Miles of its flanks are reeking and bubbling with hot springs, many of them so boisterous and sulphurous they seem ever ready to become spouting geysers...
Lassen Volcanic National Park has a unique place in the US National Park system. Not only is it home to virtually every kind of volcanic phenomenon imaginable, it is also the starting (or ending, depending on ones orientation) place of the Cascade Range. Lassen Peak (the world's largest plug-dome volcano, as well as the largest peak in the park), sharing the park's namesake, is defined by most as the 'first' of the Cascade volcanoes in the south. The area marks where the Sierra Nevada transitions to the Cascade range. The park was named after Peter Lassen, the prolific photographer who chronicled the devastating 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in 1916. In 1907, Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt originally dedicated what is now known as Lassen Volcanic National Park as 2 separate entities: Cinder Cone National Monument & Lassen Peak National Monument.
What to see, What to do...
Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to a wide variety of volcanic occurrences. Some of these include thermal vents, various volcanoes & buttes, mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs, lava fields, and cinder cones. One-hundred fifty miles of hiking trails, including 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) allow for convenient access to many of these features. The park is an excellent place to learn about volcanic phenomena, hike, enjoy nature, & in the winter, ski.
California county highpointers will eventually stop by Lassen Volcanic National Park to summit the two county highpoints there: Lassen Peak (interestingly enough, Shasta County) & Brokeoff Mountain (Tehama County).
Some suggested hikes:
note: These hikes are merely suggestions- specifics for each trip should be determined by the hiker (difficulty, whether he/she is fit enough for the trip, amount of water required, weather, etc.), & a good topographical map obtained & used (as well as The 10 Essentials).
• Lassen Peak (10,457’): 5 miles round-trip; 2,000’ gain; class 1; Mid-July through October
• Brokeoff Mountain (9,235’): 7 miles round-trip; 2,600’ gain; class 1; mid-July through October
• Butte Lake to Cinder Cone to Snag Lake (& loop back to Butte Lake): high point 6,900’; 1,700’ gain; class 1, moderate difficulty; late June through October
MAIN PARK ENTRANCES
The main access points to LVNP are from highway 89, at the southwest and northwest corners of the park. Directions to these are as follows.
From the west:
• From Redding: From the Interstate 5-44/299 split, take the Lassen Peak Highway (44) east. Pass through the hamlets of Palo Cedro & Shingleton to the 44/89 split. Go south (R) on Highway 89.
• From Red Bluff: From the I-5/99-36-Antelope Blvd exchange (the 2nd Red Bluff exit if coming from the S), go east on Highway 36/Antelope Blvd (also 99 S). Take a L (going N) where 36 splits from 99 at .9 mile from I-5. Pass through Mineral (42 mi E of Red Bluff) before going L (north) at the 89 split (4 ½ mi from Mineral) to the southern park entrance (approximately 52 mi from Red Bluff).
Allow 3 hours to get to LVNP from Sacramento & 4 from San Francisco (assuming no traffic &/or accidents or other roadway impediments- dial 511 & 800.427.ROAD (Caltrans) to check, as these can greatly increase these times).
For those heading up from the Bay Area, it is 160 miles from the Carquinez toll plaza to the park entrance.
From the east:
From Susanville, take Highway 44W to Highway 89S to get to the northern park entrance, or Highway 36W to 89 north to the southern park entrance.
The road through the park (highway 89) is closed (typically) from late October through mid May, depending on snow conditions. See also the ‘Conditions’ section. If, during this time, travel is desired from the S side of the park to the N side, Lanes Valley Rd (28.7 miles (west) from the southern park entrance or 22.9 miles from I-5, on highway 36) can be taken to Manton Rd/Long Rd, to Wildcat Rd, to highway 44, which leads to the northern park entrance. Estimated travel time is approximately an hour.
MINOR PARK ENTRANCES
In addition to the major access points to the park on highway 89, there are also minor ones that deposit one inside the park (no through roads from these locations). Some of the roads accessing these locations are unpaved, & may or not be accessible, depending on conditions- Check here.
• Butte Lake (NE corner of park)- access from Butte Lake Rd, off of highway 44
• Juniper Lake (SE corner of park)- access from Chester (29 mi E of Mineral)
• Warner Valley (south-central location in park)- access from Chester (29 mi E of Mineral)
You’ll have to shell out 10 bones (or have an ‘interagency annual pass’- all the convenience of the previous National Parks pass, except you get to pay an additional $20 to support other agencies whose facilities you don’t use!) to get into the park.
Due to the large amount of snowfall the area receives, the (1) road that goes through the park is open until November, weather permitting, after which point it is closed for the winter. During the winter, the Main Park Road is only open to the Southwest area on the southside and the Loomis Ranger station on the northside. Conditions permitting, the road can open as early as May 10th or as late as mid-July.
LVNP has 8 campgrounds with over 450 sites located throughout the park. Approximately half the park's campsites are reservable in four campgrounds throughout the summer. An additional four campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Reservations are required for all group sites. Most campgrounds are open mid- to late-June through mid-September.
Campgrounds have various designations and differing uses (aside from multi-use campgrounds, there are group sites & stock corrals (by reservation only), as well as walk-in only campgrounds), & are located at Butte Lake, Crags (5 miles S of Manzanita Lake), Juniper Lake, Lost Creek (4.5 miles S of Manzanita Lake on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Road), Manzanita Lake, SW Walk-in, & Summit Lake, & Warner Valley.
The Southwest walk-in campground is currently closed due to construction of the new visitor center. It is tentatively set to open again in October ‘8.
Outside the park:
There are also other camping/lodging options available outside of the park:
• If desperate, there is a mixed RV-tent campground at the east end of Mineral
• If you really feel the need for a picnic table & a bathroom with walls, there are various national forest campgrounds outside the park (seasonal closures)- one of these is Battle Creek campground, 1.1 miles E of the park HQ outside of Mineral (you’ll need to fork out $18!)
• Camp for free on National Forest land. Various forest service roads lead off from the highways leading to the park (ensure you are indeed on public lands, however- pockets of private land are interspersed throughout the national forest land). Getting the Lassen National Forest map (~$8, available at the park headquarters outside of Mineral, among other places) is a good idea. If coming from Red Bluff, the national forest boundary is about 39 miles from the interstate.
• There are various lodging options available in Red Bluff, approximately 52 miles, or an hour, from the park's southern entrance.
As one might surmise with a title of “Volcanic National Park,” the root of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s uniqueness is its volcanic history (& present). The volcanism occurring in the area is due to subduction of the Gorda Plate beneath the North American Plate.
While numerous currently visible byproducts of volcanism are evident in the park (thermal vents, mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs, …), perhaps the most obvious example is the (geologically) recent eruption of Lassen Peak in the early 20th century. An incredible eruption of Lassen Peak occurred on May 22, 1915, devastating nearby areas and causing volcanic ash to rain down as far away as 200 miles to the east. This explosion was the most powerful of those that occurred in a 1914-17 series of eruptions. Before the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, this was easily the largest recent eruption of a Cascade volcano. USGS play-by-play of Lassen's eruption
Ancient former volcano Mt. Tehama began rising approximately 600,000 years ago. It grew to 11,000 ft in elevation in the following 300,000 years before a collapse left just its caldera behind. Brokeoff Mountain is the largest remnant of this former giant.
All 4 types of volcanoes are represented in LVNP: shield (Prospect Peak), plug dome (Lassen Peak), cinder cone (Cinder Cone), and composite (Brokeoff Volcano) volcanoes. Over the past 300,000 years, more than 30 volcanic domes have erupted in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Unbeknownst to many, northern California has an example of a collapsed caldera similar to that of central Oregon's renowned Crater Lake. Its caldera was breached and no lake developed as did at Crater Lake.
Approximately 600,000 years ago a great Pacific Ring of Fire stratovolcano now termed Mount Tehama (the mountain that Crater Lake used to be was called Mt. Mazama), or alternately Brokeoff Volcano, gradually built up here through countless eruptions. Tehama collapsed before Lassen Peak was in place. Mount Tehama's main vent was likely what is now the park's Sulphur Works. Remnants the caldera's flanks include Brokeoff Mountain, Mount Diller, Pilot Pinnacle, and Mount Conard. Try to envision Mount Tehama's base by connecting these peaks in a circle - a diameter of 11 miles!
Lassen Volcanic National Park lies in a remote & beautiful region of California. Most of the nearby sight-seeing attractions are related to the Cascade range. Some of these are listed below:
• Beautiful Burney Falls
• Awesome Mt. Shasta: about 90 miles (1:30 driving) from Red Bluff, or ca. 60 miles (1 hr driving) from Redding
• The impressive granite spires of the Castle Crags rise abruptly above I-5 about 80 mi (1:20 driving) N of Red Bluff, or 15 mi (:20 driving) S of Mt. Shasta.
• Although stretching the definition of "nearby," this might still qualify for those on an extended road trip that might not be in the area again or for awhile- Lava Beds National Monument offers another fascinating glimpse at volcanic phenomena. In California's far northeastern corner, east of the Cascade crest, this area is filled with (frequently hikeable) lava tubes- subterranean caves formed when lava retreated. About 2 hours from the northern park entrance.