Want to hike up a volcano in California? You can do it in Lassen Volcanic NP, one of the least visited national parks in the state.
Last time we were there, we spent less than a day in the park driving through the park and missing out on everything it has to offer. This time we had 3 whole days!
On the first day, we explored the hydrothermal area around Drakesbad Guest Ranch in the south part of the park. The hike to Devils Kitchen (3.5mi) has similar hydrothermal activity to the one found in the Bumpass Hell area only on a smaller scale. Because Bumpass Hell area was still buried under snow, Devils Kitchen had to do.
Another fun hike is Boiling Springs Lake (2.5mi). The lake at the end of the trail is literally bubbling and looks like it’s boiling.
We spent the night at the ranch in one of their rustic cabins (no electricity/shower, only toilet and a kerosene lamp). Conveniently all meals are included in the room rate. After dinner (which was surprisingly delicious) you can have marshmallows by the fire, take dip in the hot springs pool, or watch the wildlife in the lush meadow right in front of the cabins. We had to remind ourselves that we are still in California on numerous occasions during our visit.
On the second day we focused on the area around Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. The hike to Mills Creek Falls (2.6mi) is worth the effort, not because the falls are super impressive, but for the scenic nature along the way.
We drove to the end of the road where we were faced with a wall of more than 10 ft of snow. Lake Helen was still frozen. Amazing that at 90F (32C) the snow pack is going strong. At the beginning of July, they were still clearing out the snow on the main road! Because of that getting from the south to the north entrance took more than 2 hours instead of 30 min.
We had some daylight left so we drove to the north entrance where we chased for the perfect reflection of Lassen Peak in the water of Manzanita Lake (1.8mi). We then swung by the Lily Pond (.6mi), because why not.
We left the hardest and the most exciting trail for the last day – Cinder Cone (5.4mi). The first 1.2 mi are a relatively easy. The easy part ends when you get to the bottom of the volcano. The next .8 mi are straight up the side of the volcano, gain of 800 ft elevation. The trail looked and felt like a 40 degree incline and had no trees to provide shade, but once you reach the top, the view is spectacular. We sat down in the shade of a dwarf pine tree and enjoyed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the best view in the house.
After circling the edge of the volcano, we went down into the crater. Not a lot of people were going down there, maybe because of the steepness of the trail to the bottom, but how many times do you get an opportunity to sit at the center of a crater? Well worth it!