With moderate temperatures year round, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an ideal spot to visit for a change of scenery. One of the least visited national parks in California, surprisingly, Lassen has a wide range of geography and natural wonders. Compared to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, Lassen is bite-sized (at 166 square miles) and completely drivable. Here’s our guide to an easy day trip to Lassen, with or without kids in tow.
If you are traveling with kids who are in fourth grade (or equivalent), make sure you visit EveryKidOutdoors.org before visiting Lassen (or any national park for that matter). A government initiative to get kids and their families to explore America’s natural wonders, the pass grants free entrance for any fourth grader (and their family) at most national parks.
You have to sign up online and print out the pass before visiting your first park. You must have the print out upon entering (they won’t accept a screenshot) and they will swap it for an actual card that can be used an unlimited amount of times before a specified expiration date. Pack a picnic and plenty of drinks to keep you hydrated.
Plan your route
Enter from the southwest entrance and start at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. Use the restroom as soon as you enter the park because you’ll likely be in the car most of the day. The 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway connects the northwest and southwest entrances, so plan for an hour drive-time, without stops.
If you have kids, ask for a Junior Ranger booklet. It’s full of activities and information about the park, giving the little ones an opportunity to share insight as you drive through the park. If they complete the booklet, they can show a ranger upon exit and receive their very own Junior Ranger badge (a priceless souvenir).
Depending on the time of year, certain roads may be closed due to snow. Yes, snow in California, even mid-summer. Once you know what roads are available, you can plan out your stops accordingly. The great thing about Lassen is that notable sights are close to one another and there are convenient lookout spots where you can pull over along the way.
Perhaps the coolest thing to see on a day trip to Lassen are the bubbling mud pots. They are exactly what they sound like…extremely hot, bubbling pools of mud that reek of sulphur. The first stop on the Highway Highlights is ‘Sulphur Works.’ With steam pouring out of their depths, the boiling mudpots and hissing steam vents here are the most easily accessed hydrothermal areas of the park.
The 16-acre Bumpass Hell basin is the largest hydrothermal area in the park, but you will need to make a three mile roundtrip hike from the park highway, if the trail is even open. Mid-summer it can still be closed due to snow, so ask in advance.
Build a snowman
After stopping at Sulphur Works, continue on the Lassen Scenic Highway. Chances are good that you’ll see spots of snow along the road as you ascend the hills. Several turnouts allow for parking and space to climb into ankle deep snow. What’s cooler than building a snowman in your flip flops, in the middle of summer?
A glacial lake named for Helen Tanner Brodt, the first woman to reach the summit of Lassen Peak, Lake Helen can be seen from the Highway on your drive through the park. Due to the lake’s high elevation (about 8,000 feet), it remains frozen and covered in snow throughout the majority of the year. The views of Lassen Peak from here are unbeatable, and the picnic area to the east is a great place to pull over to take pictures or have a snack break.
From 1914-1917, Lassen Peak erupted and the impact remains visible today in the Devastated Forest. You can drive through or pull over and park and explore the Devastated Area Interpretive Trail. More of a walk than a trail at .3 miles, you can find the marked trailhead in front of the restrooms, just east of the parking lot. Wander through the forest, and keep an eye out for pink and gray lava rocks as well as plaques that describe how this area was created.
Manzanita Lake Area
If you packed a lunch, the Manzanita Lake Area is the perfect spot to end your day trip to Lassen. Located in the northwest corner of the park, near the exit (or entrance if you come in from the northwest), Manzanita Lake is popular with campers and families. The largest campground in the park is a short walk from the lake, the Camper Store and Loomis Museum.
Picnic on the edge of the lake or hike the nearby trailhead for more of a challenge. If you want to make an overnight trip out of it, the Manzanita Lake Cabins are rustic, one or two room bunk cabins. with coin-operated showers and laundry available nearby.