Barely Scratching the Surface – Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

Having lost a day to explore Lassen Volcanic National Park due to Betsy’s coolant issue, we compressed our schedule a bit and accessed the park from its northwest Manzanita Lake gate entrance.  It was 26 miles south of our campsite at Rancheria RV Park in Hat Creek.

Lassen Peak is the most southerly member of the Cascade Range, a series of currently dormant volcanoes extending as far north as British Columbia in Canada.  It’s eruptions between 1914-1917 brought national attention to the area and helped provide support for the establishment of Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916.  It also prompted the USGS to establish a year-round volcano observatory.  Seismic monitoring continues today, with nine seismometers within the NPS park monitoring ongoing rumblings from below.

Near the entrance is a small stone building displaying the only known remaining smoked-drum seismograph from those early days.  It’s a reminder of Lassen Peak’s role in seismic monitoring that continues to this day. The museum was already closed for the season, so we missed the exhibits about B.F. Loomis and his role in monitoring and recording the park’s volcanic activity.

We followed the scenic drive, stopping first at the Devastated Area Trail.  We followed the 1/2 mile loop that circled through the aftermath of the May, 1915 eruption.  There were many huge boulders resting on the hillsides, and we learned that these were hot lava rocks that careened down from Lassen Peak three miles away, setting off a snow avalanche as they rolled all the way here.

This rock came from the top of Lassen Peak in the distance
A 1-ton+ chunk of black dacite lava rock, part of a “volcanic plug” blasted here during the eruption

We continued along the scenic highway and stopped at the trailhead to Kings Creek Falls.  We took the 3-mile loop that lead to a roaring waterfall dropping 50′ over a basalt cliff.   Along the way, the trail gave us expansive vistas as we walked through woodland and meadows:

Kings Creek Falls

On our way back out we followed a steep and narrow stone stairway next to cascading white waters, a 1,000′ long stream that preceded the waterfall:

Here comes a lot of white water…
…and there it goes into the valley
I thought these looked like squirrels, or American Picas looking down at us.  Steve?  Not so much

Our final stop was for a peek at the southern face of Lassen Peak.  There was a strenuous 2.4-mile trail to the summit, but we’d had enough for one day.

Lassen Peak as seen from the southern side of the mountain

Lassen is one of the most unusual natural wonders in California, yet it gets only about a half million visitors each year.  That’s partly because access is restricted much of the year due to heavy snowfall the area receives.  We know that first-hand, as this was our second attempt to explore the park which closed a week after our visit.

We covered only a fraction of this wondrous place.  With so many more features to see and explore – crystalline lakes, Bumpass Hell, the boiling cauldron at Devils Kitchen and the four types of volcanos that can all be seen here, perhaps a return visit someday?

Majestic Lassen Peak viewed from the northern side as we headed out




  1. Years ago I bypassed that area because of a time crunch to get to AZ but your wonderful post and photos makes me realize I must return for a long visit during those short weeks of accessibility to fully enjoy that area. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. The same thing has happened to us—every time we’ve tried to visit Lassen, our timing has been off. I’m so glad you were able to get there to show us what we’re missing! It looks so beautiful from your photos. And yes, I do indeed see the squirrels/picas…two tall ones and a short one, right? 🙂

  3. Definitely one of the N.P.s we want to see someday. Sounds like we’ll have to plan carefully since so many folks get shut out by the weather, but if we make it, it looks beautiful!

    I’m not sure about squirrels and picas, but I think the one on the far end might be a whistling yellow-bellied marmot! 😀

  4. The clear flowing water, Evergreens, and blue sky get me everytime. Love it. Would have loved it more had you been on a precarious rock overlooking the falls just to touch the water.

  5. With a name like “Bumpass Hell,” you HAVE to go back! That’s the best name EVER! LOL!

    And I absolutely see pikas on that mountain. Steve is crazy. They’re right there!!! (and they’re adorable!)

    Those boulders are insane. I’d love to see them for myself. Too bad it sounds like that’s not an easy thing to do. I’m glad you went and took great pictures in the meantime.

  6. Looks like we were right behind you. Glad you enjoyed it.
    We had fun at Lassen but only had a short day to do it. It had been on our bucket list for some time and we finally made it. Love your photos.

  7. That is one massive mountain! I’ve technically been here but I was 1 so I remember nothing… time for a return visit! Great photos!

  8. We missed that area also, but because of extreme heat and fire danger! I’m glad you slipped in when the narrow weather window was open!

  9. Lassen is a big park with so many sections. It takes lots of moving to see it all. We’ve been to two areas but only one area to hike because of fires. Glad you were able to get a short tour and some hiking.

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