While Lassen Volcanic National Park is a day-tripper's paradise—a vast majority of the park's annual visitors decide to leave before the day is through—the mountain offers far more adventure than might appear.
The water and soil at Bumpass Hell.(Patrick Mueller)
Known for its hot springs, vents, and fumaroles, the park is overshadowed by Mount Shasta to the north and Lake Tahoe to the south. But we're here to tell you that the park is a worthwhile destination in its own right, more than worth a long weekend stay while venturing out of the city. More than hikes, the peak offers backcountry skiing on par with anything in the Sierra Nevada, its summit is a panoramic spectacle, its lakes are blue and wide open to paddlers, and its steaming flanks are unsettling reminders that you walk among the respiration of a sleeping giant. Make yourself comfortable here, but maybe not too comfortable.
Lassen offers two camping options close to the mountain that can stage deeper adventures in the area: the Southwest Walk-In Campground and the Hole-in-the-Ground Campground. Each has its benefits. The Southwest Walk-In Campground is located close to the southern visitor center. It is tucked up against the peak, providing great access to nearby adventures, the active volcanic areas in particular, and it is the only campground open year round. On the other hand, Hole-in-the-Ground is nestled farther south on Mill Creek, isolated from the relatively busy highways by a long dirt access road. In short, if you want a place to sleep, go to the Southwest Walk-In Campground. If you want a place to camp, stay at Hole-in-the-Ground. Due to its isolation, distance from the park, and rudimentary amenities, you'll likely find sites more available at Hole-in-the-Ground.
Sunrise over Manzanita Lake in winter.(Patrick Mueller)
The adventure possibilities abound from there. Hole-in-the-Ground sits in one of the most vital biotic watersheds in California, and you can hike from the campground along an informal trail to a swimming hole known as Jasper Mines. In the winter, Lassen offers several snowshoe and cross-country ski trails to while away several days. Outside of the southern reaches of the park, the McGowan Cross-country Ski Area offers a network of forest roads that remain unplowed during the winter and open to winter recreationists. The Nanny Creek and Dry Lake Trail is a gentle 4.5-mile there-and-back with minimal elevation gain. Those looking for a small peak with great views should head to Christie Hill. The winter experience only gets better inside the park. The route in is plowed just past the Southwest Walk-In Campground in the south and Manzanita Lake in the north, but the whole park is open to backcountry winter camping. Sulfur Works is a collection of fumaroles that's even more beautiful with snowy contrasts. Manzanita Lake is an absolutely gorgeous snowshoe in winter, partially ice-bound and providing beautiful vistas of Lassen. In combination with the Ridge Lakes Snowshoe, which can easily pair with the Sulphur Works Snowshoe, this is a winter itinerary that could easily last a full week.
During the warm months when the peak loses its winter coat, the trails open to hikers and lakes to paddlers. Manzanita Lake, which is the site of Lassen's largest campground, offers 42 surface acres for paddling and, as mentioned, some of the park's best views of Lassen. Pair this with Lake Helen, which sits in a basin near Bumpass Hell, for a full day on the water.
The park's active volcanic areas can largely be seen in a day. Sulphur Works lies right off of Lassen Volcanic Scenic Drive (Highway 89), a preview of what can be seen at Bumpass Hell. Just 3 miles long, Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in the park. It contains the park's biggest fumarole, the Big Boiler, and boiling pools coated with liquid pyrite, also known as fool's gold.
It would be foolish to miss a day in the park at Kings Creek Falls, one of the most beautiful in California. The wide waterfall cascades in semi-stepwise fashion over small rock shelves, creating a complex texture of horsetail-like tendrils. Although only 3 miles, spend the rest of the day at Kings Creek Meadow, where you can relax with a book or a picnic. The astrophotography is also phenomenal from this area.