Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in the southern end of the Cascade Mountain Range in northern California. The park is most famous for its volcanoes and hydrothermal sites such as mud pots, steaming ground, boiling pools, and volcanic-gas vents which you can reach by hiking trails or boardwalks.
Lassen Peak, the park’s most iconic feature, is the largest plug dome volcano in the world. BF Loomis documented when the last volcano erupted from 1914-17. Visitors can view his photographs in the park’s Loomis Museum. Park visitors can paddle on clear lakes, wander through wildflower meadows, climb mountain peaks, and enjoy the winter snowpack. The history of the park has been shaped by many different groups from at least four indigenous groups: Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu who have used the land seasonally. The first settlers were brought to the area primarily by the California gold rush in the mid-1800s.
Best Time to Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
The Spring season lasts from April through June and is characterized by sunny days and the occasional storm. The activities that you are able to do depend on how much snowpack remains. In most years the snowy season lasts all the way into June. The park highway and other park roads may remain closed into May or June.
The summer months from July through September see the most amount of visitors and also have the most activities, facilities, and access to park areas. Wildflower blooms appear from May through September. Summer has predominantly sunny days accompanied by the occasional thunderstorm. Average July temperatures are a high of 88.4°F (31.3°C) and a low of 49.8°F (9.9°C).
The fall season lasts from October through November. Fall is a great time to visit because most park roads stay open into November (weather depending) but the number of park visitors decreases making the park more relaxed. The fall foliage shows its colors and the decreased temperature is ideal for hiking.
Winter in the park lasts from December through March. Winters can get very cold. In January, average high temperatures are around 40.4°F (4.7°C) and average low temperatures drop to 20.8°F (-6.2°C). Park staff limit road access due to snow closures but the Manzanita Lake and Southwest Areas remain accessible by vehicle all year.
It’s always a good idea to start any National Parks trip with a stop at a visitor center. There, you can speak to park rangers, view exhibits, watch the park video on the area’s natural and cultural history, join a ranger-led program, or pick up maps, books, brochures, and backcountry permits.
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (SW Entrance). Located at 21820 Lassen National Park Hwy, Mineral, CA. Open year-round.
Loomis Museum (NW Entrance). Located at 29489 Lassen National Park Hwy, Shingletown, CA. Acts as a visitor center. Open during summer months.
Getting To / Around Lassen Volcanic National Park
Sacramento CA – Drive from Sacramento International Airport (SMF) for 173 miles (278 km), about 2 hours and 45 minutes via I-5 N and CA-36 E, to arrive at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (SW Entrance).
Reno NV – Drive from Reno International Airport (RNO) for 153 miles (246 km), about 2 hours 50 min via US-395 N and CA-36 W, to arrive at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (SW Entrance).
Redding CA – Drive from Redding Airport (RDD) for 45 miles (72 km), about 53 minutes via CA-44 E, to arrive at Loomis Museum (NW Entrance).
Park staff limit access to the park in the winter and early spring seasons due to snow. Remember to check the current road status before your visit. The high elevation winter roads can be hazardous, vehicles traveling through the park should carry chains from October through May.
There is no public transportation within the park.
Things to Do and Main Attractions
Visit the Loomis Museum during the summer. At the museum you can watch the park film and view exhibits such as photos of Lassen Peak’s most recent eruption and traditional Atsugewi basketry.
Volcanic Park Highway
Take a scenic drive along Lassen Volcanic Park Highway. This historic 30 mile (48 km) road is the only route through the park. The road winds through forests, along a ridge with views of Lake Almanor, climbs to 8,512 ft (2594.5 km) near Lassen Peak trailhead and then descends steep volcanic slopes. All along the route there are a variety of viewpoints, trailheads, and pull-outs to explore.
Biking is welcome on all park roads but not on trails or in wilderness areas. During the park’s transition from winter to spring, sections of the highway are plowed of snow and cyclists can enjoy these areas before they are opened to vehicle traffic for the year.
There are over 150 miles of hiking trails in the park ranging from easy interpretive walks to the challenging climb of Lassen’s Peak itself. Devastated Area Interpretive Trail is a wheelchair-accessible trail that takes you through the areas that were affected by the volcano’s last eruptions. Informative signs along the path teach you about the park’s history. Cinder Cone is a challenging hike that takes you past lava beds and painted dunes. At the end of the steep climb, hikers are rewarded with views of Lassen Peak.
Visitors can find hydrothermal features such as fumaroles or steam/volcanic gas vents, steaming ground, mud pots, and boiling pools all heated by the magma underneath Lassen Peak all over the park. Visitors can travel to some of these areas by hiking trails or boardwalks. Some can even be seen from the sidewalks or parking lots. The park offers the “Reach Higher Trail Challenge” a challenge designed to raise awareness for the critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox. Participants are invited to hike a minimum of 7 miles within the park, complete one activity in support of the red fox, write down the data, and share the results with the ranger, earning them a commemorative red fox bandana. Backpacking and spending the night in Lassen Volcanic Wilderness requires a park permit which can be acquired at a visitor center.
Stargazing in Lassen can be spectacular because the park is far away from light pollution. There are a few different ways to enjoy the night sky. You can explore the sky on your own, join a ranger-led Starry Night program and visit different locations around the park, or attend the Dark Sky Festival where you can learn about astronomy and preserving the night skies.
Non-motorized boats are allowed on Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, Summit Lake, and Juniper Lake. Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, SUP’s, and catarafts at the Manzanita Lake Camper Store during the summer months. Visitors can fish in the park with the proper licensing. Trout are abundant in Butte Lake and Horseshoe Lake.
Due to the geographic location of the park and its abundant habitats, Lassen has an incredible diversity of wildlife. Visitors may come across black bears, mule deer, marten, chickadee, woodpeckers, pikas, or long-toed salamanders among many other animals. More elusive park animals include the mountain lion and the endangered Sierra Nevada red fox.
The snow-filled winter months bring a new range of activities. Visitors can cross-country ski or snowshoe along many park trails. You can also try sledding down more advanced and steep slopes in the southwest area of the park or down Eskimo Hill, an intermediate slope located in Lassen National Forest. Visitors who are experienced and prepared for avalanche safety can ski or snowboard in the backcountry.
Ranger-led programs are a free way to learn more about your park’s history and ecology from the experts. Lassen offers seasonal programs and activities such as the junior firefighter program, bird banding demonstrations, snowshoe hikes, and the winter ecology snowshoe program.
Where to Stay in Lassen Volcanic National Park
There are two lodging options within the park: Drakesbad Guest Ranch or Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch is a rustic retreat in Warner Valley. Guests can stay in the lodge, or surrounding cabins and bungalows. Enjoy a massage or a soak in the hydrothermal, spring-fed pool after a long day of hiking, horseback riding, swimming, or fishing nearby. Staff set up activities such as archery and crafts for the kids and they also serve meals in the dining room.
Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins are located on the northern side of Manzanita Lake Campground. The twenty rustic cabins each have a picnic table and bear food storage locker. You can choose either a one-room, two-room, or bunkhouse option. The cabins have an incredible view of Lassen Peak. Ranger-led programs are offered at the campgrounds amphitheater. The Manzanita Lake Camper Store is nearby for groceries, supplies, gas, a payphone, ATM, laundry, and showers.
Camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park
There are five campgrounds in the park that are suitable for RV’s: Buttle Lake, Lost Creek Group, Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake North, and Summit Lake South.
Butte Lake Campground is a remote campground located in the northeast corner of the park. This large campground operates on a first-come, first-serve basis except for the reservable group sites. Electric and water hookups are not available. Campsites are within walking distance of Butte Lake where visitors can kayak, fish or swim. The campground is close to popular trails leading to Cinder Cone and Bathtub Lake.
Lost Creek Group Campground is made up of eight group campsites surrounded by towering ponderosa pines. It is a great campground if you are hoping to visit the Manzanita Lake, Devastated, or Summit Lake areas. This campground requires reservations.
Manzanita Lake Campground is a popular spot for families. Manzanita Lake offers reservable and first-come, first-serve campsites. Visitors are allowed to enjoy the lake from hard-sided boats but are no longer permitted to swim in the lake due to river otter danger. There is a 1.6 mile (2.6 km) hiking trail that circles the lake and takes you to views of Lassen’s stunning peak reflecting off of the water. Ranger-led programs are offered. At the Manzanita Lake Camper Store you can stock up on groceries, supplies, gifts, and gas, and also use the payphone, ATM, laundromat, and showers.
Summit Lake North/South Campgrounds both have lake access which is great for fishing, swimming, and paddling. There are reservable and first-come, first-serve sites available at both campgrounds. Staff offer evening programs at the Summit Lake amphitheater.
Things to Remember While Visiting Lassen Volcano
- Follow ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.
- Stay on trail in hydrothermal areas. The ground may appear solid while hiding acidic boiling water or mud.
- Public WiFi is available in the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
- Cellphone service is unreliable in the park.
- There is one gas station within the park located behind Manzanita Lake Camper Store. It is open from late May to mid-October. You can find other gas stations in surrounding communities.
- Be aware of the signs of altitude sickness. The park’s elevation ranges from 5,650 ft (1,722 m) to 10,457 ft (3,187 m).
- Avoid summer traffic congestion by visiting on weekdays, arriving early in the day, and carpooling to the park if possible.
- Buy food and supplies before arriving. There is a cafe and general store both open seasonally.
- Generally, leashed pets are permitted to only go anywhere a car may go for their safety and the safety of park wildlife.
- Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. So rain gear and layered clothing are essential.
- Respect wildlife from a distance: don’t feed or approach them or let them approach you.
- Human food has a serious impact on wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife, keep camps free of all traces of food, store food in an animal-proof food locker, and place all garbage in an animal-proof trash can.
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