Most visitors to Lassen Volcanic National Park enter the park at either end of Highway 89--the only paved road. As they travel through the park, they can take the “Auto Tour”—following the suggestions in the booklet Road Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park (sold in the park)—or do a self-guided drive. The road takes a circuitous route through the park because it goes around three sides of Lassen Peak, and along the way, there are many places to stop to have access to hiking trails, lakes, volcanic sites, and picnic areas.
Lassen became a national park in 1916---following its most recent eruptions that began in May 1914. Lassen is along the southern Cascade Range—the same mountain range that includes Oregon’s Mount St. Helens that erupted in 1980—and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Along the auto route are some amazing sights to see—among them are the “Devastated Area” and “Chaos Crags” areas where volcanic avalanches have swept through and left solidified lava. However, if you really want to see the park, hiking some of the 150 miles of trail is the way to travel.
Here are four trails, of increasing difficulty, that have trailheads along the highway: Bumpass Hell, Mill Creek, Lassen Peak, and Brokeoff Mountain.
- Bumpass Hell is a justifiably popular trail because it leads you to an active thermal area with bubbling mud pots, steam vents, and fumaroles. Even though Lassen is considered a dormant volcano, Bumpass Hell reminds you that Lassen is not extinct. It’s three miles roundtrip and an easy 300 foot descent (which may seem like more because you are at 8,000 feet). Allow two hours. Trailhead: Bumpass Hell parking lot.
- Mill Creek is popular because of the wildflowers, the combination of forested and open sections with great views, and its 75-foot waterfall (the highest in the park). Distance round trip is 3.8 miles. Rated moderate. Allow 2 - 2.5 hours. Trail begins behind the amphitheater adjacent to the Southwest parking area (SW entrance).
- Lassen Peak Trail is undergoing a multi-year project to restore and rehabilitate it. When completely open to the summit, it’s a five-mile hike roundtrip, rated difficult, with an estimated round trip time of three to five hours. Elevation gain is 2000 feet-8,500 feet at the trailhead to 10,457 feet at the summit. Currently the peak trail is open to Grandview, 1.3 miles from the trailhead until snow closes it. (The NPS advises you check back in the spring of 2014 for summer summit access dates.)
- Brokeoff Mountain is a good alternative to Lassen Peak. This is a more difficult trail, but with amazing views from the top. Trailhead is the Brokeoff Mountain parking lot near SW Entrance. Round trip: 7.4 miles. Allow 6 hours minimum. Rocky, forested, and alpine. Elevation from 6,635-ft. to 9,235-ft.
Additional: On all trails, hiking boots or other sturdy footwear is highly recommended. Hiking poles help with rough spots. Wear layers suitable for variable weather conditions. Patches on some trails may linger into mid-August.
When planning a visit to Lassen, it’s important to keep in mind that the park closes part of the highway during the winter—and many trails and guest services will also be closed in the off-season. Check here for current information.
In the next article on Lassen Volcanic National Park, we’ll take a look at the less well-known and crowded trails in the South-Central part of the park. Those who stay at Drakesbad Guest Ranch are near some of the best trails within the park—including 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Happy trails from Susan "backpack45" Alcorn