“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing…” John Muir’s words have a special meaning in such an ever evolving environment as Lassen Volcanic National Park, where your day itinerary is filled with diverse activities and seemingly unrelated places and things.
A Complete Guide to Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park: Things to Do and 1-2 Day Itinerary
One of the most overlooked national parks in California, Lassen Volcanic astounds with its diverse terrain. Home to eroded volcanic remnants, cascading falls, roaring steam vents, gurgling mudpots, picturesque valleys, and meadows filled with blooming spring flowers, the area is a living proof that wilderness is beyond any human-imposed limits and expectations.
I was aware of only one part of the park: the hissing and boiling hydrothermal features. The rest of the natural abundance was a novelty to me. Thus, while planning our Northern California – Oregon trip, I was quite impressed that you can spend more than one day in Lassen Volcanic National Park and still miss a good portion of its unique attractions.
But even my limited knowledge suggested that it would be a great place to show my mom some results of the volcanic activity trapped deep underneath the earth’s surface.
Ironically, we saw just a few hydrothermal features, spending most of the day doing things and visiting places we didn’t even know existed in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Quick History of Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of a few places where you can find all four types of rocks originated from volcanoes: shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome. In fact, Lassen Peak that was formed by lava too thick to flow far away from the place of eruption, is one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world.
The gurgling fumaroles, boiling pools and lakes, and pulsating mudpots attest to the volcanic activity underground. Melted snow and rain water fill the hydrothermal cracks. Heated by magma nestled as deep as three miles under the surface, the water rises eventually, creating the signature features.
Like in Yellowstone National Park, a remarkable natural landmark that sits on a supervolcano, the hydrothermal activity in Lassen Volcanic National Park indicates the potential for future eruptions.
The last volcanic explosions were recorded between 1914 and 1921. The largest eruption happened on May 22, 1915. The lava poured from the volcano, destroying everything on its way. Some of the Lassen Volcanic’s areas were stripped of all vegetation. Nothing survived. The greatest example of such a complete devastation was the Devastated Area.
This great disaster, however, paved the way for creation of Lassen Volcanic National Park on August 9, 1916. In 1972, more than half of the 165-square-mile park was designated the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness, which became one of the first wilderness areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The Best Things to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park
1. Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway
The 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway stretches from the Northwest and Southwest entrances of the park. Most of the area’s landmarks sit along the route. Here you will find the most popular overlooks, trailheads, and roadside attractions that unveil the nature of the region.
Considering national park’s speed limit, the drive is fairly long. It take on average one hour (without stops) or an entire day to explore this section of Lassen Volcanic.
2. Cinder Cone and Fantastic Lava Beds
Located in the eastern section of Lassen Volcanic National Park, Cinder Cone is one of the four types of volcanoes. It was formed by loose volcano rocks, cinders, and ash that accumulated around single vent.
The eruption occurred in 1650. Two large basaltic lava flows oozed from the base of the volcano. Nothing could survive these boiling forces. Trees and creeks disappeared in the areas where the lava flew. The flow eventually dried out, leaving behind the barren land, the Fantastic Lava Beds, and two lakes, Snag Lake and Butte Lake.
Hike: Hiking to the Cinder Cone volcano is one of the first things the visitors of Lassen Volcanic National Park do. The trail is 2 mile long and offers incredible views of the Fantastic Lava Beds and the surrounding area.
3. Manzanita Lake
We might have missed most of the hydrothermal features, but we spent a good portion of the day exploring scenic lakes of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Manzanita Lake is one of the first places you come across after entering the region from the Northwest Entrance.
The most popular lake boasts some of the most recognizable vistas. The Loomis Museum and the Manzanita Lake Camper Store are also just a few feet away.
And if you look for active things to do in Lassen Volcanic, then you’ve come to the right place. From swimming to kayaking, ranger-led programs, and nature gazing, Manzanita Lake is a must-visit destination whether you spend half a day or several days in the park.
If you have the whole day, hike the Manzanita Lake Trail. The loop path is only 1.5 miles long. Once you finish the hike, claim one of the picnic tables near the Manzanita Lake Campground and enjoy your lunch while watching ducks swimming nearby.
Note: Feeding wildlife in Lassen Volcanic is illegal. Be sure not to share your food with the pretty tamed birds.
4. Devastated Area Loop Trail
The 0.5-mile well-trodden loop trail doesn’t look like a devastated area today. The path with massive rocks – volcanic remnants – runs through a pine tree forest.
Some 100 years ago, though, hot blasts and avalanches – the aftermath of the 1915 eruptions of Lassen Peak – ravaged the entire area, destroying all vegetation along the way. Interpretive signage along the trail gives you the whole picture of what had happed and how the area had looked like back then.
This leisurely walk belongs to some of the educational things to do while in Lassen Volcanic. The history of the place is shocking. The resilience of nature is even more compelling.
5. Kings Creek Falls
Knowing how much my mom longed to see waterfalls, I added Kings Creek Falls to our one-day Lassen Volcanic National Park itinerary.
The 30-foot waterfall is accessible via a 2.3-mile round-trip trail. The hike starts as an easy walk through the forest. The narrow and sometimes slippery path gradually descends to the waterfall. A fenced overlook culminates the hiking trip, offering the long-awaited view of the Kings Creek Falls.
The hike back is one of a few things in Lassen Volcanic you should take time to finish. The narrow trail climbs the stairs for nearly 0.2 mile until it reaches a trail junction. The trail is relatively flat from now on.
6. Kings Creek Upper Meadow
An easy pull-off, Kings Creek Upper Meadow is located just 0.25 mile south of the Kings Creek Falls Trailhead. The area astounds with remarkable views of Lassen Peak. Photographers flock here rain or shine to capture the mesmerizing seasonal beauty of the park.
For visitors who prefer to explore more, the meadow offers outstanding opportunities to view Lassen Volcanic’s wildlife. Eagles and hawks land in the valley to catch a mouse or golden-mantled ground squirrels. Occasionally, black-tailed deer and black bear cross the meadow on their way to more secluded sections of the park.
7. Bumpass Hell
Bumpass Hell area is one of the most popular landmarks of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The largest hydrothermal area in the region, the place sits at the end of the 1.5-mile trail. The path is easy, busy, and is open only in summer and fall.
8. Lake Helen
A blue waterbody captured my attention from the highway. From a couple of articles I had read before the trip, I was aware of Lassen Volcanic’s lakes which beauty stops you in your tracks. Now I was experiencing this splendor myself.
An over 100-foot-deep lake, Lake Helen sits at the base of Lassen Peak. The blue, crystal clear water attract like a magnet. No swimming or boating, however, is allowed in this pristine corner of the park.
Thus, no many visitors of Lassen Volcanic stop at Lake Helen, preferring different lakes where they have more opportunities to utilize their time in the park in a more active manner.
But those who visit the area get to enjoy the remarkable views of the volcanic peaks. On calm days, Lassen Peak gloriously reflects in the blue waters of the lake.
9. Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake got its name from signature green color of vegetation that grows in its shallow waters. Like its nearest neighbor, Lake Helen, this roadside lake doesn’t see too many visitors. Parking is also limited.
Again, not much you can do in this part of Lassen Volcanic National Park apart from gazing at the stunning lake, serene surroundings reflected in the water, and the top of Lassen Peak.
10. Sulphur Works
When in Lassen Volcanic National Park, you must do one thing: see the byproduct of the hydrothermal activity that takes place under the earth’s surface. Hiking to the most prominent hydrothermal areas is the best way to tick off this thing on your Lassen Volcanic National Park to-do list.
To be realistic, this is not always possible, especially if you have only a few hours or a day to explore the park. The Surphur Works area is your best option in this case.
The place is an easy pull-off with mind-blowing views of roadside boiling mudpots and “breathing” vents of a dead volcano. Vibrant colors have painted the rocks around the volcanic features over the years.
But the smell… It’s pungent. And it’s probably the last thing you want to explore more of in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
11. Boiling Springs Lake
Boiling Springs Lake is one of the world’s largest boiling lakes. Several steam vents reside under the lake, keeping the temperature of the water around 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another remarkable feature of the lake is its greenish color. This together with the perpetual bubbles make the area look mysterious, almost supernatural.
Hike: The Boiling Springs Lake area is located at the end of a 1.5-mile trail.
12. Devils Kitchen
Devils Kitchen is one of the three largest hydrothermal areas in Lassen Volcanic. Located farther away from the other popular attraction, the place is not spoilt by too many visitors. On top of that, a hike of 2.1 miles one way makes the area inaccessible to some families with small kids and elderly guests.
But the area certainly must be on the itinerary of the fitter visitors of Lassen Volcanic National Park. A large number of hydrothermal attractions reside here, creating terrain that looks rather hellish.
Things to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park: Map
One-Day Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary
If you have just one day to explore the many great things Lassen Volcanic National Park has to offer, take it easy and prioritize your interests.
1. Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway
Start your day with driving along the scenic Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway and admiring the distant peaks and sweeping mountain ranges. Be sure to stop at such captivating places as Kings Creek Falls Upper Meadow, Lake Helen, Emerald Lake, and Sulphur Works.
2. Manzanita Lake
For a lunch or slower pastime, stop at Manzanita Lake. Rent a kayak and admire the surroundings from the water. If you more of a being-on-a-sturdy-ground person, walk around the lake. The round-trip hike is only 1.5 miles. For a lunch with a view, visit the picnic area near the Manzanita Lake Campground.
3. Devastated Area Look Trail
This easy hike works for all: active one-day visitors, families with kids, and elderly guests of Lassen Volcanic National Park. It takes about 15-20 minutes to complete the walk, unless you intend to take in the surroundings and learn history of the park at a much slower pace.
4. Go on a Longer Hike
The most popular hike among the one-day visitors is the Bumpass Hell Trail, featuring some of the most prominent hydrothermal features of Lassen Volcanic.
Alternatively, you can hike to Kings Creek Falls, Boiling Springs Lake, or Devils Kitchen.
Two-Day Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary
Day 1: Follow the One-Day Lassen Volcanic National Park itinerary
Day 2: Drive along the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway and explore the sections of the area you missed on day 1. Add an additional hike or two or spend more time at the secluded lakes.
Alternative Day 2 of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary
With more time on your hands, you can drive to lesser-known sections of the park and hike to both Boiling Springs Lake and Devils Kitchen.
Places to Visit Near Lassen Volcanic National Park
Located in Lassen National Forest, the Subway Cave is just 14 miles away from the Northwest Entrance. The historic place was created by flowing lava some 30,000 years ago.
The most popular attraction in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, Burney Falls is often named the most beautiful waterfall in California. The 129-foot waterfall is also pretty reliable. Fed by underground springs, it astounds with heavy flow throughout the year.
Where to Stay When Spending a Day or Two in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Fall River Mills
Fall River Mills is one of a few small towns you can stay in when visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park. The place worked wonderfully for us since we spent only one full day in the area and planned to see both Lassen Volcanic and Burney Falls.
The place offers different kinds of accommodations. If you long for some homey atmosphere, consider booking the Mott’s Cottage. We loved it.
Things to Know before Spending a Day in Lassen Volcanic National Park
You must pay $30 per vehicle before entering Lassen Volcanic National Park and spending a day hiking, boating, swimming, or doing all the things a nature lover can’t say no to. The pass is valid for 7 consecutive days. Annual passes are also available and costs $55.
With interagency pass, such as the America the Beautiful, you can visit all federal recreation sites for one year. The pass is $80.
Seasonal Services and Facilities
Most facilities are seasonal, offering their services from June through mid-October.
Wi-Fi and Phone Service
Phone service and Wi-Fi are luxurious things to wish for when spending a day in the wilderness of Lassen Volcanic. Yet while limited, they are still available. You can use free Wi-Fi at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
Phone services are limited in both the park and nearby areas. If the need arises, you can use pay phones, located outside the Manzanita Lake Camper Store (food is also available here) and the Loomis Museum.
Only non-motorized watercraft are permitted in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The most popular places to spend a day on or by the lake within Lassen Volcanic are Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, and Summit Lake.
You must not boat or paddleboat on Boiling Springs Lake (dangerous), Lake Helen, Emerald Lake, and Reflection Lake.
Stay on Trail
The grounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park may look solid, but again it’s a dangerous hydrothermal area. The earth crust hiding boiling water and mud may be thin. So for your own safety, you must stay on designated trails and boardwalks at all times.
No Pets on Trails
Pets are not allowed on the trails in Lassen Volcanic. Like any animals, dogs leave behind territorial scent, which disrupts wild animals.
This, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t spend a day or two in Lassen Volcanic National Park with your pets. Make sure to keep them on leash and only on roadways, in parking lots, the campgrounds and picnic areas.
No Biking Trails
While Lassen Volcanic doesn’t have biking trails, you can still spend a day biking along the highway within the park.
Don’t Feed Wild Animals
Feeding the wild animals disrupts wildlife’s natural patterns and is illegal in Lassen Volcanic National Park.