Friday, June 6, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park, Three Ways

We're spending a week just outside the cute little town of Chester, CA and almost on the shores of Lake Almanor at Big Springs Resort. Resort isn't a very accurate description, but this small, rustic full hookup RV park is extremely peaceful and about one block from the lake. The lake is supposed to get to around 75 degrees in the isn't that warm yet, but with the temps heading into the low 90's in the next few days we may just have to test the water!

Chester, CA is about 30 miles from the Southwest entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Mt Lassen, at 10,457 ft, is the Southern most mountain in the Cascade Range and is a snow capped beacon looming over the surrounding area that last erupted in 1915. We chanced upon this area simply because it was a good distance from Reno, and we are so happy we ended up here! The lake is beautiful, the forests are lush and inviting and the trails are many!

So, in our three full days here we have experienced Lassen in three different ways:

#1. Lassen From Afar

The Lake Almanor Recreation Trail is a paved trail along 10 miles of the West edge of the lake, and I believe you can add on another mile to the dam using old highway 89. Much of the trail is in cool, refreshing, beautiful forest...perfect for a ride even when it's over 80 in the sun. Here and there are lake access points, there's a gentle incline and descent of a couple of miles in the middle of the trail, and at the South end of the lake you get wonderful views of Mt Lassen. We parked at the Northernmost trail head and rode 9 miles South and then back.

It's a 52 mile drive (or road bike ride) around Lake Almanor. All types of boating are allowed. The fishing is supposed to be good as well as birding. We saw pileated woodpeckers and bald eagles during our bike ride.

Mt Lassen dominates the horizon in these parts.

#2. Lassen at its Heart

Another day we drove the 30 miles to the Southwest entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We'd planned to hike the Bumpass Hell and the Terrace/Shadow/Cliff Lakes trails but learned at the visitor center they were still closed due to snow. We were surprised since we knew it had been a low-snow winter and snow was melting fast in the early season heat. After a normal winter trails often don't open until July!

We ended up hiking three miles out from the Summit Lake trail head (campground and day use area still closed for the season even though there was no snow). Then stopped at the Kings Creek trail head and took the pretty one mile trail to the falls. Then stopped to oooh and ahh over the stinking, bubbling, boiling Sulphur Works. Sulphur Works is said to be the heart of the park, it is the center of a ring of mountains that were once one giant volcanic mountain, Mt. Tehama. Here's a You Tube video Hans shot at Sulphur Works.

All in all a fun day in the park...and we only drove halfway through the park! We'll save the Northwest portion for another visit down the road...

Fantastic views from the road through Lassen.
These peaks are part of edge of the original giant volcano, Mt Tehama.

Pretty colors in Echo Lake.

Kings Creek cuts through a still brown meadow, snow blankets the North facing hillside.

This is only a small portion of Kings Creek Falls!
It was stunning!

Lake Helen still covered in a thin layer of ice. The road cuts through the left side of the photo...
it could still have 10 - 15 feet of snow in a normal year!

The more active volcanic parts of the park leave colorful residues on the mountainsides.

Boiling sulphur mud pools right off the road at the Sulphur Works turnout.

#3, Lassen from the Fringes

Today we accessed Lassen Volcanic National Park from the town of Chester. Just 17 miles North of town (14 miles are paved, 3 are good dirt road) is the Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Drakesbad opened in 1900 as a remote, healthful retreat, utilizing the hot mineral waters naturally flowing through the property. Today it is owned by the National Park Service and continues to provide a unique lodging experience in an incredibly beautiful setting.

Drakesbad is located next to several fascinating trails (plus the Pacific Crest Trail) and we hiked two of them: Devils Kitchen and Boiling Springs Lake. We enjoyed these hikes so much I have to tag them as Favorites!

Drakesbad Guest Ranch is nestled in a beautiful meadow with a forested lava mountain behind it.
The hot spring in the foreground flows into a swimming pool at the bottom of the hill.

Devils Kitchen is AMAZING! There's about a third of a mile trail that loops you THROUGH the bubbling, steaming, burping, stinking mess that is the earth releasing its super heated gases. It's a fascinating experience and pictures just cannot do it've got to visit this place!

A cold water creek flows through Devil's Kitchen right along side steaming vents and bubbling hot water vents.
See the steam rising down stream?

The sounds coming out of the vents were scary!

Bubbling furiously!

Signs all over the place warned us that it is illegal to go beyond the signs!

Once we could finally tear ourselves away from the wonders of the Kitchen, we took a different trail back towards Drakesbad and the Boiling Springs Lake.

A strategically fallen tree enabled a stream crossing.

All along this portion of the trail we saw recently torn apart logs, sure sign that bears frequent this area.
Sure enough, once we reached the next trail junction a sign confirmed that fact!

Boiling Springs Lake was a cauldron of milky whitish, blueish water surrounded by colorful soil.
Hans is looking at a deer lying in front of a tree near the lake.

We decided he was enjoying the warmth of the dirt!
In places the soil was quite hot to the touch.

The far end of the lake seemed to be the main source of the earths emissions.

Colorful, burbling, burping, steaming potholes making all sorts of crazy sounds at this end of the lake.

Here's a You Tube video Hans made that includes the wild sounds coming out of the potholes.

Boiling Springs Lake with Mt Lassen in the distance.

We're halfway through our week at Lake Almanor and we've just scratched the surface of this incredibly beautiful, scientifically amazing place! Oh, and one of the best things, it's very uncrowded. Today we only saw one other small group on the trail!


  1. Since we decided to stay on the coast we didn't make it to Lassen last month. Then we found out about the road still being closed and figured it would be a better place to visit later in the summer. After seeing your photos it is definitely still on our list!

    1. Yes indeed, and if this were a normal year we would have been here too soon! I guess it doesn't really get going till July normally.

  2. Well, I clearly blew through that area way too quickly! How did I miss that Devil's Kitchen trail? Oh, well, I still have to go back since the road was closed. So interesting to see those spots I could only read about when I was there last month. Too bad about the Bumpass Hell Trail. I really wanted to do that one also. Such a small window of opportunity with so much to see in that beautiful place!

    1. If you stay in or near the town of Chester you will be close to the road that takes you to Devils Kitchen, it's the Chester/Warner Valley Road. Totally worth it! We have poor Verizon signal at the place we are staying, (Big Springs Resort), but the park has good wifi.

  3. Replies
    1. :-) You should see the flower picture I put on FaceBook, that one's calendar material!

  4. Thanks for the photos and info. We will be in the area late July with the grandkids. Looks like there will be plenty to do!

    1. Thanks for reading Marcie! Yep, grandkids will love the volcanic activity!

  5. Fabuloso! Those are great photos of a really interesting area. I had no idea any of this existed. This is going on the master must-see-and-do list.

  6. Thanks for the great trail info! Kind of reminds me of a mini-Yellowstone with all of the hot springs and bubbling mud. Can't believe that we've never made it to Lassen in all of our trips up and down California -- I guess because it's so close to home we've put it on the back burner. It's getting moved up the list! :-)

    1. We too can't believe how wonderful this area is, it was such a lucky find!

  7. Wow I'm sold. Your pictures are fantastic. Nice that there were so few people. I'm surprised that so much was closed the first week of June. Maybe the warmer weather you have coming will change all that.

    1. In a normal June we wouldn't even get to see as much as we have...we were very fortunate to visit this low snow year.

  8. Definitely added Chester and Lassen Volcanic NP to our list. Way cool...
    Love the picture of Echo Lake.

  9. It's surprising how few people do visit Lassen. We were really looking forward to spending time there a year and a half ago but those darn wildfires kept us to half a day. We do have to get back for more time and some hiking. I love thermal areas. I guess this is why I find Yellowstone so fascinating. Thanks, Hans, for including the cool videos. Sure looked like some fantastic days:)

    1. Wildfires and snow, the two things that make for a very short window for visiting this area.

  10. We never made it to Lassen :( And its beautiful out there and my fave pic is Echo Lake, its so pretty.
    Lava Beds National Monument is nearby Alturas your next destination. I would recommend visiting it and on another day drive to Glass Mountain (its fascinating).

  11. Due to our schedule two years ago we elected to bypass Lassen and I can see that was a mistake. I have bookmarked this so when we get back out in the area we will be sure to take those hikes. We loved Yellowstone so much that I believe we would find this fascinating as well. Great videos Hans!

    1. I really like how uncrowded it is...perhaps later in the summer it gets busy, but it just doesn't seem like a heavily visited park.

  12. Wow, beautiful! Never made it to Lassen, just drove around it. Great photos but the Echo lake is just stunning. Perhaps I can entice you to stop by Lava Beds National Park it is also fascinating place especially if you decide to drive up Glass Mountain (not part of Lava Beds). I have two posts about our visit there.

  13. The variety of this area is amazing. And who doesn't want to spend the day with burping earth? Ditto on recommending Lava Beds NP - my son's sixth grade class did a three-day campout there (many) years ago and I've been looking forward to returning every since.