15 Best Things to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
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You might think that only towns or cities can offer you the variety of options you need for a memorable vacation.

However, the Lassen Volcanic National Park in California should put your misgivings to rest.

Inside this national park, you’ll find the largest plug dome volcano in the world, called Lassen Peak, a wonder for amateur geologists everywhere.

Likewise, Lassen National Park is one of the only few places in the world that has all four types of volcanos.

Besides the plug dome, the park contains the shield, cinder cone, and stratovolcano.

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt opened two national monuments in the area, the Cinder Cone Monument and the Lassen Park National Monument.

However, a series of eruptions occurred in Lassen from May 1914 to 1917.

The park’s beauty and its volcanic activity prompted the government to designate the area as a National Park in 1916.

If you love visiting nature and admiring wildlife, you’ll have more than a wonderful time at Lassen Volcanic Natural Park.

This time, forget the beaches of California.

Maybe it’s time you headed deeper inland for an unforgettable getaway.

Do you want to know more about Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA?

Here’s a list of the best things to do there:

Climb Lassen Peak

Hikers approaching Lassen Peak
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Belonging to the Cascade Volcanic Arc, Lassen Peak stands at 10,457 feet and looms above the northern Sacramento Valley.

This volcano is also the southernmost active volcano in the range.

Likewise, the shifting volcanic environment supports various flora and fauna.

Lassen Peak's rocky trail
salilbhatt / Shutterstock.com

You can hike to the volcano’s summit, wending your way through mountain hemlock and whitebark pines, standing on cinders.

When the trees fade, the park’s vistas open out to present breathtaking sceneries.

Besides climbing to the summit, you can also hike toward the interior of the crater, where you can see evidence from its historic eruptions.

View from Lassen Peak
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Witness the Earth’s Power at Bumpass Hell

Scenic view of Bumpass Hell
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The name of this place is more than a little intimidating, sure, but it’s the only name appropriate for this area inside Lassen National Park.

If you were even halfway interested in geology, you’ll see its full splendor here.

Bumpass Hell features 16 whole acres of spewing fumaroles, steams vents spitting steam, along with scalding springs and mud pots.

Steam coming out of Bumpass Hell's vents
Nina B / Shutterstock.com

During the 1860s, the pioneer Kendall Vanhook Bumpass would stumble upon a boiling mudpot that burned his leg to the point of needing amputation.

This accident would give the place its name.

Today, however, you can explore Bumpass Hell safely.

View of the Bumpass Hell's long boardwalk
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Just follow the well-marked round-trip trail from the parking area to the actual site.

You can also go down a spur trail to take photos of the staggering set of peaks, remnants of the enormous Mount Tehama volcano that erupted 500,000 years ago.

Then, take photos of the turquoise pools that emerge around your feet as you walk down the desert boardwalk.

A person walking along Bumpass Hell's boardwalk
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Explore the Lassen National Forest

Open meadow of Lassen National Forest
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Get lost in the vast 1.2 million acres of thick forests at the Lassen National Forest.

This forest covers the area of seven counties in California: Lassen, Tehama, Siskiyou, Modo, Plumas, Butte, and Shasta.

Deep in the heart of the Crossroads, one of California’s deeply fascinating areas, the Lassen National Forest contains different natural features.

It boasts granite from the Sierra Nevada, lava from the Cascades, and the sagebrush of the Great Basin.

Echo lake at lassen national forest
User:Marcia Wright, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During your visit, you can enjoy equally varied recreational activities.

You can go fishing in the lakes, hunt wildlife, pitch a camp, and hike through the woods.

Likewise, you can paddle your boat on the lakes or ride your bike up the trails.

During the winter, the forest opens for snowmobiling and skiing.

Colorful landscape at Lassen National Forest
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Go Camping by Manzanita Lake

Scenic view of Manzanita Lake with lassen peak at the back
Png Studio Photography / Shutterstock.com

The word “manzanita” might mean “little apple” in Spanish, but there is nothing little about this lake and campground.

Its vastness and natural beauty have earned it the reputation of being one of Lassen’s most photographed lakes.

So, join the fun and bring your camera.

Calm waters of Manzanita Lake
Kris Wiktor / Shutterstock.com

During your visit, though, you can enjoy the lake to your hearts’ content. The lake is available for swimming, kayaking, and camping.

You and your family can even join the lake’s programs, which its rangers lead.

Likewise, you can rent cabins if you don’t feel like pitching tents.

Scenic day time view at Manzanita Lake
Omri Soudry / Shutterstock.com

A 2.6-kilometer hiking trail also encircles the lake, allowing your kids to explore the place on foot or by bicycle.

Then, bring your cameras to the lake’s northern side to check out the best spot for photographing Lassen Peak’s imposing cone reflected in the blue lake.

Driftwood near Manzanita Lake
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Admire the Earth’s Mystery at the Sulphur Works

A board explaining Sulphur Works
Mike Brake / Shutterstock.com

If you don’t mind the smell of rotten eggs, and you want to visit an accessible spot, visit the Sulphur Works at the Lassen National Park.

A park ranger will guide you on a tour through the only geological feature you can access directly from the main park road.

After all, these sulfur mudpots hiss and bubble right next to a sidewalk.

You can also see steam columns rise from the fumaroles, or steam vents, across the road.

These vents also spew out burning-hot clay minerals, coloring the landscape with a distinct earthy yellow, red, and orange.

Scenic view of Sulphur Works
Danita Delimont / Shutterstock.com

These mudpots are also remnants of the ancient volcano Mt. Tehama.

Half a million years ago, this volcano stood at 11,000 feet with an enormous pool of magma five miles underneath.

This magma pool still heats the mud pots and fumaroles today.

Besides walking, you can take photos of these mud pots and steam vents, or you can hike along the Ridge Lakes trail nearby.

During the winter, you can snowshoe or ski toward the Sulphur Works.

Mudpot at Sulphur Works
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Go Hiking on Mount Tehama

Scenic view of Mount Tehama from the road
Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also called “Brokeoff Mountain,” Mount Tehama is an eroded stratovolcano sitting inside the Lassen National Park.

It is also the park’s second-highest point, which also connects with the park’s highest spot, Lassen Peak.

During the summer, Mount Tehama becomes a hiking hotspot.

View from the top of Mount Tehama
Peter Bowman / Shutterstock.com

Prepare yourself for a long hike because following the mountain trail could last from four to six hours, stretching for 12 km.

However, the majestic views of Mount Diller, the Chaos Crags, and Mount Conard should strip all the fatigue off your body.

You might even see the distant Mount Shasta on clear days.

View of Mount Tehama during the day
Kai Schreiber from Jersey City, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go for a Swim at Lake Helen

Name post of Lake Helen
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You’ll find this gorgeous lake at the base of Lassen Peak, so you’ll need to hike for a while to reach it.

However, when you do, you’ll find truly awe-inspiring natural views the park can provide.

Driving along the park highway takes you along the west and south shores, giving you the chance to take photos of the breathtaking views of the volcanic peaks.

The lake is more than 100 feet deep, and it holds ice and snow even during the summer.

Likewise, the lake reflects the snow-capped Lassen Peak almost perfectly during clear days.

Early morning at Lake Helen
Arlene Waller / Shutterstock.com

What can you do at Lake Helen, besides admire the view?

You can enjoy a cozy lunch at the picnic corner on the lake’s southeast corner.

There are picnic tables and a pair of vault toilets there, but you’ll have to bring your own water.

Likewise, you can swim at the southern shore of the lake.

Take note, though, that the water is cold throughout the year, and you can’t use floating devices.

Plus, avoid lake ice; if you fall there, you could suffer hypothermia or drown.

Aerial view of Lake Helen
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Bring Your Cameras to the Boiling Springs Lake

Steam cloud of Boiling Springs Lake
Unbillyvable Photography / Shutterstock.com

You might not be able to swim in this lake, but you’ll see spectacular natural views to make up for it.

Located at the southeast corner of Lassen National Park, the Boiling Springs Lake is just one of many hydrothermal hikes in Warner Valley.

It’s a calm forest and meadow area sitting quite a distance away from the main park road.

Once you reach the lake, after a taxing hike, you will see a truly majestic view of the green-hued water, which even the best cameras might fail to capture totally.

Blue-green waters of Boiling Springs Lake
Alisa_Ch / Shutterstock.com

You’ll also see bright red soil encircling the lake, along with white cracked mud occasionally disturbing the still waters.

Approach the lake’s south side to see fumaroles restlessly spewing pillars of boiling-hot steam.

These vents heat the lake to 125 degrees.

Besides the lake, you might also see wildlife dashing in and out of the thick green forests nearby.

Tall trees surrounding Boiling Springs Lake
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Get Started at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center

Road sign of Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
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If you’ve just arrived at the Lassen National Park, and you’re unsure where to go, head to the southwest entrance and find the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.

Not only can the staff help you prepare for your adventure, but they can also give you background information about the park.

They will also give you wilderness permits for entering the backcountry.

The center is also a certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building.

Exterior of Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
Danita Delimont / Shutterstock.com

Its interactive exhibits should teach you about the park’s geology and the local culture of the area.

After you’ve hiked, you can return to the visitor center for a refreshing drink at the café.

You can even have some California wine along with your snacks. During the winter,

you can keep warm by the fireplace, and you can buy souvenirs before going home.

Exterior of Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center during winter
Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Challenge Yourself at the Cinder Cone Trail

Sunset view from Cinder Cone Trail
Lukas Bischoff Photograph / Shutterstock.com

Before starting this trail, check out the visitor centers for a leaflet introducing the Cinder Cone Nature Trail.

This leaflet gives you the location of numbered posts on the trail; these posts indicate stops explaining the natural features you see nearby.

By the end of this hike, you’ll have reached Cinder Cone Volcano and admired plenty of tremendous views.

You’ll see lava flowing from Cinder Cone, pooling into the Fantastic Lava Beds.

The top of Cinder Cone Trail
AlessandraRC / Shutterstock.com

Likewise, the trail slowly steepens until it rises, signaling your closeness to the cone’s summit.

The peak gives you a miraculous 360-degree view of various volcanic peaks.

You can see everything from this vantage: the Painted Dunes, Prospect Peak, Snag Lake, and Lassen Peak.

Follow another trail to take you down to the center of Cinder Cone.

Bring your cameras with you and don’t let them fall into the lava!

A tree and the trail to Cinder Cone Trail
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Finish Your Day at the Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins

If you don’t feel like camping out, you can rent the cabins near the northwest entrance to the Lassen National Park.

The Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins should provide you with the same rustic outdoors charm of camping outdoors, but with added security and convenience.

Since 1972, the 20 cabins have become a lodging fixture inside the Lassen National Park.

You can choose from three models, the 2 Room model, the 1 Room model, and the Bunkhouse.

You can visit the Manzanita Lake Camper Store nearby if you run out of supplies or if you want to gas up or buy gifts.

Likewise, you can do your laundry at the store’s laundromat or wash yourself off at the hot showers.

Learn Local History at the Loomis Museum

Exterior of Loomis Museum
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If you want to learn more about the history of the Lassen National Park, make your way to the Manzanita Lake Area and look for the Loomis Museum.

This museum is also a historic building, completed in 1927.

The pioneer Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Loomis built it in 1927 in memory of his daughter, who died at 21 years old.

She loved nature and was at her happiest when traipsing around the mountains and forests.

Exterior of Loomis Museum's seismograph
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The museum contains Loomis’ extensive photography collection, which showcases the history of the Lassen National Park area.

Loomis had catapulted Lassen Peak into the national spotlight thanks to his incredible photos of its eruption in June 1914.

During your visit, you could also visit the seismograph building near the museum.

Various types of igneous rock comprise the building.

You can enter and observe a real seismograph in action, jotting down every tiny movement of the Earth on a forever-looping spool of paper.

Front exterior of Loomis Museum
DimiTalen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enter a World of Watercolor at The Painted Dunes

Aerial view of The Painted Dunes
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The Lassen Park is a feast for the eyes, especially when you reach the Painted Dunes. You’ll feel as if you just walked into a watercolor painting come alive.

The rolling hills unravel in splotches of red and orange, with trees putting touches of green throughout its span.

Look further to find the black volcanic soil heightening the bright colors of the dunes.

You might imagine these dunes as handmade, but the volcanoes gave this land its colors.

What are these dunes?

Near view of The Painted Dunes
Alberto Loyo / Shutterstock.com

They’re none other than fields of pumice, accumulating over time from deposits of oxidized volcanic ash.

These ash particles underwent extreme oxidization because they landed on active lava flows.

You’ll need to hike up the nearby Cinder Cone to see the Painted Dunes in full splendor.

The trail might be challenging, but the rewards are worth it.

Make sure to bring a lot of water and extra batteries for your cameras.

This is a full day’s trip, so prepare accordingly.

Red painted dune
matthieu Gallet / Shutterstock.com

Find the Devil’s Kitchen

Trees at Devil’s Kitchen
Marisa Estivill / Shutterstock.com

Reaching this spot inside the Lassen National Park might be a challenge, but again, the rewards are fantastic.

You’ll gaze in wonder at the second-largest geothermal feature in the Park, only second to Bumpass Hell.

How do you get to the Devil’s Kitchen?

You’ll need to hike a moderately challenging 4.4.-mile looping trail with generous shaded areas.

Not a lot of people go hiking there, too, so you’ll have all the peace you need.

Geothermal area of Devil’s Kitchen
Marisa Estivill / Shutterstock.com

As you approach the Devil’s Kitchen, you’ll want to take a few turns because the short walk can be mazelike.

Every new turn leads you to discovery, so prepare your cameras.

You’ll find cracked white soil supporting thriving green ferns while algae and grass patches survive in the gray-blue waters and near the fumaroles.

Bright yellow rocks greet you, and their shade of yellow looks alien.

Then, you’ll spot orange and red soil for immediate contrast.

If you don’t mind the smell of sulfur and the hot steam, you shouldn’t miss this wonderland of geology.

Body of water at Devil’s Kitchen
Marisa Estivill / Shutterstock.com

Admire the View from Mount Harkness

The Lassen Volcanic National Park offers some of the greatest sweeping vistas in the region, and you can see them from the peak of Mount Harkness.

You’ll start the hike from Juniper Lake, and you’ll enter woods of coyote mint and fragrant aromatic lupine.

Then, you’ll climb up the shield volcano to reach the cinder cone volcano at the top of Mount Harkness.

When you get there, pull out your cameras to capture the full beauty of the landscape.

Look around to find the fire lookout tower, which is one of the few remaining lookouts in the west that still work.

Visit during the summer to meet the staff who’ll teach you about monitoring fires inside the park.

Final Thoughts

The Lassen National Park offers just as many terrific natural attractions as any town or city in the United States.

If you’re planning a nature-focused vacation, you won’t go wrong heading west to California to visit this park.

This place also reminds you that California isn’t just beaches and palm trees.

Why wait for summer?

Visit the Lassen National Park today!