Lassen National Park

Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak is the highest peak in Lassen National Park. It is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range that runs from southern British Columbia (Canada) to northern California. Lassen Peak is a lava dome, formed in on the flanks of BrokeOff Mountain about 27,000 years ago. It's last eruption was in May 1915.

View of Lake Helen from about halfway up Lassen Peak, California
View of Lake Helen from about halfway up Lassen Peak, California

For most of the year Lassen Peak is snow-capped. At 5 miles rt and 2000 ft elev gain rt, it is a steady ascent of 2000 ft over 2.5 miles. We were accompanied by many other hikers along the way, but views of blue Lake Helen just below and Lake Almanor in the distance kept the view interesting. The hike is on packed sand/gravel on switchbacks to the top. At the top, monarch-colored tortoiseshell butterflies greeted us. There was a snowfield just beyond that took hikers to another peak, but I opted to watch my husband and one of my sons from afar.

Practical Information (as of September 2018):

Features: Bird's eye view of Lake Helen from the tallest peak in Lassen National Park
Our Hike: 5 mile rt, 2000 sq ft elevation gain on loose rocks and switchbacks
Fee: $20/car (for 7 days in Lassen NP) or free with $80 Annual National Parks

Cinder Cone

Cinder Cone hike was a very pleasant surprise. The 4 mile roundtrip hike starts with a fairly flat trail on black volcanic sand going under the shade of evergreens and passing by a 20 foot high wall of black lava rock known as the Fantastic Lava Beds.

Cinder Cone in the distance, Lassen NP, California
Cinder Cone in the distance, Lassen NP, California

I had seen pictures of Cinder Cone from the bottom and was half-hearted about climbing the almost 800ft volcanic cone made of loose black rocks all the way to its summit. But after sitting in the car for almost five hours, I was ready for a good leg stretch. Toward the end of our 2 mile trail, there loomed the volcanic cone for us to conquer (for me, to scramble up slowly with many breaks).

View of Lassen Peak from Cinder Cone crater rim, Lassen NP, CA
View of Lassen Peak from Cinder Cone crater rim, Lassen NP, CA

Before I knew it, my dear husband was making his way back down to help me with my son. I graciously accepted, at which point he realized that I was the slow one. I eventually made my way up this cone with pictures being snapped as I “summitted”, probably so I remember to work out more.

Colorful volcanic ashes called Painted Dunes, Lassen NP, California
Colorful volcanic ashes called Painted Dunes, Lassen NP, California

I caught my breath to a full view of a snow-capped Lassen Peak and all its surrounding mountains. As I made my way around the crater rim, I noticed a view of another blue lake. Snag Lake was formed when this cone erupted 300 years ago and spewed a small sea of lava (Painted Dunes flow and Fantastic Lava Beds) to dam up the Creek that flowed from the other blue lake near Cinder Cone (Butte Lake). At the foot of the cone are colorful hills of red and orange volcanic ash known as the Painted Dunes. We had a nice picnic at Butte Lake afterwards, while watching kayakers and canoes row by. Looking at my pictures now, I realize again that sometimes pictures just don’t do justice to what stands before you. Or I need a better photographer.

Into the middle of Cinder Cone - Lassen Peak peeking in the background, Lassen NP, California
Into the middle of Cinder Cone - Lassen Peak peeking in the background, Lassen NP, California

At the top of the cone were two trails encircling the two rims of Cinder Cone. The two rims were formed by two different eruptions. Another trail also goes down to the inside of the crater. All these trails are covered with black loose lava rocks called scoria. I went as far as the middle crater and let my husband push on to the belly of the crater with two of my boys. It's amazing what these boys can do when something interests them. I watched them from my spot at the middle crater rim taking in the view of a snow-capped mountain peaking over the crater rim and enjoying the view of beautiful yellow flowers that have taken root all over this stark landscape.

We arrived at Butte Lake at 10:30 am after going through a 6-mile unpaved gravel road. We did not have any trouble making it in with our sedan on this clear day. If possible, I would recommend arriving earlier. The “walk” up the cinder occurs towards the end of the 2 mile outbound hike and it does get hot going up that unshaded, energy-requiring portion. Trekking poles looked like it was helpful to those around us that had them. Parking was easy to find that Saturday morning.Butte Lake Campground is a short walk away from the beautiful blue Butte Lake. We could probably spend the day in this area between the lakes and the many hikes that start in this area.

Practical Information (as of July 2016):

Features: Climb a cinder cone to its top, then climb down into its crater, Views of snow-capped Lassen Peak, Painted Hills, Fantastic Lava Beds and the two blue lakes it formed (Butte and Snag Lakes), walk in an active volcanic park
Our Hike: about 4 miles roundtrip, loose volcanic rock, unshaded up the cone
Fee: self serve entrance kiosk $20/car (for 7 days in Lassen NP) or free with $80 Annual National Parks (no cashier to purchase Annual National Parks pass from at this entrance)
Directions: Entrance to Butte Lake area from Hwy 44
Amenities: flush restrooms, picnic tables, water fountains

Butte Lake to Snag Lake loop

Butte Lake is an area in Lassen National Park that has volcanic rocks piled up to split up a lake into 2 different lakes, Butte and Snag Lakes. The rocks themselves are piled up probably a hundred feet high, are jagged and look like they could easily roll downhill. A couple years ago we visited Cinder Butte, which is a 4 mile rt from the day use area. On that visit, we noticed that the first-come-first served campground by Butte Lake had a few campsites open mid-morning. So we took our chances on the Saturday of the Sept long weekend of this year, arriving after a bumpy 6 mile drive on a packed gravel road (from the main highway -Hwy 44) at 11am. We easily managed to find a decent campsite (and saw many others vacant by nighttime of that same day).

After setting up our campsite and eating lunch, we hit the trails. Our goal was to walk along Butte Lake to Snag Lake, but then try to find a shortcut across the land between the two lakes. The walk to Snag Lake was on loose sand which tended to slow us down a little from our usual 2 miles per hour walking speed. The black eruption rocks formed little rocks islands that kayakers gently maneuvered around.

Along the shores of Butte Lake with a view of black lava rock islands
Along the shores of Butte Lake with a view of black lava rock islands

At the end of Butte Lake, there was an area of loose sand that we walked across to get to the start of Snag Lake. Not seeing the pile of black rocks in front of us the entire time, we mistakenly thought that it might be possible to cut across to shorten the hike. When we got to the beginning of Snag Lake, we realized that the 100 ft pile ofsteam erupted black rocks (called the Fantastic Lava Beds) spanned the entire area between the two lakes. My husband actually climbed to the top of the black rocks to get a better visual of the area and signaled that there was no good path through to the other side.

Climbing to the top of Fantastic Lava Beds, Lassen National Park, CA
Climbing to the top of Fantastic Lava Beds, Lassen National Park, CA

We reluctantly started following the trail to start around Snag Lake, but soon realized that the lake had shrunken a little compared to the map. Spotting a few hikers in the distance we decided to cut across the dry bed of the lake in an effort to reduce our hike distance. The final total mileage will show that we were not successful in reducing our total mileage (it was about the same following the established trail around Snag lake and our attempts at shortcuts). Our attempts at a shortcut took us along the shores of the shrunken Snag Lake, across muddy creeks that we had to build log bridges to cross, and very muddy lake beds. Our shoes were coated in a thick layer of mud by the time we made it across to the other side.

Making log bridges to cross the streams radiating from Snag Lake
Making log bridges to cross the streams radiating from Snag Lake"

The other side greeted us with loose cinders, some uphill, alongside a wall of the Fantastic Lava Beds. Between the dust and the slipping cinders under our feet, a half mile felt like a mile here, though our spirits were lifted when we finally reached the bottom of Cinder Butte. The sun began to set as we passed Cinder Butte and the cinders beneath our feet felt more packed as we inched our way to camp. At 1400 ft elevation gain over 15 miles, this hike felt like one of the most difficult we had done, though the numbers are not that impressive. The slipping cinders had made its way into my shoes causing multiple large blisters between my toes and a sore hip the next morning. But the starlit skies and tikka masala chicken and chickpea with rice warmed our hearts that night, readying us to tackle Lassen Peak the next morning.

Practical Information (as of September 2018):

Features: walk along blue lakes juxtaposed against the Fantastic Lava Beds
Our Hike: about 15 miles rt, 1400 ft elev gain, Felt longer than it should, walking on loose cinders, sand
Fee: self serve entrance kiosk $20/car (for 7 days in Lassen NP) or free with $80 Annual National Parks (no cashier to purchase Annual National Parks pass from at this entrance)
Directions: Entrance to Butte Lake area from Hwy 44, same as Cinder Cone Trailhead
Amenities: pit toilet, water, picnic tables

Devil’s Kitchen

If you want to walk amongst hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots, this is the place to go to. At 4.2 mile round trip, it is a little longer than Lassen’s more popular Bumpass Hell hike. At the end of the hike, there was a boardwalk that allowed us closer views of the colorful pools, smoking hot springs and gurgling mud pots. This is another place where I feel that pictures just don't do justice to what really stood before us.

Smoking hot springs at Devil's Kitchen, Lassen National Park, California
Smoking hot springs at Devil's Kitchen, Lassen National Park, California

Our hike started into a green meadow with wildflowers close by and hills in the distance. Eventually, we got to the shade of some trees which led us to the hot springs. On the map we printed at home, it looked like there was another way to return to the trailhead, but when we explored, the alternative trail back seemed unused and was blocked by fallen trees.

Meadow leading to Devil's Kitchen, Lassen National Park, California
Meadow leading to Devil's Kitchen, Lassen National Park, California

To get to Devil's Kitchen, we drove on an unpaved single lane road. Parking was scarce, probably due to Bumpass Hell being closed that weekend. There were many warnings cautioning hikers to stay on trail as we neared the hydrothermal areas. Both Devil's Kitchen and Bumpass Hell reminded me of Yellowstone National Park, perhaps a smaller version of the largest supervolcano in the world.

Hydrothermal Pool at Devil's Kitchen, Lassen National Park, California
Hydrothermal Pool at Devil's Kitchen, Lassen National Park, California

Practical Information (as of July 2016):

Features: Boardwalk to view colorful Hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots, sulfur odor, green meadows, walk into an active volcanic park
Fee: part of Lassen National Park ($20/car fee for 7 days in park) or free with Annual National Parks Pass
Directions: From Hwy 36 in the town of Chester, follow the Feather River Road north 1 mile to a fork for Juniper Lake and Warner Valley. Continue towards Warner Valley/Drakesbad for 15 miles. Turn left onto the dirt road and continue past the Warner Valley Campground to the turnoff for the trailhead. Even though Devil's Kitchen is close by distance to Bumpass Hell, there is no through road from that side.
Hike: 4.2 miles roundtrip, fairly flat, mostly shaded
Amentities: Pit toilet, water, picnic tables, limited parking

Boiling Springs Lake

On the way back from our Devil's Kitchen hike, we veered out onto a trail towards Boiling Springs Lake. The trail to Boiling Springs Lake starts along the Devil's Kitchen Trail. The trail from Devil’s Kitchen Trail starts with a gentle slope going through a wooded area. The end of the trail was a loop around the lake. It was quite a sight to see white and red rocks juxtaposed against a bubbling light blue lake. The loop trail gave us a view of this big simmering lake from many different angles, allowing us to hear and see the gurgling mud pots. Boiling Springs Lake is at a temperature of 125 F, fed by a number of vents situated under the lake.

View of Boiling Springs Lake from the top, Lassen NP, California
View of Boiling Springs Lake from the top, Lassen NP, California

To get to the Boiling Springs Lake, we drove on a single lane, gently sloping , unpaved roadway. We had no trouble with our sedan on this road on a dry day. Caution near the lake as it is a hydrothermal area - so please stay on trails. Beyond Boiling Springs Lake, there is a sign towards Terminal Geyser which we did not visit.

Practical Information (as of July 2016)):

Features: Loop around a boiling bubbling lake with beautiful red and white rocks, walk into an active volcanic park
Our Hike: 2 miles from Devil's Trail junction, 3miles from Parking lot, gentle slope/td>
Fee: part of Lassen National Park ($20/car fee for 7 days in park) or free with Annual National Parks Pass
Directions: Same Devil's Kitchen Trailhead as above.
Amentities: Pit toilet, water, picnic tables, limited parking

Subway Cave

Subway Cave is a lava tube - channels formed after a hot molten lava river flows through and drains, leaving a hollow surrounded by cooled, solidified lava rock. Subway Cave is a winding lava tube 1300 foot in length formed less than 20,000 years ago. In it, there are big room-like like structures with high ceilings and large open spaces. The cave floor was rough and uneven. The roof thickness varies from 8 feet to 24 feet. The height of the cave varies from 6 feet to 17 feet. Visibility was zero, it was complete darkness. As we walked in, we reminded ourselves that we were walking where red hot lava used to flow.

Subway Cave Lava Tube, Lassen NP, CA
Subway Cave Lava Tube, Lassen NP, CA

We got to Subway Cave early (8am) so we were in the cave alone and it sure was dark. Luckily we had a lantern and a flashlight. Towards the end of the cave there was a 1 ½ foot volcanic feature on the ground that looked very much like a popped bubble of molten lava (cooled of course). The temperature in the cave is in the 40Fs so jackets are highly recommended. The parking lot was small but we did not have any trouble getting a spot when we arrived. It was a quick stop, so I imagine it would be fairly quick even if you had to wait for a spot to open up.

1 1/2 foot Lava Bubble at the end of Subway Cave, Lassen NP, CA
1 1/2 foot Lava Bubble at the end of Subway Cave, Lassen NP, CA

Practical Information (as of July 2016):

Features: a short hike into a cold, dark lava cave, see different features of a lava cave from lava "bubbles" to huge great rooms, walk in an active volcanic park
Our Hike: Less than a mile in distance, uneven ground, cool temperatures, very dark (bring lights)
Fee: self serve entrance kiosk $20/car (for 7 days in Lassen NP) or free with $80 Annual National Parks (no cashier to purchase Annual National Parks pass from at this entrance)
Directions: Subway is located near the town of Old Station, 1/4 mile north of the junction of Hwy 44 and 89, across from Cave Campground.
Amenities: pit toilet, water, picnic tables
Brochure: Subway Cave Information
Campgrounds in Hat Creek area: Lassen National Forest Campgrounds