Lassen Volcanic National Park

Photo above: View of Loomis Peak erupting in WPA poster from 1938. Source: Library of Congress. Right: View of Lassen Peak from Manzanita Lake. Source: National Park Service.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Okay, be honest. For those of you who are not from northern California, how many people even knew that Lassen Volcanic National Park existed? How many knew that there was another pretty cool national park, outside Yellowstone, with steam rising from the ground or that Lassen contained all four of the volcano types in the world. Yes, all four. Prospect Peak representing the shield type; Lassen Peak, a plug dome; Cinder Cone, yes a cinder cone; and Brokeoff Volcano, a composite volcano. So, if you decide to pop into the north central part of California and visit a park, consider making it one with a unique set of features not found in many parts of the globe. And you'll get to discover something most people in the United States don't know exists, but really should.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic Then

The activity on Lassen Peak began with rumblings on May 30, 1914, just twenty-seven thousand years since it last decided to blow. Within one year, over one hundred and eighty steam vents had pushed through the surface, creating a one thousand foot crater. On May 14, 1915, lava started to fill the crater and begin to flow. The great explosion would come eight days later, pushing a plume of ash thirty thousand feet into the air. It could be seen from one hundred and fifty miles away along the Pacific coast.

Photo above: Historic photo of the Loomis Museum, Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park. Source: Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. Below: Cliff Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park. Source: National Park Service.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic Now

It began in 1914 and produced a massive explosion on May 22, 1915, sending ash over two hundred miles away. Lassen Peak had exploded and now remains as the largest plug dome volcano in the world. It's the southernmost in the Cascade Range and today provides the dominant feature of Lassen Volcanic National Park, which was created only two years after that eruption. Today you can walk over one hundred fifty miles of trails, some through the ash fields, some on boardwalks surrounding steam vents and mud pots that still steam and boil. It's a natural paradise with tons of camping activities in the summer months and winter wonderland in the cold. Over thirty feet of snow covers the park most winters. There's two visitors centers, ranger guides, and exploring to do in this park created by the second to last mainland USA volcano to explode. Yes, just before, Mount St. Helens.

Today, there's still an active volcano under this earth, althoug its power has been diminished, at least for the moment, into mud pots and steam vents, plus hiking trails to the summit of Lassen Peak, five miles long and a two thousand feet rise in elevation (not for the inexperienced). There's also walks to other features of the park at various hiking levels below that steep climb. You can stay at a Guest Ranch, drive the thirty mile park highway, and get visitor services at two visitor centers, including the summer only, but historic Loomis Museum, where the artifacts that Mr. Loomis made during his watch of the 1915 activity are exhibited, as well as ranger programs given, and a film to be viewed.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Take a ranger guided tour. Lassen has a variety of tours of both summer and winter variety. If you're hearty, capable, and snow orieted, they've got snowshoe hikes from January to the beginning of April. They'll provide the snowshoes, too.

2. Take the full drive on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. You'll drive for thirty miles past amazing sites, including the Sulphur Springs Steam Vent, Lassen Peak, Kings Creek Meadow, Devastated Area, and Chaos Crags, just to name a few.

3. Step from your car onto a trail and take in the sites further inland. There's a three mile summer trail into Bumpass Hell. A quarter mile interpreted loop in the Devastated Area. How about a thirteen mile hike at Snag Lake? Pick a trail that meets your physical capabilities and head out. There's over one hundred and fifty miles of them. Be safe. Remember to stay on established trails and boardwalks. This is an active volcano area with hydrothermal activity all over the place.

4. Even if you can't stay at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, you can eat there, although you will need reservations. It's in a remote area of the park far from the visitor centers, but if you're in the area, it might be a unique, but not cheap, treat. There's not a lot of places to eat in the park overall; the Lassen Cafe in the Visitor Center, the Camper Store at Manzanita Lake, and at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch.

Photo above: King Creek Falls, located off the main park road between Summit Lake and Lassen Peak. The park road is thirty miles long and runs form the southwest to northwest entrances, or the other way around, depending on your orientation. Image courtesy National Park Service.

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