Lassen Volcanic National Park was established in 1916 as the 15th National Park in the system. It covers over 100,000 acres and, according to park literature, every rock originated from a volcano! There are four main types of volcanos: shield, composite, cinder cone and plug. All four types can be found within the park, one of only a few places on earth this occurs. Lassen Peak is one of the largest plug volcanos in the world and an amazing sight to see, especially snow covered! The last major eruption was in 1915 and it is still an active volcano. Geologists say it is not a question of "if" but "when" it will erupt again. Lassen is the perfect place to explore the mysteries of volcanos and changing landscapes!
We visited Lassen Volcanic National Park on May 18, 2019. As we made our way to the park we noticed a lot of rocky fields and thought they were from previous eruptions. We found out that they were actually deposited from glaciers as they moved across the area.
Since it was only a few weeks into the spring season, we had anticipated some snow but hoped the roads would be mostly cleared and open. We were wrong. Lassen Volcanic Highway, the main road through the park was open 9 miles at the north end and 1 mile at the south end. Not the visit we were hoping for. We did make the most of it though and had a fantastic experience in the park!
Important to know!
The winter season at Lassen is November-April. The spring road clearing process starts in April and, depending on the winter snow pack, can take 3-4 months to completely clear the roads. 2019 was a historically heavy snow year according to the ranger. Historic in that it was "normal" and the past years had been much lighter overall. The average depth in the park was 16-18 feet and 30 feet at the highest elevations with drifts up to 40 ft! To make the most of your visit, the best time to see Lassen is July-September /early October. (i.e. learn from our mistake!)
Other things to know:
Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle good for up to 7 days.
Pets are allowed in the campgrounds and on roads/shoulders but not on any hiking trail or in any body of water. Hydrothermal areas and volcanic soil can severely injure your pet's feet so be diligent about the rules!
We were camped closer to the north entrance so we started our visit a stop at the Loomis Museum just past Manzanita Lake. The museum was still a few days from officially opening for the spring but luckily there were some rangers nearby to let us know that Lassen Volcanic Highway had just opened about 9 miles for cars and then another few miles for hiking. Good news! At least we would be able to do a bit exploring after all!
We explored the trail near the museum and saw a nice waterfall along the creek. The water was flowing pretty good from the snow melt in the upper elevations.
We also made our way over to Manzanita Lake to check out the reflections. The lake was pretty but it was overcast so no reflections. I did get to practice my long exposures at least!
Volcanos and The Devastated Area
As we made our way deeper into the park we started to see the evidence of the volcanic history of the park. Chaos Crags is an interesting area. The cluster is made up of 5 smaller dome volcanos (below, left) formed around 1,000 years ago. At one time there were 6 volcanos until one collapsed into a rock slide and creating the area known as Chaos Jumble (below, right).
The Devastated Area
Lassen Peak's last active eruptions were in May of 1915. The lava rocks below are along the interpretive trail that illustrates the event and landscape changes. Despite the snow it was a nice trail and interesting history!
The wildlife in this area was fun to watch! There were chipmunks playing on the rocks and Stellar Jays that seemed anxious to help us find our way. Or maybe just checking to see if we brought them any food!
We continued to make our way further into the park, eventually parking the truck and setting off on foot. And the snow continued to get deeper! We could certainly see what a challenge it was for the road clearing crew. The sign on the right is actually a trail marker. I'm guessing it was around 4ft. deep in that area.
After making our way back to the truck we headed back to the north exit and decided to make the long (1.5 hour) drive around the park to the south entrance so we could experience some of the hydrothermal areas we had read about. One last stop to examine lava rock before we left!
Snowy South Side
We stopped for a quick bite to eat on the trip around and by the time we made it to the south entrance the snow had really started to fall! Four additional feet of snow fell during the night which, I'm sure, slowed the road clearing process even more. We parked at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor's Center and went in to see what we were going to be able to access. Turns out we had driven as far as we could already and would be on foot to Sulphur Works, the only hydrothermal area we'd be able to see on this trip. So, off we went into the blizzard.
I was disappointed that we weren't able to see Bumpass Hell and hike the trail, but the road was closed leading to it due to snow. And, even if that weren't the case, the trail is closed for repairs to the boardwalk. Probably a good thing so you don't end up like the trail's namesake!
Fun Fact: Bumpass Hell was named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a local hunter and cowboy who discovered the area in 1864 while out looking for stray cattle. He broke through the thin crust and burned his foot. When he returned to camp he told his fellow cowboys he'd been "in hell". The following year a local newspaper editor wanted to see the area so he asked Bumpass to take him. During the trip Bumpass again broke through the crust and this time burned his leg so severely it had to be amputated.
Sulphur Works made up for it a bit. Seeing boiling mud pools was pretty cool but the smell...oh, the smell. I can't explain it you just have to experience it for yourself! I was fascinated with how the thermal activity effected the landscape, melting the snow in many spots even though it was over 10 ft deep in most of the area. It was surreal standing on a volcano that was so hot it was bubbling up through the ground while getting pelted with the heavy snowfall. We didn't go off trail for obvious reasons! Time to head back! The return trip was against the wind...and not a lot of fun!
Home Sweet Home
Our stop at Lassen included a couple of days at the Living Springs RV Campground. It was a beautiful place with friendly hosts and nice sites. We didn't explore the grounds too much due to the weather but we were definitely grateful for the hookups. The sunshine was a welcome sight as we prepared to pack up and head to the next destination!
We even had a few fun wildlife encounters!
Living full-time in the rv is one of the greatest adventures of my life! The ability to travel and see this beautiful country is something I am very grateful for!
Leave me a comment below and let me know if you have visited Lassen and what your experience was! Thanks for following our adventure! If you want more check out the video of Lassen stop!