Tucked away in a part of Northern California that is off-the-beaten-path is a world unlike anywhere else. Lassen Volcanic National Park is the 41st most visited U.S. national park (of 58), but for those who happen upon it, it’s often a favorite.
Making it special is the landscape of volcanoes, unusual rock formations, steaming pools and postcard-quality vistas. When entering from the west, you’d think you’ve landed on another planet.
There are several attractions worth visiting, but most memorable is Bumpass Hell, a valley of pools heated by volcanic forces deep below the surface of the earth. Reaching Bumpass Hell requires a trek of about a mile and a half, but at the end is a vision you’ll long remember. The rough trail climbs through rocks, shrubbery and woods toward a pinnacle from which hikers look below at that “other world.” It’s a basin of beautiful pale blue and green ponds, some with a thin veil of smoke rising along the cliffs behind them, indicating that these shallow waters are steaming hot. The peacefulness of the scene is disrupted by the bubbling surfaces of muddy gray fumaroles with the redolence of sulfuric acid.
The somewhat rugged trail gives way to wooden boardwalks that cross and border the steaming, glistening water. Along the path, trekkers have the opportunity to sit and just enjoy the unique scene below.
My second most favorite memory from Lassen Volcanic was my hike up, up, up to the rim of dormant Cinder Cone volcano. It took me about 45 minutes to trudge through pulverized pumice gravel, every step minimized as my boot sank two to four inches into the Grape Nuts-like surface. As I ascended toward the cone, I was proud of the progress I was making until 30 kids from a class of fifth-graders ran past me, propelling themselves over the surface while I sank in.
Once at the rim, I skirted the smooth sandy-looking tan crater about 200 feet below, taking photos of geological elements and plants at my level, and then intermittently shooting down into the crater and outward toward landscapes with varying characteristics. In my viewfinder were forests, lakes and rocks scorched eons ago and as recently as the late 1800s, all with the southern end of the Cascade Range as a backdrop
Far below was my wife, Monique, searching upward into the glaring sun trying to find me. She’s usually game for any adventure, but this time she elected to stay under a giant oak tree, avoiding the heat and recovering from little sleep the night before. Adults accompanying the school children passed along information to Monique when they descended, assuring her that I was all right and in no rush to return to base camp.
Once the school children took a quick look at what I considered worth spending the day observing, they raced down the circular Grape Nuts ramp far faster than I would have tried it. I was left alone to appreciate all my surroundings, with only the hawks and ravens to disrupt the quiet. Each quadrant of my walk allowed me to gaze at something I had rarely seen and would long appreciate. (I understand that now you can take a “tour” by punching in numbers in your smartphone—I leave it to your judgment to choose to listen or not.)
Throughout the park, majestic volcanic mountain views surround visitors. Volcanic lava rock moraines jut out along trails. It is said that every rock in Lassen originates from volcanoes. Lakes of sheer serenity hugged by thick woods bring out even more of the beauty of Lassen Volcanic, while meadows flowing seasonally with wildflowers add to the many colors of the park.
Near the southwest entrance is the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, the park’s only year-round information facility, although the park is open throughout the year. It features exhibits, an amphitheater, auditorium, cafe and gift shop, bookstore, dining area and summer patio. Rangers offer both summer and winter programs.
Of the eight campgrounds, Manzanita Lake is the most RV-friendly with pull-through sites but no hookups. More information on the park and camping is available at nps.gov/lavo. You can reach the park via several state highways a little over 100 miles from Reno, Nevada, or about 50 miles due east of Interstate 5.
We appreciate discovering the unusual—Lassen Volcanic certainly meets that description. It’s a national park where we were able to combine peace with excitement. We are among the many who call it one of our favorites.
Barry Zander is the writer and his wife, Monique, is the editor of their travel stories. Billing themselves as the “Never-Bored RVers,” they traveled full-time for five years before settling into a Southern California mountain cabin. Barry is a regular contributor to AmeriGOrv.com.