Park: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Location: Mineral, California
Established: August 1916
Size: 106,452 acres
Annual visitors: 407,653 (2012)
Entrance fee: $20/vehicle/week
Times visited: 1
Lassen Volcanic National Park offers an awesome exploration of all things volcanic.
I visited Lassen Volcanic National Park this past summer as part of a California National Park tour after my hike on the John Muir Trail. We stayed in Redding at my husband's grandma's house and did a day trip up to Lassen National Park. The drive from Redding was about an hour along SR 44, bringing us to the Manzanita Lake entrance in the north-west. There is a large campground and a lovely lake-side loop hike that offers great views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags.
The first pullout after leaving Manzanita Lake is at Chaos Crags and Chaos Jumbles. Chaos Crags is the youngest of the lava domes in the park and the Jumbles are rock debris from a rock avalanche that travelled down the northwest slope of the dome, flattening forest and damming a creek.
For those feeling a bit adventurous, there is a 4 mile round-trip trail to a lake at the base of Chaos Crags that leaves from near Manzanita Lake.
From that point the road heads south, passing by Summit Lake, which offers backcountry access to the east side of the park. We caught glimpses of the distant Cinder Cone volcano, which is made up of loose volcanic rocks, cinders and ash. I would have loved to get up close to the Cinder Cone, but it would require an hour-long drive around the north perimeter of the park, which we unfortunately didn't have time for with our single-day visit.
Our goal for the morning was to hike to Lassen Peak. The trailhead is just past the Park Highway's high point, above a collection of peaceful meadows. The strenuous, switchbacking trail is 5 miles roundtrip and gains nearly 2000 feet of elevation, finishing on top of Lassen Peak at 10,457 feet.
Perhaps the most impressive part of our hike was the plethora of butterflies greeting us along the trail. Lassen is home to the California Tortoiseshell Butterfly. This butterfly is known for it's population explosions and specifically getting caught up in the wind vortices around Lassen Peak. They were a beautiful sight to behold, flitting around the summit of the mountain.
We made it up to the summit within an hour or so of hiking and then scrambled up to the second summit so I could touch the USCGS summit marker and claim the peak. We had great 360 degree views and could even spy Mount Shasta off to the north.
It was a wonderful one-day tour of Lassen Volcanic National Park that just gave us a taste of the marvels to see. With a few days more we could explore the Fantastic Lava Beds, hike up close to Chaos Crags or even go backpacking into the eastern section of the park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is an easily accessible park that is worth taking a few hours or a few days to explore. It offers a phenomenal variety of volcanic and geothermal areas, as well as many miles of forest, lakes and meadows to explore.