Power from inside the Earth’s crust has molded Lassen Volcanic National Park located in California into an active landscape that continues to change today. From geysers to bubbling mud pots, the park is a living example of vulcanism and the considerable strength required to move land masses. These tectonic plates have an ongoing battle here in northern California, where all four types of volcanoes are in full view for the park visitor.
Lassen also harbors jagged peaks, scenic waterfalls, and mountain meadows full of wildflowers in the summer. Winter brings its own treasures, as snowshoe travelers will discover. Hiking past boiling lakes billowing with steam while surrounded by fresh snow is a surreal experience for the winter explorer. No matter what the season, this somewhat tumultuous land will entice visitors with surprises around every corner.
History of Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Peak has long been the center of Native Americans’ attention as a mountain full of fire and water. These ancient inhabitants of the area felt that the mountain would eventually blow itself apart. Well, they were correct, as the world’s largest plug dome erupted in 1915, creating the only volcanic eruption in the 20th century until Mount St. Helens violently exploded in 1980.
White settlers discovered the region as they headed toward the Sacramento Valley and the gold discoveries there. Few chose to live in this reputed valley of fire and ice.
By 1907, Theodore Roosevelt saw the immense beauty of the area and named Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone as national monuments. With the eruption in 1915, the monuments quickly became a National Park, protecting the area for scientific study, as well as keeping development away from this turbulent region.
Why Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in Your RV?
RVers have plenty of options for camping within Lassen Volcanic, as there are five park campgrounds providing space for motorhomes and trailers. The north and south entrances are paved and the Manzanita Lake Camper Store has everything you’ll need when the campgrounds open for the summer season. Why not spend your days exploring the geothermal areas of the park and hiking to mountain lakes and waterfalls, then come home to your “cabin in the woods” for a good night’s rest?
Places to Go
Here are some of the must-visit locations within the park:
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
Open year-round, this center has displays and exhibits of Lassen’s volcanic past, as well as a movie that touches on the park’s history and geology. There is a bookstore, café, and gift shop inside. The visitor center is located one mile inside the southwest entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Located next to Manzanita Lake, the museum hosts artifacts of B.F. Loomis, who documented Lassen Peak’s most recent eruption. Ranger-led tours start here, and a theater and bookstore are also on site.
There are eight different areas in the park that are related to vulcanism, with hot water, steam and boiling mud pots. They are indications that further eruptions may occur. When visiting, please stay on walkways, as injuries have occurred to those who venture off them.
Here are the 8 regions:
- Bumpass Hell
- Sulphur Works
- Devil’s Kitchen
- Boiling Springs Lake
- Little Hot Springs Valley
- Pilot Pinnacle
- Terminal Geyser
- Cold Boiling Lake
Things to Do
There’s plenty to do in the park, too. Here are some of the more common activities.
There are several lakes within the park that allow non-motorized boating in the summer, including Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, and Summit Lake. Canoes, kayaks and paddle boards can be rented from the Manzanita Lake Camper Store.
Brown and rainbow trout are prevalent in many bodies of water throughout Lassen Volcanic National Park. A California fishing license is required and on Manzanita Lake catch-and-release is required with single-hook, barbless, artificial lures only.
There are several spots where fishing is not allowed, so fishermen should check with a ranger regarding those locations.
There are seven campgrounds within Lassen Volcanic, five of which have available spots for RVs. There are no hookups, but during summer months most campgrounds have water available for use. The Manzanita Lake Campground also has cabins for rent, as well as a dump station. Here is a list of the campgrounds with links to their descriptions:
- Butte Lake Campground
- Volcano Adventure Camp (was Crags Campground)
- Juniper Lake Campground
- Manzanita Lake Campground
- Summit Lake Campground
- Southwest Walk-In Campground
- Warner Valley Campground
Lassen offers over 150 miles of hiking trails through four different regions in the park. Hikers can experience the devastation of the last eruption here, wander through hydrothermal areas and revel in wildflower-filled meadows on many trails.
Please remember to stay on trails, as some ground is just a thin crust over boiling water.
The Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway is a 30-mile scenic drive that offers a wonderful overview of the park. Here are some of the highlights where pull-outs are available:
- Sulphur Works
- Bumpass Hell Overlook
- Lassen Peak Viewpoint
- Kings Creek Meadow
- North Summit Lake Picnic Area
- Hat Creek
- Devastated Area
- Chaos Crags and Jumbles
Lassen’s location away from large population centers makes it the perfect stargazing destination. The Starry Nights programs led by park rangers take place at various spots within Lassen Volcanic National Park, and every year a Dark Skies Festival is held the first weekend in August.
Participate in special hikes and presentations by astronomers and astrobiologists and enjoy viewing the night skies through telescopes and a solar scope.
Parkcaching & Earthcaching
Lassen Volcanic participates in parkcaching within the park boundaries. Participants need a GPS device and a geocaching app, along with a challenge brochure to locate geocaches along the park highway.
For those interested in learning more about the geology of the park, earthcaching may be just the ticket. Also discovered through GPS coordinates, earthcaches require answers to questions about the locations’ geological and geographical treasures before physically locating them. It is akin to a scientific version of a scavenger hunt.
Bring your own stock and ride over 100 miles of trails in the park. Overnight camping with stock is not allowed in the backcountry. However, there are three corrals at Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, and Summit Lake. A permit is required, as are camping reservations near the corrals.
Check here for a list of regulations.
When to Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
The park is open year-round, but some roads are closed with snowfall. Many activities are available in summer months, and winter provides an opportunity for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping at the Southwest Walk-in Campground.
Photography can be incredible any time of year, so your visit will be dependent on how you wish to experience Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Where RVers Can Stay
Lassen has five campgrounds that have RV sites available during the summer season. They are improved campsites, but there are no hookups. If you would prefer electricity and water, here are a few options outside the park:
- Hat Creek Resort & RV Park – located eleven miles from the park, this campground has everything from cottages and yurts to RV and tent sites with all amenities.
- Volcano Country Camping – this campground is just nine miles from the park with wooded sites that can accommodate any size RV, all with full hookups.
- Lassen/Shingletown KOA – close to Lassen Volcanic National park and Lake Shasta, this campground has back-in and pull-through sites with full hookups, as well as cabins available.
Getting To and Around Lassen Volcanic National Park
Located directly east of Redding and northeast of Chino, California, Lassen has five distinctive entrances. The two paved highways that lead to the park are Highway 44 in the north and Highway 36 in the south. The other three roads are dirt and dead end at the southeast (Warner Valley and Juniper Lake roads) and northeast (Butte Lake Road) corners of the park.
Once in the national park, the Lassen Volcanic Park Highway is a 30-mile paved road connecting the north and south sections of the park. All roads close for the winter season (usually December through May), but vehicles can get to the visitor center in the south and Loomis Plaza in the north year-round.
Captivated By Nature
Viewing the results of Nature’s power is Lassen Volcanic National Park’s gift to visitors. With remnants of eruptions, dancing mud pots and boiling lakes, we are given the opportunity to look back at land creation and destruction and forward to the constant re-sculpting of the landscapes around us. This park captivates us with visions of our past and revelations for our future.
Have you ever been to Lassen Volcanic National Park? What were your experiences there?