The Cinder Cone is one of 30 volcanic domes found in Lassen Volcanic National Park. While overshadowed by the larger, rugged mountains and geothermal features in the western portion of the park, the Cinder Cone offers an interesting glimpse into other manifestations of Lassen’s volcanic heritage, including lava fields, painted dunes, pumice fields, lava-formed lakes and the volcanic Cinder Cone itself.
Mt. Lassen dominates the western skyline from the summit of the Cinder Cone.
Lassen National Park contains all four types of volcanoes. Lassen Peak itself is a plug volcano composed of dacite (lava) that was pushed out of the remnants of Mt. Tehama. Brokeoff Mountain, south of Mt. Lassen is part of the remnant of the southern slope of Mt. Tehama, a composite volcano similar to Mt. Shasta to the north. Prospect Peak, north of the Cinder Cone and Mt. Harkness to the southeast are shield volcanoes. The Cinder Cone is an outstanding example of a cinder cone volcano.
A cinder cone formation is composed of a material called scoria. Scoria is the result of blobs of lava being propelled by high-pressure gasses and cooling in midair. As it is continually expelled from the volcanic vent, it piles up into its recognizable conical shape. The Cinder Cone in Lassen National Park has two crater rims. Geologists believe that this is the result of fluctuations in eruptions late in the cones active life.
Surrounding the Cinder Cone is evidence of a series of eruptions. Most notable is the Fantastic Lava Beds. This formation is readily apparent from the trail to the Cinder Cone. As one follows the trail a 30 ft. high wall of black, jagged wall rises to the left. This represents the northwestern extent of the flow. The lava originally flowed south where it dammed a creek that eventually produced Snag Lake. With the lake now obstructing flow, the lava shifted its direction to the northeast. It eventually blocked another creek and formed Butte Lake. The evidence of the lavas influence on the lakes is still apparent The southern and eastern shore of Butte Lake and the northern shore of Snag Lake is jagged black lava rising vertically from the water. Other eruptions produced the Painted Dunes, which are multicolored pumice fields.
Butte Lake, Fantastic Lava Beds, Painted Dunes and the slope of the Cinder Cone. The Painted Dunes spread out beneath the Cinder Cone.
Indians inhabited this region for centuries. Based upon interpretations of their oral tradition, it was long believed that the Cinder Cone last erupted around 1850. Some geologists believe this to be inaccurate and date the last eruptions 200 years earlier. American settlers eventually passed through this region. The trail to the Cinder Cone from Butte Lake is actually a portion of the famous Nobles Emigrant Trail, which brought wagon trains into California’s Central Valley. President Theodore Roosevelt incorporated the Cinder Cone itself into Cinder Cone National Monument in 1907 after he visited the region. Mt. Lassen was the centerpiece of Lassen Peak National Monument. The two were combined into Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916, after Mt. Lassen erupted in 1914. The area was designated the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness in 1972.
The trail to the Cinder Cone is a very level two miles. Old growth ponderosa pine rise on the right side of the trail while to the left is the black walls of the Fantastic Lava Beds. After a mile or so the Cinder Cone is visible rising in the distance. Eventually the trees recede to the north and the hulking mass of the Cinder Cone comes into full view. The trail continues over the black pumice that lies around the base of the Cone. A portion of the Painted Dunes is visible to the south. The Cinder Cone rises 800 feet above. The trail is apparent, spiraling to the west as it climbs. Folks, this part is wretched. Not only is it incredibly steep and exposed, but also it is on loose cinders. Every step forward you slid back. Nonetheless, the views from the top are well worth the effort. At the summit, the dual crater is readily apparent and Mt. Lassen rises to the west. A trail descends into the crater while another drops down the south flank. This route down is recommended. The trail from the southern descent follows the western base of the Cone through the Painted Dunes.
Route to Cinder Cone from Butte Lake trailhead
From Interstate 5 in Redding, travel east on Highway 44. At the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park, travel NORTH on Highway 89. DO NOT ENTER THE PARK. At the town of Old Station go 24 miles east on Highway 44. Turn right onto the signed road to Butte Lake. The dirt road is well maintained and suitable for any type of vehicle. Park at the trailhead next to Butte Lake and follow the trail to the Cinder Cone.
Cinder Cone from the Painted Dunes
The Cinder Cone is in Lassen Volcanic National Park as well as the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. Normal NPS and wilderness rules and ethics apply.
The entrance fee is $10.00.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
PO Box 100
Mineral, CA 96063
Be sure to stay on trail while climbing the cone. Traveling off trail leaves unsightly scars on the surface of the cinders. These take a long time to resettle and are both useless and unattractive.
Camping is available at the trailhead in the Butte Lake Campground. The cheapest sites cost $16.00. Camping is allowed in the wilderness area, but a free camping permit is required. There is no camping around the base of the Cinder Cone or amongst the Painted Dunes. This map
marks the off limit areas. Water is not available once you leave the trailhead.
When To Go
It is often the case that Lassen National Volcanic Park has the shortest hiking season of any mountain region in California. Generally, the western part of the park is only open from late June to mid-October, and often times the season is much shorter than that. Fortunately, Cinder Cone is located in the eastern portion of the park, at a lower elevation. Consequently, it does open up earlier than the rest of the park. It can often be reached by late May and is accessible through late October and into November. Cinder Cone is known to a be a destination for cross-country skiers.
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Restricted Wilderness Camping Map
- Article on dating the age of the Cinder Cone