Lassen Volcanic National Park and Area

From Red Bluff, take Highway 36 east; or from Redding, take Highway 44 east.

Lassen Volcanic National Park admission is $30 per vehicle.
A free park newsletter/map orients visitors and lists daily activities.  Campsites are available. 

volcano erupting at Lassen Volcanic National Park; copyright B.F. Loomis
volcano erupting at Lassen Volcanic National Park; copyright B.F. Loomis

Considered to be an active volcano that is now dormant, imposing 10,457-foot Lassen Peak last erupted in 1915.  (It is one of only two active volcanoes on the U.S. mainland.  The other is Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, which last erupted in 1980.  A curious fact is that they both erupted in the month of May.)  It is thought to be the largest plug dome volcano in the world. 

The best time to visit is July through September, when the 30-mile road through the park is least likely to be closed by snow (it climbs to 8,511 feet).  Visitors can take several self-guided nature walks and attend campfire talks in summer.  Children age 7 through 12 can participate in the Junior Ranger program, and those age 4 through 6 can participate in the Chipmunk Club (contact the Loomis Museum for information).  In winter, ranger-led snowshoe walks are scheduled.

Boardwalks supplement the trail through popular Bumpass Hell (it is named after its discoverer Kendall Bumpass, who severely burned and ultimately lost a leg when he fell into a boiling mud pot), which is the largest geothermal feature in the park and sports geological oddities such as boiling springs and mud pots, pyrite pools, and noisy fumaroles.  The trail covers 3 miles and takes 2 or 3 hours round trip to walk.  The park also offers more than 150 miles of backcountry trails, including a 17-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

bikers in front of steaming fumarole at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California
bikers in front of steaming fumarole
at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

At the northwest entrance, the park’s Loomis Museum, which is located inside a lovely old stone building at Manzanita Lake, has an orientation video and exhibits dramatic photos of the 1915 eruption.  At the southwest entrance, the new Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center features a Platinum LEED design and has interactive displays, an orientation film, several gift shops, and a restaurant.

Loomis Museum at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California
Loomis Museum at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

nearby attractions

Fort Crook Museum 
43030 Fort Crook Museum Rd., on Hwy. 299, in Fall River Mills.  Free. 
Composed of a 3-story main building and eight outer buildings, this large complex displays six rooms of antique furniture, a collection of early farm implements and Native American artifacts, the old Fall River jail, a one-room schoolhouse from Pittville, a pioneer log cabin, and more.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park 
24898 Hwy. 89, in Burney.  Fee. 
A lovely 1-mile nature trail winds past the soothing rush of the 129-foot waterfall here (Theodore Roosevelt called it the eighth wonder of the world), allowing for closer inspection of the volcanic terrain for which this area is known.  Shade offers cool respite on a warm afternoon, and picnic tables are available in a tree-sheltered area near the gift shop/snack bar.  Paddleboats can be rented at man-made Lake Britton, where facilities include picnic tables, a sandy beach, and a wading area for children.  Swimming is permitted only in designated areas, as the lake has a steep drop-off.  Campsites and camping cabins are available.

A boat is needed to reach isolated Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, which features one of the largest systems of freshwater springs in the world.  Descendants of the Native American Ahjumawi tribe reside in the area.  Twelve miles away, the town of Burney offers motels and supermarkets. 

fisherman at McArthur-Burney Falls in Burney, California
fisherman at McArthur-Burney Falls in Burney, California

Spatter Cones Nature Trail 
½ mi. W of Old Station, across from Hat Creek Campground.  Free. 
This 2-mile, self-interpretive trail winds past a number of volcanic spatter cones, lava tubes, domes, and blowholes.  It takes about 2 hours to walk and is most comfortably hiked in early morning or late afternoon.

Subway Cave 
1 mi. N of Old Station, near junction of Hwys. 44 & 89.  Free.  No pets. 
Lava tubes formed here about 2,000 years ago, when the surface of a lava flow cooled and hardened while the liquid lava beneath the hard crust flowed away.  This cave, which is actually a lava tube, winds for about 1/3 mile.  Always a cool 46 degrees, it makes a good place to visit on a hot afternoon.  However, it is completely unlighted inside, so visitors are advised to bring along a powerful flashlight.  Allow time for a picnic in the lovely surrounding woods.  Just north of here, Mt. Lassen starts showing up in your rearview mirror, and Mt. Shasta looms ahead.

nearby hotels

Lodging here caters to fishermen and is generally simple and inexpensive; many forest campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Bear in mind that this area is remote and does not offer many big-city facilities or supermarkets.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch 
At end of Warner Valley Rd., 17 mi. from Chester.  19 units.  Closed Oct-May.  No TVs.  Hot springs pool.  Includes 3 meals.  No pets. 
Located at the end of the road—the last 3 miles of which is dirt–in a secluded, scenic mountain valley within Lassen park, this rustic resort was a hot springs spa in the mid-1800s.  It has been a guest ranch since the turn of the 19th century and is now the only one located within a national park.  Most of the rustic cabins, bungalows, and lodge rooms have no electricity, so kerosene lanterns provide light.  The ranch is within easy hiking distance of some of Lassen’s hydrothermal sights:  1 mile from the steaming fumaroles at Boiling Springs Lake; 2 miles from the bubbling sulfurous mud pots at Devil’s Kitchen.  Guests can rent horses from the ranch stables for guided rides into these areas.  All this and a good trout fishing stream, too!  Day visitors should call ahead for horse or dining reservations, which include complimentary use of the 90- to 100-degree hot springs-fed pool. 

pool at Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California
pool at Drakesbad Guest Ranch
in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

Fall River Hotel 
24860 Main St., in Fall River Mills.  17 rooms. One mini-kitchen. 
They keep things simple in these parts.  This inn provides cozy comfort, with antique furniture and handmade quilts, but it isn’t hard to tell the building dates to 1935.  And we wouldn’t want it any other way.  It will be clear that the world has gone to hell in a hand basket when a Ritz opens in this area. 

Dinner in the restaurant includes a salad and a glass of house wine, making it quite a bargain.  Seating is in either a small area with booths and counter stools, or in a more formal dining room with a fireplace built from river rock boulders. 

Hat Creek Resort 
On Hwy. 89 just N of Hwy. 44, in Old Station, 11 mi. from N entrance to Lassen Park.  17 units.  Cabins closed in winter.  Some kitchens. 
These bargain motel rooms and old-time housekeeping cabins–with linoleum floors and homemade curtains–are located beside rushing Hat Creek, which is considered to be one of the finest fly-fishing streams in the western U.S. (the story of how the stream got its name is that while a couple of pioneers were crossing it, one person’s hat fell off and landed in the water—it’s as simple as that!).  Guests can fish in the creek, roast marshmallows over an open fire, and check out the stars at night.

KOA Kampground 
749 KOA Rd., in Shingletown, 5 mi. S of Hwy. 44, 21 mi. from Lassen.  44 campsites, 4 Kamping Kabins. 
Facilities include a playground, pool, petting zoo, and general store. 

St. Bernard Lodge 
44801 Hwy. 36, 15 mi. E of Mineral, 10 mi. E of south entrance to Lassen park, 10 mi. W of Chester, in Mill Creek.  7 rooms; $.  All shared baths.  Continental breakfast; restaurant.  No pets. 
Old World charm dresses up the cozy knotty-pine interior of this 1920s German inn.  More description and images.

Wild Horse Sanctuary 
On Wilson Hill Rd., in Shingletown, 5 mi. S of Hwy. 44, 21 mi. from Lassen.  5 cabins; trips Apr-Oct only; viewing year-round, W & Sat 10-3.  Unsuitable for children under 14.  No TVs; shared bath house.  All meals included. 
This protected preserve for wild mustangs and burros is the oldest wild horse sanctuary in the nation.  Guests ride out of a base camp to observe the 300-plus population in their natural habitat.  Meals are served by an open campfire, and overnight accommodations are in rustic new cabins overlooking Vernal Lake (which, being a springtime lake, is often dry by the end of June).  The price includes everything.  Note that cabins are available only as part of a trail ride package.

(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)