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Visit Redding, California
Visit Redding, California
A bike ride across the Sundial Bridge in Redding, Ca
Marcel Siegle
A bike ride across the Sundial Bridge in Redding, Ca
Marcel Siegle

Exploring the Wonders of Lassen Volcanic National Park

By Redding CVB | 10/25/2019 | Biking, Family Friendly , Great Outdoors, Lakes, Paddling, Scenic Drives, Skiing/Snowboarding, Snow Play, Snowmobiling, State & National Parks, Things to See and Do, Trails, Waterfalls, Winter Activities, X-Country Skiing & Snow Shoeing

Redding, California, is known for its big backyard, which includes the southern end of the mighty Cascade Range. A magnificent sample of that scenery—and some fascinating geology—is on display in Lassen Volcanic National Park, which plays host to the southernmost major volcano in the Cascades. Less than an hour’s drive from Redding, the national park features the 10,457-foot-tall Lassen Peak, but that’s only one (magnificent) attraction of many here.

One of Northern California’s crown jewels, the park is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts, outdoor lovers, shutterbugs, and anyone else inspired by the majesty and variety of the American landscape. You’ll find a landscape that’s unlike any other place in the country. Here’s a quick guide to getting the most out of a trip to this unique destination.

Lassen Volcanic National Park: The Basics

Sulphur Works near the southern entrance of Lassen provides bubbling modpots for your viewing pleasure.

Established in 1916 in the midst of Lassen Peak’s most recent major eruptive cycle, Lassen Volcanic National Park ranks among the first generation of U.S. national parks. Today it encompasses more than 100,000 acres near the junction of three great geological and ecological provinces: the Cascades Mountains, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and—to the east—the Great Basin. The park’s northwestern entrance at Manzanita Lake is a straight shot from Redding via State Route 44.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the genuine geological wonderlands in North America, giving you a glimpse of the forces responsible for the Cascade Range. For one thing, you can eyeball four different kinds of volcanoes rubbing shoulders within the park. Start with the hefty stratovolcano (or composite volcano), Mount Tehama, whose eroded rim is represented by the peaks Brokeoff Mountain, Pilot Pinnacle, Mount Diller, Pilot Pinnacle, and Mount Conard.

Then there’s the lineup of cinder cones, the best known of which is the (creatively named) Cinder Cone itself: among the youngest volcanoes in the entire Cascade Range. It juts out in the shadow of 8,338-foot Prospect Peak, which is a fine example of a shield volcano, a category known for its broad, gentle slope.

Unlike like the other “celebrity” Cascade giants (like Mount Hood and Mount Rainier), Lassen Peak itself isn’t a stratovolcano, but instead an enormous lava dome—one of the biggest on the planet. In the spring of 1914, Lassen Peak startled area residents with an outburst of ash and steam. That was the kickoff to a multi-year eruption that climaxed on May 22, 1915, when the volcano sent up a tremendous cloud as high as 35,000 feet. The plume was visible from as far off as Eureka, on the Pacific coast, and it unleashed major pyroclastic flows that created what’s today called the “Devastated Area.”

Beyond the volcanic summits and lava rocks, Lassen also boasts some of the most impressive and varied geothermal features in the country outside of Yellowstone. Colorful (and colorfully named) fumaroles, mud pots, steam vents, and percolating pools can be found in places like Bumpass Hell and Devils Kitchen. You’ll want to spend some time exploring these other-worldly attractions.

Lassen Day Hiking

Hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park

It’s only a 5-mile round-trip hike to the crown of Lassen Peak, though you do have to overcome about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Besides the bragging rights that come with summiting one of the great Cascade volcanoes, you’ll also nab an unrivaled bird’s-eye perspective of the Devastated Area below.

Another highly recommended “peak-bagging” adventure is the 4-mile round-trip climb up Cinder Cone. At the top you’ll have a beautiful view of Lassen Peak as well as the closer landmarks of Prospect Peak, the Painted Dunes (dreamily multicolored ash hills), and the Fantastic Lava Beds (basalt flows spewed from the base of Cinder Cone). A hair shorter than that hike is the walk to and from the historic fire lookout atop Mount Harkness, a shield volcano whose sightlines stretch north all the way to the Three Sisters in the Oregon Cascades, east into the Great Basin drylands of Nevada, and west to the California Coast Ranges.

Yet another scenic showstopper at Lassen is the 40-foot horsetail plunge of Kings Creek Falls, reachable via a 2.3-mile out-and-back or loop hike. The 1.5-mile circumambulation of Manzanita Lake is an easy, all-ages immersion in a splendid Cascade waterfront.

The park’s Warner Valley Road provides access to short hiking trails that lead to several outstanding roadless geothermal features, including the gurgling steam realm of Devils Kitchen, the infernal Boiling Springs Lake, and the supersized steam vent of Terminal Geyser.

Lassen Lakes

Summer and water recreation with views on Manzanita Lake.

Lassen Volcanic National Park contains a number of eye-catching lakes, the largest of which is Juniper Lake in the southeast (accessible by a partly unpaved road out of Chester). In the northwest, Manzanita Lake—formed a few hundred years ago when a rockslide dammed Manzanita Creek—serves up just about the most celebrated view of Lassen Peak, and it is an awesome place to take out a kayak. In the northeast, meanwhile, Butte Lake offers photogenic prospects of Cinder Cone, in addition to swimming and boating opportunities.

Pedaling the Park

In the spring, the park’s roads are first opened up to cyclists and hikers. LassenNPS

Alongside hoofing it on a hiking trail and paddling one of the lakes, cycling is a great way to experience the scale and splendor of Lassen Volcanic National Park in full fresh-air mode. The park’s roadways (though not trails) are open to bicycles. And heads up: The yearly Hike and Bike the Highway tradition allows cyclists (and hikers) to travel sections of the main park road after they’ve been plowed in the spring but before it’s been opened to vehicles.

Scenic Driving in Lassen

The park’s through-road is the Lassen Volcanic National Highway, which winds some 30 miles between the southwest entry near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and Manzanita Lake. It’s an excellent showcase for Lassen’s landscapes, cutting directly across the Sulphur Works geothermal zone and the Devastated Area, skirting the Chaos Crags and Chaos Jumbles—a rugged tract of youthful volcanism and rockslides—and topping out at more than 8,500 feet at the Lassen Peak Trailhead.

Lassen in Winter

While the roads are closed in the winter, visitors can still explore the park on a ranger-led snowshoe hike. LassenNPS

Road access inside Lassen typically phases out in October, but that’s by no means the end of the park’s season. The area’s hefty dousing by the white stuff translates to rich snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities. Besides self-guided treks, you’ve got regular ranger-led snowshoe outings in the winter, with a pair of snowshoes available to use for a mere $1 suggested donation. The tours usually run January through March.

No matter when you visit, Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the treasures of the entire Cascade Range. From the snowbound depths of winter to the sun-splashed summer backcountry, it’s a year-round destination crowned by one extraordinary “fire mountain.” Make Redding your base camp to explore this natural wonder.

Written by Ethan Shaw for Matcha in partnership with Redding CVB.

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