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All About Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few places in the world where visitors can see all four types of volcanoes in one location. There are nearly 150-miles of hiking trails winding throughout the park, making it a great destination for extended stays. RV campers and backpackers alike will find tons of things to see and do during their stay near the park.

Some of the most alluring aspects of this national park include the glaciated canyons, the colorful volcanic fields, crystal clear lakes, hydrothermal vents, and of course, the towering lava pinnacles.

Another great thing about the park is that it’s mostly surrounded by Lassen National Forest, meaning off-grid camping is an option for RV adventurers willing to get away from full hook-up campgrounds. If you go this route, expect to be encompassed by gigantic mixed conifer forests and wildflowers speckled throughout the valleys.

The most popular tourist attractions in Lassen Volcanic National Park could easily be seen in an extended weekend, but for the full Lassen experience, it’s well-recommended that some additional time is allotted. Longer stays will undoubtedly allow visitors to witness more of the active wildlife population, appreciate the rich mix of vegetation, and experience more landmarks throughout the park.

This article is meant to be a comprehensive guide for RV campers seeking to visit this stunning national park—whether it be for a day, or an entire week.

The History of Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park was named after a mid-19th century Danish blacksmith named Peter Lassen. As European immigrants moved westward across the rapidly populating continent, Lassen worked as a guide leading immigrants through harsh and unpredictable terrain. He inevitably ended up settling near the southern end of the Cascade Mountains in the dense woodlands of northern California.

The California Gold Rush during those times brought thousands of new settlers to the area, making Lassen an indispensable guide. Lassen, along with William Nobles established two heavily traveled pioneer trails associated with the park. Sections of those trails can still be seen today.

Long before settlers came to the area, however, the region surrounding Lassen served as a popular meeting place for at least four Native American groups. The Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu tribes camped in the Lassen area during the warmer months for hunting and gathering. Some of their artifacts are on display in the Loomis Museum near Manzanita Lake on the western end of the park.

The Lassen area was first established as the Lassen Peak Forest Preserve in order to allow for additional protection. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt declared Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone within the area as U.S. National Monuments. When increased eruptive activity began to emerge in 1914, lasting all the way to 1921, the U.S. government took additional steps to protect the area and its nearby settlers.

On August 9th, 1916, the entire surrounding area was established as an officially recognized national park. In effect, Lassen Volcanic National Park was protected from logging and mining operations usual to northern California.

Getting to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Due to the fact that Lassen is in such a remote area, it’s strongly advised that visitors fill up their gas tanks before entering the park. The nearest gas station can be found on Route 89 in Old Station, or on Route 44 in Shingletown but both are over 10 miles away. There is also a gas station available within the park near Manzanita Lake, but it is infrequently available and only open in the summer months.

There are a number of ways to reach Lassen Volcanic National Park depending on which direction you’re coming from. From Reno, it’s about a three hour 150-mile drive northwest on Route 395 and then westward on Route 36. 

From San Francisco, it’s nearly a four hour 240-mile drive. If you’re coming from this direction, the fastest route is to take I-505 to I-5 then head eastward on Route 36.

The physical address of the park headquarters is 38050 Highway 36 East, Mineral, CA 96063.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Fees

Park entrance fees vary depending on the type of vehicle and the time of year. Vehicle passes cost $30. Motorcycle passes are $25. Individual entrance passes, for those traveling on foot or bicycle, are $15. All passes are good for up to seven days.

The park is also open year-round. However, road access is limited during the winter months due to snow pileups. If you do choose to visit between December 1st and April 15th, winter passes are only $10.

There is also the option of purchasing a Lassen annual pass from the park entrance station which will cost $55.

RV Camping near Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are eight campgrounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Six of them have RV sites available, though all of them are reservation-based. It’s strongly advised that visitors call months in advance to book a reservation, especially if the plan is to visit during the busy summer months.

Most of the campsites are also only open until late September or mid-October so it’s always a good idea to play your stay well in advance.

The six RV-friendly campgrounds are: Butte Lake, Lost Creek Group, Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake North, Summit Lake South, and Warner Valley. Prices range between $16 and $72 a night, depending on which campground is selected and whether a group camp site is required.

Some campgrounds will suspend their water service before actually closing. If this doesn’t come as too much of a convenience, cheaper nightly rates can be found. 

One of the most popular campgrounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park is Manzanita Lake Campground. There are 179 full-hookup sites available and 5 group camping sites. The maximum RV length is 40-feet in regular sites, and 45-feet in group sites.

There are a number of fantastic alternatives to the campgrounds located directly in Lassen Volcanic National Park as well. Most of these alternatives are conveniently located near the national park. A few noteworthy RV campgrounds are the Mt. Lassen-Shingletown KOA, Living Springs RV & Lodging, Eagle Lake RV Park, and Volcano Country RV Park.

If you’re interested in scoring a free campsite, try searching for open camping areas in Lassen National Forests. Some possible options to check out are the Almanor Ranger District, the Eagle Lake Ranger District, and the Hat Creek Ranger District.

Attractions at Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are more than a dozen incredible main attractions in the Lassen area. Each of these sites range from being fairly heavily trafficked, to hardly anyone being around at all. Fortunately, Lassen is one of the lesser-visited national parks, so don’t expect to see crowds like you would at the Grand Canyon or in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The most noticeable attraction in Lassen Volcanic National Park is undoubtedly Lassen Peak. This ginormous volcanic pinnacle can be seen from virtually anywhere in the park. For more advanced hikers, it is also possible to hike to the very top of Lassen Peak for some immaculate views.

Another popular location in the park, and perhaps the mostly oddly named, is Bumpass Hell. Named after another early pioneer and guide, Kendall Vanhook Bumpass accidentally stumbled into one of the boiling hydrothermal pools in this area and burnt his leg. Bumpass Hell is known for its colorful boiling mud pots, its steam vents, and its rich sulfuric smells.

Many visitors also visit the dormant Cinder Cone volcano in the northeastern corner of the park. Cinder Cone is unlike any other location in the park because it almost looks like a pyramid from afar. Hikers are usually excited to find that it’s possible to hike to the top of Cinder Cone’s 6,907-foot peak. At the top, it’s possible to see the stunning painted dunes, as well as more archaic volcanoes in the distance.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is also full of incredible crystal clear lakes, perfect for swimming, boating, or relaxing at. Some of the most popular are Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, Emerald Lake, and Lake Helen.

Alternatively, you can also decide to hike through a half-mile lava tube, known as Subway Cave, or trek out to Burney Falls for some spectacular waterfall photography.

Hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic has over 150-miles of hiking trails weaving throughout the park. From rigorous hikes to easy flat terrain walking, there’s something for hikers of all ages.

One of the easiest hikes available is the Lily Pond Nature trail in the northwestern corner of the park. This trail is designed to be family-friendly, with an easy, flat nature loop trail only half a mile long.

For more intermediate hikers, there are dozens of options available. Some of the recommended trails are: Hat Lake to Paradise Meadows, Cold Boiling Lake, Mill Creek Falls, and Manzanita Lake. Some of these trails have moderate inclines, so be prepared with adequate hiking equipment and water.

Advanced hikers will also find plenty of trails available to match their skill level. The Lassen Peak trail is a great option, as well as the Ridge Lakes trail, the Mount Harkness trail, and the Cinder Cone trail. These trails are much steeper in incline and exhaustion is a likelihood.

In any event, the great thing about the Lassen area is that many of the hiking trails are interconnected. With some careful planning, it’s possible to make an entire day trip out of hiking throughout multiple trail systems.

Be sure to acquire a map from the park entrance before setting out on any long-distance hikes.

Shops, Restaurants, and Museums in Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you’ll be in the area for a few days, and you’re looking to head out of the national park, there’s several points of interest nearby.

For fantastic smoky barbeque, check out Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Warner Valley. For café-style dining, there’s JJ’s Café in Old Station. Or, if you don’t want to stray too far from the park, try the Lassen Café and Gift shop for soups, sandwiches, and some locally produced souvenirs.

The Stover Landing Commons in Chester has a bookstore, a coffee shop, a fine art gallery, and gift shops. The Lake Almanor Fly Fishing Company Shop in Chester also has all the supplies anyone could need for a day out on Lake Almanor. If you’re in the mood for home décor, try stopping by the Lassen Mineral Lodge Gift Shop to bring back a true taste of northern California.

There are also several wonderful museums in the Lassen area. The Loomis Museum has tons of exhibits featuring historical aspects of the national park. The McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in Redding also has 25-acres of walkthrough gardens and is certainly well-worth the drive.

An Explosive National Park

Although the volcanoes in Lassen Volcanic National Park haven’t erupted in hundreds of years, the entire Lassen ecosystem is defined by volcanic activity. There are pathways through valleys of bubbling mud pots, geysers, steaming fumaroles, ancient volcanoes, and lava tubes running underground.

It’s truly one of the most unique locations in northeastern California for its colorful history and incredible geologic sites.

The best part about Lassen Volcanic National Park is that it is widely accommodating to RV adventurers. Many of the campgrounds in the area offer full hookup sites and plenty of room to park your rig. Whether you’re on a long-distance road trip or just visiting for the weekend, RV camping at Lassen is a must!

One thing to keep in mind is that the climate can be a bit on the chilly side, since it’s situated well-over six thousand feet above sea level. In some areas of the park, there is often year-round snow cover on the ground. For this reason, it’s a great idea to bring layered clothing on your visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Nonetheless, we’re confident that you’ll have an incredible time visiting the Lassen area.

With fewer visitors per year compared to some of the more popular national Parks, Lassen Volcanic is truly a great way to get away and connect with one of the most remarkably rugged landscapes within the United States.

We look forward to hearing about your adventure at Lassen Volcanic National Park!