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Two people hiking next to a lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
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Kyle Sheppard
A family at Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark in Redding, CA.

The Joys of Snowshoeing the Lassen Volcanoes

By Redding CVB | 12/14/2020 | Family Friendly , Great Outdoors, Rentals, Skiing/Snowboarding, Snow Play, Snowmobiling, State & National Parks, Top-Sights, Tours, Trails, Winter Activities, X-Country Skiing & Snow Shoeing

The roughly 106,000-acre Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of Northern California’s geological masterpieces and it’s also one of the great winter playgrounds in Redding’s big backyard. This gorgeous highland realm at the far south end of the Cascade Range—just a stone’s throw from the northernmost rise of the Sierra Nevada—is a fantastic place to strap on a pair of snowshoes and tromp around in the generous and long-lasting snowpack, which may pile upwards of 30 feet.

Here’s a taste of what you can experience in Lassen’s winter wonderland, suited up in ‘shoes!

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The Joys of Wintry Lassen

Brokeoff Mountain rises above Sulphur Works in the winter
Brokeoff Mountain rises above Sulphur Works in the winter. LassenNPS

The Lassen volcanic complex, which has been in business for roughly 825,000 years, showcases four major kinds of volcano in close proximity. Those include plug domes, none bigger than 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, which in fact ranks among the very largest examples of this volcanic landform anywhere in the world. Lassen’s famous for being one of the most recently active Cascade volcanoes, having steamed and billowed dramatically between 1914 and 1917–no more dramatically than on May 22, 1915, when it unleashed an explosive blast that sprayed ash as far as east as Winnemucca, Nevada, 200 miles away.

The rugged Chaos Crags north-northwest of Lassen Peak are also plug domes. Some 350 years ago, major rockfalls off the Crags formed the aptly named Chaos Jumbles, which also dammed Manzanita Creek to create the exceedingly photogenic Manzanita Lake.

Several hundred thousand years ago, a huge stratovolcano also stood here: the great Mount Tehama (aka Brokeoff Volcano), estimated to have loomed 11,000 feet or more. The slow but steady work of erosion since Mount Tehama’s “fires” ebbed—especially the gnawing glaciers of the Pleistocene—has whittled this once-mighty peak down to a collection of craggy remnants, among them Brokeoff Mountain, Mount Diller, and Pilot Pinnacle.

Other volcano types on display in Lassen include gently sloping shields such as Mount Harkness and Prospect Peak and small, rubbly, steep-sided cinder cones, first and foremost 700-foot Cinder Cone itself—a genuine geological whippersnapper at only a few hundred years old.

These volcanic edifices aren’t the only striking evidence of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s restlessness: Here you’ll also find a world-class collection of mudpots, steam vents, and other geothermal features.

Lassen’s geologic razzle-dazzle—and the ecosystems quilted over it, from towering mixed-conifer forests to the scraggly whitebarks and cushion plants of the subalpine barrens—looks especially gorgeous dressed up in the white stuff. And besides the grandly frosted scenery, snowshoers also delight in cutting the trails of park wildlife—from snowshoe hares and the elusive Sierra Nevada red fox to the impressive pawprints of a mountain lion—amid the chatter of chickadees and the croaks of ravens.

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Snowshoeing in Lassen

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Snowpack can exceed 30-feet deep in some areas of Lassen Volcanic National Park. LassenNPS

When the fall snows begin heaping up, Lassen becomes less accessible, but two zones on the west side of the park with plowed vehicle access serve as popular wintertime hubs. SR-44 leads you to Manzanita Lake, while SR-36 and SR-89 access the Southwest Area.

The generally gentle surrounds of Manzanita Lake offer some fine, beginner-friendly snowshoeing trails, including the 1.8-mile Manzanita Lake Snowshoe Loop—which on a bluebird day gives you fine looks at Lassen Peak and the Chaos Crags—and the half-mile circuit around Reflection Lake. More strenuous routes—up into the Chaos Crags and the Chaos Jumbles, or the 7.5-mile round-trip trek up Manzanita Creek—tempt experienced snowshoers.

From Manzanita Lake, you can also strike out along the unplowed park highway, much-enjoyed by snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Out-and-back day-trekking destinations include Sunflower Flat and Lost Creek Campground; snowshoers up for overnighting can head farther in, including to the fascinating Devastated Area left by Lassen Peak’s 1915 spazz-out.

The snow-clobbered Southwest Area, meanwhile, has its own great mix of snowshoeing options, from short, easy rambles to backcountry adventures amid potentially treacherous mountainous terrain. A prime beginner’s snowshoe is the 2-mile winter trail through the mudpots and steam vents of the Sulphur Works, while avalanche-savvy snowshoers in good condition can tackle more ambitious destinations such as Ridge Lakes, Diamond Peak, and Brokeoff Mountain.

If you’re completely new to snowshoeing and looking for a little guidance—or if you’d like a guided tour through Lassen’s winter landscapes—consider signing on to one of the ranger-led snowshoe treks offered in the Southwest Area. These roughly two-hour hikes, which kick off from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, don’t follow an established trail but instead crunch along the snowpack through the deep-drifted red-fir forest zone. Please note that the 2021 winter hikes have been cancelled due to COVID.

To join a ranger-guided snowshoe trek, pick up a free ticket at the visitor center’s information desk beginning at 9 a.m. the day of the hike. You can grab a pair of snowshoes for a $1 donation. These organized snowshoe hikes are popular, and often fill up on winter weekends, so the earlier you can get to the visitor center on those days, the better. Retail stores in Redding offer rentals.

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Tips for Your Lassen Snowshoe Adventure

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There are areas of the park perfect for all levels of snowshoers from beginner to advanced. LassenNPS

-Those Southwest Area ranger-led treks provides snowshoes for all participants for a $1 donation, but the park doesn’t rent snowshoes otherwise. So bring your own—or rent a pair from one of the numerous outfitters in Redding!

-Always pack winter outdoor essentials when prepping for Lassen snowshoeing. If you’re doing any backcountry trekking, bring along avalanche safety equipment such as transceivers and probes—and know the basics of evaluating avalanche risks on the go.

-When you’re snowshoeing a winter trail shared with skiers, act courteously and stay out of the ski tracks.

-Finally, keep close tabs on weather reports and avoid the park during winter storms. Carry tire chains in your vehicle—required by law for winter travelers—in case road conditions deteriorate.

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Snowshoe Your Way Through Dazzling Cascadian Beauty in Lassen

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Snowshoeing through Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most intimate ways to experience this winter wonderland in all its glory. LassenNPS

Whether you’re getting the inside scoop on forest ecology from a ranger or striking out on your own in the backcountry, snowshoeing gives you just about the most intimate experience of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s wintrified glories. It’s just another awesome brand of outdoor recreation the Redding area accommodates in knockout style!

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