height of the summer, this is a park that often feels like it is just you, alone in the vast wilderness. So if you need to practice your yodeling in the mountains, this is your place.
How long should my trip be to Lassen Volcanic Park?
Your visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park should last at least two days, especially since the park is one of the best places to stargaze in the country. This is because there is so little ambient light around the park (Redding, the largest town nearby, is 45 miles away) that clear nights bring the Milky Way into full view.
So spending at least one night in the park is a must-do; as is hiking to the top of Lassen Peak. And there are numerous other hikes, as well as boating and fishing, to keep you and yours occupied for much more than a few days. We spent four days at Lassen and felt like we’d just scratched the surface of this wild place.
What Do I Need To Know Before visiting Lassen?
Since Lassen park is so remote, and a little more, shall we say, volatile than some other national parks, here are some things you should keep in mind when you visit:
- Be sure to gas up before your arrival: There is only one gas station in the park, located at the Manzanita Lake Camper Store near the northern entrance to the park and is only open from mid-May to mid-October, so plan accordingly if heading into the park in the winter or early spring. That is also the only place to buy groceries and other supplies in the park, so we suggest doing all your shopping before arriving at the park.
- Food is limited in the park: There is the Lassen Cafe inside the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the south end of the park, which is open all year, but with limited offerings from mid-October to mid-May.
- Cell service and WiFi are limited: Know that your cellphone is probably not going to work in most of Lassen National Park and that there will be no Wi-Fi service available either. This is the vast wilderness, so once again, maybe work on yodeling for communication.
- Where your pets can go is limited: Pets must be leashed at all times and are only allowed where cars can go. Pets are not allowed on park trails at all, so it may be best to leave your dogs at home.
- The hydrothermal areas in Lassen are dangerous, with boiling acidic water and sulphur just under the thin surfaces surrounding the bubbling pools and steaming ground. Stay on the boardwalks and designated sidewalks to avoid critical burns. The ground may look solid, but it’s thinner than it seems!
- Altitude sickness can happen here, as the elevation ranges from 5,650 feet all the way up to 10,457 feet. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness and more. Hydrate and descend to a lower altitude if you begin to feel ill. Dramamine is usually a good thing to have on hand too.
- Black bears and mountain lions share the park with humans. Be wise in your food storage at campsites by using bear-resistant food lockers; never store food in your tent; dispose of trash in available bear-resistant receptacles; and never feed a bear. Find more information about bear encounters and how to protect yourself here. Both bears and mountain lions prefer to avoid humans, as do snakes and other forest creatures, so do not approach and give them all the space they need to get away.
- Lassen follows Leave No Trace principles: As at all wilderness national parks, please follow the “Leave No Trace” environmental practices that will protect these beautiful places for generations to come. These include plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste properly; leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of other visitors.
Things to do in Lassen National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is filled with outdoor adventures ranging from hiking, swimming, boating, stargazing, and exploring the various volcanic burblings and bubblings that dot the landscape throughout the park. There are ranger-led programs as well as a historical museum to explore. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Lassen National Park!
Climb Lassen Peak
Climbing Lassen Peak is one of the park’s popular hikes, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. Lassen Peak is actually a dormant plug dome volcano, the “plug” being a hardened plug of magma at its neck, effectively putting a stopper into the top of the volcano. Lassen is one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world, and last erupted in 1917.
Lassen Peak has an elevation of 10,456 feet, 2,000 of which you gain while hiking the 2.5 miles to the top. While the hike isn’t especially hard or treacherous, the round trip of 5 miles on a well-kept trail that hikers are expected to follow (to avoid accelerating erosion) takes at least five hours to do, so really this hike is about stamina.
The trail, also known as the Southeast Ridge Trail, is the only trail open to climb to the summit from June to October, and you shouldn’t encounter any snow or ice at this time. Attempting to climb the peak in winter months is allowed, but that is when you’ll need technical equipment (think avalanche gear, ice axe, crampons, snowshoes, etc.) to manage the snowy winter months.
While it’s a challenging endeavor through the series of switchbacks to reach the top of the volcano, the reward as you summit the peak are wild vistas in every direction, filled with pine trees, glistening lakes and far-off towns. : Insert celebratory yodel here :
So pack plenty of water and snacks for the trail, wear good hiking shoes, carry an extra layer or two for the chill in the higher elevations, and make sure to plan to finish before darkness falls – and take a flashlight just in case. It’s well worth the exertion to say you’ve made it to the top!
Hike to a Lake, Waterfall or Geyser
There are many other hiking trails throughout the park, so plan to spend a few days exploring different parts of the park. Hikes range from short, easy trail walking to much more challenging climbs, and all are at elevations from 5,800 to 10,457 feet. These are a few more of our favorite June-October hikes:
- Manzanita Lake Trail: This easy hike wends around Manzanita Lake for 1.7 miles and has little elevation change. This serene lake is at an elevation of 5,890 feet and is populated by birds, squirrels and even black-tailed deer. This hike is a favorite for views of Lassen Peak, which are especially gorgeous at sunset. If you want your postcard-perfect photo op, this is your place!
- Mill Creek Falls: The trek up to Mill Creek Falls is an intermediate, 3.8-mile hike that brings you to the highest waterfall in Lassen National Park. Plan on two to three hours for this forest hike, which takes you across a couple of creeks and past a hillside alive with blue and white wildflowers (usually in bloom in July). If you’re lucky, you’ll see deer scamper by, and the Mill Creek Falls are spectacular, as it drops 75 feet in a rush of roaring water. Elevation ranges from 6,600 to 6,700 feet. The trailhead is at the amphitheater near the southwest parking area of the park. [Update: The Mill Creek Falls trail is currently closed due to the 2021 Dixie Fire which destroyed the bridges.]
- Terminal Geyser Trail: This magical trail winds you through meadows and forests to a geyser continuously puffing out steam. The trail is 5.8 miles roundtrip, with elevations ranging from 5,640 to 6,250; and it will take about three hours to hike. Stop and smell the wildflowers, then inhale the heady scent of the ponderosa pines that create this dense forest wonderland. There are lots of hydrothermal spots along the way, that burble and bubble (toil and trouble?); enjoy them but remember that these waters are acidic and can burn you, so keep a safe distance. To reach this gorgeous trailhead, you’ll need to go to the Warner Valley Road entrance in the southeast corner of the park. Be aware that when you near the road to the trailhead it turns into a dirt road.
Hike to Hydrothermal Mud Pots and Volcanoes
While visiting Lassen, it’s understandable to want to see something a bit more unique and, what else, volcanic! While there are plenty of Hydrothermal areas and volcanic areas that don’t involve too much hiking to visit, below you will find sites that take a bit of extra leg work but will reward you in some of the most unique hikes in the country.
- Cinder Cone Trail: Lassen’s Cinder Cone Volcano was formed by lava that blew into the air, then shattered and turned into cinders. As the lava cinders piled up, they formed oval-shaped cinder cone volcanoes. The 4-mile hike to Cinder Cone begins at the Butte Lake parking lot in the northeast of the park and will take about three hours. Be sure to grab the guide to the hike at the trailhead (or in the visitors center), as there are numbered signposts all along the hike. Use the guide to learn about how this large cone volcano came to exist, then breathe deeply at the top (6,907 feet), where vistas of Lassen Peak, lava beds and painted dunes can be seen. Be sure to climb down into the crater, too, for a fascinating look inside a volcano.
- Devil’s Kitchen Trail: This hydrothermal trail in the southeast section of the park is the second-largest hydrothermal area in the park behind Bumpass Hell. The Devil’s Kitchen hike is 4.2 miles long and takes two hours round trip and rises from 5,640 to 6,040 feet. Along the way you’ll wander along wooden boardwalks that take you across a marshland where birds flit past, then head-on into the pine forest. Cross over a couple of creeks (including the creamy white Hot Springs Creek) and then discover Devil’s Kitchen: where mudpots boil, steam vents blow and you’re sure to smell something sulfurous “cooking” in this hydrothermal wonderland. To get there, go to the Warner Valley trailhead parking area.
- Boiling Springs Lake: This easy hike takes you through a fragrant mountain forest and wildflower-adorned meadows to an otherworldly, milky-blue lake that’s 500ft wide and one of the biggest hot lakes anywhere in the world! This isn’t the kind of lake you get to dive into on a hot summer’s day – its average temperature hovers around 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Steam vents heat this thermal area and keep the lake hot. You’ll also find gurgling mud pots along the lake’s southeast shore. This hike can be done as a loop around the lake, as a shorter out-and-back, or with a longer excursion to Terminal Geyser. Depending on the route you choose, this hike, beginning at the Warner Valley Trailhead (5,600 feet), will be somewhere between 2 and 6 miles and include between 200 and 600 feet of elevation gain.
Explore the Hydrothermal Areas
Lassen’s volcanoes haven’t erupted in over a century, but they still make sure we all know they are still bubbling just below the surface of the park. There are numerous spots to see mudpots, steam vents, boiling lakes, and even a small geyser-like spurting vent.
Sulphur Works is the easiest place to access these natural wonders – since the trail is only 0.6 miles long – and it’s located right on the park road just a mile north of the southern park entrance. Park and walk along the sidewalks (only!) to see the vibrant blues and yellows and the pungent smells of the remains of Mount Tehama (aka Brokeoff Mountain), what was once a huge volcano. It’s a fascinating place to begin your road trip through the park.
Get more adventurous and hike to Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area in the park, which is only accessible by foot and only open from June to October. This hike is an easy 3-mile out-and-back trek to see an overlook into a place that time forgot. A boardwalk takes you up into a desolate landscape filled with acidic, boiling pools that are dangerous and truly hot as hell. It is the kind of place that humans and animals instinctually give a wide berth, well, except for one man.
We’re pretty sure that Kendall Bumpass, who gave his name to this place, wishes he had never discovered this hell in 1864. While looking for his stray cattle, his foot broke through the crust of the earth, severely burning his foot in the acidic pool below. When a newspaper editor asked Bumpass to show him the place, Bumpass once again fell through the thin crust, burning his leg so badly this time it had to be amputated. Upon his return, he proclaimed, “the descent to hell is easy.”
As demonstrated by the story above, be sure to wear closed shoes and bring water on this hike, and never stray off the trails. People have been burnt in recent years by just stepping just a foot off the path, sending their leg through a thin crust of earth Into an acidic pool. So stay vigilant and you too can safely enjoy this stinky, acid-filled landscape that formed when Lassen volcano first erupted thousands of years ago.
Take in the Dark Sky
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a perfect place for stargazing, as there is so little ambient light found after dark. So the Milky Way, with all its thousands of millions of stars, shines in all its glory here. You’ll need to find a spot where there are fewer trees than in your campsite (if you’re camping), so head for one of the trailhead parking areas like at Lassen Peak or Bumpass Hell. Lakeshore spots along Summit Lake or Manzanita Lake are terrific spots, too.
Take along a chair that reclines, or spread blankets on the ground; even your car’s hood is a good place to perch to be able to look up and see all the stars in the sky. To figure out what you’re looking at, we’re partial to the Star Walk app, as once you’ve downloaded it to your phone, it works without a cell connection. It will show you just what the stars and planets are wherever you point it in the sky!
Lassen also has an annual Dark Sky Festival in the summer, where you will be treated to lectures by astrobiologists and get a closer look at the Milky Way through a high-powered telescope!
And if you’re confident in your hiking ability, check for the full moon dates in the summer and visit Lassen then. You’ll be able to climb Lassen Peak by moonlight, for it shines so brightly when full you’ll almost think it is daytime. Bring a headlamp and flashlight just in case of emergencies, or mysterious, surprise moon eclipses.
Jump in for a Chilly Swim
There are over 200 lakes scattered throughout the park and swimming and wading is allowed in all, except for the thermal pools (which can scald your skin, so avoid those at all costs, as they are NOT hot tub material). So plan to take a dip while hiking on a hot day or simply swim in one of the larger lakes located near campsites.
Just don’t be surprised if you let out a scream as you jump in – it’s cold in there! These mountain lakes never really get too warm, even on those warm summer days, so a swimming outfit with a little more coverage may be more comfortable.
Also note that there are no lifeguards on duty at any of the lakes, so be especially careful! Some of the best places in Lassen to take a dip are:
- Manzanita Lake is located in the northwest corner of the park, and is extremely popular and easily accessible from the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. From the crystal clear waters, you can view the summit of Lassen Peak as well as Chaos Crags, the youngest lava domes in the park. It’s easy to see why this idyllic spot is one of the most photographed areas of the park, as you are surrounded by all the most stunning views Lassen has to offer! And if the water is a bit too chilly, there are single or double kayaks available for rent at the Camper Store near Manzanita Lake, as well as canoes, paddle boards and catarafts (inflatable twin-hulled rafts).
- Lake Helen is much like Manzanita lake in that it gives you stunning views of Lassen Peak, but it also includes another bonus: the 110-foot deep water of this glacial lake is blue. I am talking about a full-on turquoise fantasy here. The elevation is also quite high at 8,200 feet, meaning the water, when thawed around July-September, is cold. But if you can muster the strength, you really can not swim in a more idyllic place. Also, Lake Helen is named for Helen Tanner Brodt, the first woman to hike Lassen Peak in 1864 (most likely in a ground-length Victorian skirt, no doubt).
- Summit Lake is a bit like the little sister of Manzanita Lake, with only about 12 miles separating the two. While this lake is smaller, the views are just as stunning (Lassen Peak is still very visible!) and the campground has day parking and a picnic area, and shouldn’t be as busy as Manzanita Lake.
- Butte Lake is located on the northeast of Lassen Volcanic National Park, about 45 minutes away from the Manzanita Lake Area, and contains some of the best volcanic features in the area. The Butte Lake campground has a day parking area, and lucky for you, is visited by fewer people than other areas of the park. The north and east sides of the lake are lined by pines, while the other side is lined by a huge pile of black lava blocks – this place really puts the “Volcanic” part in Lassen’s name. This spot is also super close to Cinder Cone, an imploded cone-shaped hole created by a volcano.
- Lake Almanor is located in the southernmost end of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, and is about an hour from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center entrance. This lake is HUGE, we’re talking about 52-miles of shoreline! With its sandy beaches and such vast coastline, this is a great place to enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
Take a Scenic Drive
It pretty much goes without saying that any drive through a national park is a scenic drive, but the 30-mile artery that runs through the eastern side of the park highlights some of the most spectacular sights of Lassen without leaving your car.
You can start at the Southwest or Northwest entrance and drive from one entrance to the other, which will take about an hour, depending on how many stops you make. There is also an audio tour provided by the park which will delve into the history and facts about all the areas you pass.
- Kings Creek Meadow Scenic Pull-out: Located at the foot of Lassen Peak, Kings Creek winds through a scenic meadow dotted with wildflowers. It’s the best place for your postcard-perfect Lassen Peak shot!
- Hot Rock: This several-ton piece of rock was ejected from Lassen Peak in 1915, and photographer B.F. Loomis, who documented the eruption over two years, declared it was “too hot” to touch. Though no longer hot today, tourists still visit and touch this chunk of volcanic matter just to make sure!
- Nobles Emigrant Trail: Part of the California National Historic Trail, this route was used during the gold rush of the 1840s and 50s, where more than 250,000 emigrants traversed the fields and streams of the Sierra Nevada. Today, you can see a plaque marking the area and the beautiful fields and streams that provided sustenance to the travelers.
- Chaos Crags and Jumbles Scenic Pull-out: Come see the remnants of a volcanic landslide from 350 years ago, where a rockslide of boulders slid over 100 mph down the mountainside. Today, the boulders decorate the landscape, with little vegetation to erode them away.
Visit the Loomis Museum
Located just inside the northwest entrance to the park (near Manzanita Lake), visit the Loomis Museum for a fascinating look at the photographs that Benjamin Loomis took during the 1914 to 1917 eruptions of Mt. Lassen. Loomis was a successful local businessman who owned land near the Lassen volcano, so when it began its series of eruptions, the amateur photographer took his camera as close as he could get and shot photos over the course of the eruptions.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, he shot with an 8 x 10 view camera that took glass plates and created a massive collection of photographs that chronicled the explosions. The 1915 event was a catalyst for the National Park Service to create Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916.
As the area around Lassen was a remote area then (as it remains now), there was very little damage to homes and no human fatalities when the volcano erupted. But the landscape near it was devastated and many animals and plants were killed; that main swath is still called the Devastated Area, where you can see the terrible effects of that long-ago eruption. And while scientists believe that Lassen will erupt again sometime in the future, the USGS is tracking the volcano constantly to give an early warning should that seem imminent.
Loomis and his wife constructed the museum in 1927 on their land adjacent to the park; in 1929 they donated their land and the museum to the park, which showcases his photographs. Other interesting exhibits explore the geologic and volcanic aspects of this unique national park.
The museum is open only during the summer months (June-September). Ranger-led programs happen on the patio outside of the museum, which focus on the geology that helped to create Lassen Volcano and the others in the park, and there is a film all about the park that is shown numerous times each day.
Saddle Up for a Horseback Ride
There is something so primitive and natural about horseback riding: trotting along through a forest filled with pine tree scents, listening to whistling birds and bubbling creeks. Only the sounds of nature and the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping, and the feeling of your legs resting after all those arduous trails you’ve hiked. Ahhh.
If that visual appeals to you, horseback riding can be found at Drakesbad Guest Ranch for day guests or those staying at the ranch, as well as outside guests. It’s more than 1.5 hours by car from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, but the trails in this secluded Warner Valley spot are some of the least popular in the park.
As of 2021, they have several different horseback riding tours you can do. These include:
- A 2 to 2.5 hour round trip ride that takes you on a loop near Terminal Geyser. It typically leaves at 9:30am and is a great way to see the lush meadows of Drakesbad and the verdant forests of Lassen, all while steering you towards the magical geyser that continuously puffs out steam.
- A 1 hour round trip loop to Boiling Springs Lake, the single biggest active feature in the park and one of the biggest hot lakes anywhere in the world! The greenish, bubbling lake is 500 feet wide and is surrounded by mod pots and volcanic vents. This is a fantastic way to come visit this site and the tour usually leaves around 1pm.
- A 2 hour round trip ride that takes you to the Devil’s Kitchen, a no man’s land of steam vents, red and yellow rocks, and more burbling, acidic water. Once you arrive at the site, the wranglers will let you off your horse to look at the geothermal features for about 20 minutes and soak in the majesty and intensity of this volcanic site.
Reservations are required by emailing email@example.com, so be sure you have those before making the long drive out to the ranch [Update: The Drakesbad Guest Ranch is closed in 2022 due to the 2021 Dixie Fire.]
Brave the Winter and Go Sledding, Skiing or Snowshoeing
Winter is a quiet time at Lassen National Park, but if you’re really a hardy soul you’ll find that a gorgeous winter landscape awaits. As long as you have your own equipment and are ready to carry it in and out, you can go cross-country skiing, sledding, snowboarding or downhill skiing; but remember, there are no lifts, no carved trails and no avalanche control in the park. Only non-motorized devices for over-snow travel are allowed to be used.
The only two areas of the park that are open in the winter (approximately November through May) are the Manzanita Lake area near Loomis Plaza at the north end of the park and the Southwest area near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center to the south. The Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday between November 1 and April 30.
By Manzanita Lake you’ll find gentle slopes and scenic lakes, and has the best routes for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. By the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, there are steep slopes and sweeping vistas, a great place for skiing and sledding.
- Sledding: One of the most popular things to do in winter in Lassen is sledding! But this ain’t your neighborhood slope, oh no. The slopes in the Southwest Area of the park, near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, are for experienced sledders. Sledding is the number one cause of visitor injury in the winter season, due to icy snow creating very fast sledding conditions, not to mention there being plenty of trees and rocks to dodge. Exhilarating! So just be sure to choose a slope you feel comfortable on and take it slow, well, as slow as you can.
- Snowshoeing/ Cross country Skiing: You can snowshoe or cross country ski in either the Manzanita Lake area or the Southwest area, but you need to bring your own equipment as they do not have rentals in the park. In the Manzanita Lake area you can snowshoe around the 1.8 mile Manzanita Lake loop, giving you amazing, tranquil winter views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags. In the Southwest area, you can ski a 2 miles round trip to the boiling mudpots and steam vents at Sulphur Works hydrothermal area. Nothing like fire and ice mixing to make a stunning display of nature! If new to snowshoeing, there is a free ranger-led snowshoe walk from January through March that leaves from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, just don’t forget to bring your own snowshoes.
- Picnicking: Okay, you’re thinking, I definitely don’t want to end up in traction from sledding, and I don’t know if I have the energy to muster for snowshoeing or skiing, but I do like relaxing and eating. Then I have the activity for you. Parking at the the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center on a sunny, blue sky kind of day and having a barbeque on the paved parking lot allows you to take in the beauty of the snow-covered park, while listening to children laughing (or screaming in terror) as they plunge down the steep slopes nearby. Just make sure to take all trash (including food scraps and ashes) home with you.
Where to Stay at Lassen National Park
Options for staying in and near Lassen National Park are somewhat limited, with camping being the main way to stay within the park. There is one lodge within the park and a few nearby hotels at the south entrance to the park.
Camping in Lassen National Park
There are nine campgrounds in Lassen National Park, with six of them located along the main road that winds through the park and three in more remote locations. There are also 20 camping cabins with beds. During the peak season of May to October, reservations are required for all camping sites, found at www.recreation.gov.
- Manzanita Lake Campground: Located near the north park entrance and near the lake, it is the largest and most popular campground in the park. It has sites for tents or RVs, but no electricity, water or sewage hookups. Flush toilets and running water are available during peak season, and showers are located nearby at the Lassen Camper Store. It sits close to the lake itself, an idyllic setting combining the clear blue lake with a perfect view of Lassen Peak in the distance and reflected in the lake as well. Surrounded by massive, old-growth Jeffrey pines and newer Western white pine trees, you’ll get a nose full of natural pine scent when sleeping here.
- Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins: These 20 rustic wooden camping cabins are located right next to the Manzanita Lake Campground in the north end of the park, allowing you to sleep in structures with beds instead of tents. There are one-room, two-room and bunkhouse-style cabins that sleep three, six or eight people, each tucked into its own stand of large pine trees. Beds are supplied, but no bed linens, pillows or blankets, so be sure to bring your own. Shared restrooms and showers are nearby, as is the Lassen Camper Store. Note that showers cost $1.75 for three minutes and you’ll need quarters to operate them. The lake is nearby, as is the main road that goes throughout the park.
- Butte Lake Campground: The most remote campground in Lassen, it is located in the northeast section of the park and is accessed by a six-mile gravel road. Here you’ll really feel away from it all in the midst of tall pines at this large blue lake. Kayaking, swimming and canoeing on Butte Lake are the main draws of this remote site and the trailhead of the popular Cinder Cone Trail is also found here. This hike takes you to an imploded cone-shaped hole created by a volcano. Flush toilets are available here, but no electricity, water or sewage hookups; each site is limited to two vehicles and three tents per camp pad. [Update: The Butte Lake Campground is closed indefinitely due to the 2021 Dixie Fire.]
Hotels in & Near Lassen National Park
There are not very many hotels to be found near Lassen, so making reservations early during peak season is key to having a comfortable, non-camping stay for your visit. We’ve listed the four closest to the southern edge of the park, which only requires a 15-minute or less drive to the closest park entrance.
- Drakesbad Guest Ranch: Drakesbad is the only hotel actually in Lassen National Park, though it is not on the main road of the park. Instead, this rustic hotel built-in 1938 is reached by traveling through the town of Chester to the Feather River Road and CR-312, and following a gravel road to the ranch. It’s more than 1.5 hours by car from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, but has trails into the park from this secluded Warner Valley spot. There is a restaurant, as well as horseback riding, fishing and other activities. Stay in the lodge rooms or in an individual cabin and you’ll have a private toilet and sink, but share showers by the pool. Bungalows and the more modern annex and duplex buildings have private showers; all accommodations require a two-night stay. Note that most of the rooms do not have electrical outlets and there is no cellphone service nor Wi-Fi available here, so really it’s more like camping, but with a roof. [Update: The Drakesbad Guest Ranch is closed in 2022 due to the 2021 Dixie fire.]
- Lassen Mineral Lodge: Located nine miles from the southern entrance of the park in the tiny town of Mineral, this lodge features hotel rooms, RV sites with all hookups and campsites with hot showers. It’s an old-fashioned place with a country kitchen restaurant and bar as well as a general store. And it is close enough that the drive into the southern entrance to the park is quick and easy, about a 15-minute drive.
- Mill Creek Resort: About a 30-minute drive from the park’s south entrance, Mill Creek Resort was built in the 1930s and is now a combination of rustic cabins (with kitchens and bathrooms), RV campsites with full hookups, or campsites with toilets and a shower house. They also have a restaurant, camp store, and a 70s glamping trailer you can stay in!
Vacation Rentals Near Lassen National Park
You’ll find Vrbo rentals in Shingletown, which is located about 20 miles (and a 20-minute drive) west of Lassen National Park’s Manzanita Lake entrance, as well as in Chester, which is 30 miles to the southeast of the park and takes 30ish minutes to drive to the southern park entrance. Here are a few choices:
- This Cozy Mountain Cabin sits 9 miles outside of the park in a gorgeous wooded setting. With ample outdoor space (yard, front porch, back porch, fire pit, and hammock!) you may spend all your time soaking in the fresh, piney air and listening to the nearby creek. But the indoor space is lovely too – sweet and rustic, with room for 7.
- This Super Charming Home is located in the town of Chester, which is just 16-miles away from Lassen. Not only does it have a lush cottage garden, an adorable kitchen with checkerboard floor and a fireplace, it also has 4 bedrooms so plenty of room to bring friends and family. It’s also near Lake Almanor, which is a fabulous spot for swimming, paddling, fishing, and boating.
- If you don’t mind being a little farther from Lassen (about 40 miles), check out this Little Blue Cabin on Lake Almanor, tucked away within towering pine trees with Lassen Peak soaring in the distance. It also has a hot tub, and in the evening you can walk to the shore and water the stars glittering over the mountains in the distance. Can you imagine?
About Our Guest Poster: Jenny Peters has covered the entertainment, lifestyle and travel worlds as a freelance journalist for many years. Her credits include writing on travel, film, celebrities, events and parties, restaurants, wine and spirits, design and architecture, health, beauty, spas, golf, automobiles and fashion for USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, TripSavvy.com, TimeOut.com, New York Lifestyles Magazine, Variety, New York Magazine, Coast Magazine, the Los Angeles Daily News and many other domestic and international publications, websites and wire services.
Which things to do in Lassen National Park are you excited about? Which part do you want to do first? Let us know in the comments below!
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