Being a Northern California local, Lassen Volcanic National Park was high on my bucket list of destinations to visit in California. I finally got to visit with my family last summer and spent an amazing weekend in Lassen, exploring all the top attractions and hikes.
I was so impressed and awe-struck with the beauty and diverse terrain of Lassen National Park. Lassen has everything one would want from a National Park and more.
We saw snow-covered mountain peaks like Yosemite, pristine blue alpine lakes, amazing lush green waterfall hikes like Maui, geothermal activity like Yellowstone, sulfur vents, boiling mud pots, cinder cones, and much more!
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a hidden gem in California and one of the oldest National Parks in California. This National Park is lesser known and receives only around 500K visitors per year compared to Yosemite National Park, which receives around 4 million visitors annually.
Being at a higher elevation, Lassen National Park is snow-covered most of the year, making it inaccessible, and you can only visit it during the months of July to September.
I recommend planning for a minimum of 2 to 3 days to experience everything that Lassen National Park has to offer.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary: Quick Overview
Here is a quick overview of my Lassen itinerary that covers the best things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park:
This Itinerary is for 2 days in Lassen National Park with an optional 3rd-day itinerary suggestions.
Day 1: We first hiked the Bumpass Hell Trail to see hydrothermal activity and then drove the scenic Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, making all recommended stops listed in the post below.
Day 2: We started by hiking the Kings Creek Falls Trail to see the amazing Kings Creek Falls. Later, we enjoyed the rest of the day at Lake Manzanita with water activities. We stayed after dark to enjoy some stargazing.
Optional Day 3: You can hike the difficult but rewarding Lassen Peak trail or visit the nearby Subway Cave lava tube and Burney Falls (we did the latter).
This itinerary can be customized as per your needs. I suggest picking activities and hikes that are best suited for your group.
If strenuous hikes are not your thing, then pick an easy one and spend a day chilling at Lake Manzanita or Lake Helen, taking in the peaceful scenery around you. Lassen can be enjoyed without doing any hikes, too!
Note: You will need a National Park Pass to enter Lassen Volcanic National Park, which can be purchased at the park entrance gate.
Day 1: Bumpass Hell Trail, Drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park
On Day 1 of our Lassen itinerary, we did the following:
- Hike one of the most popular trails in Lassen – Bumpass Hell trail.
- Drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park from the South entrance to the North entrance via Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Hwy 89.
Bumpass Hell Trail
If you have only one day in Lassen Volcanic National Park or can fit in only one hike, it should be Bumpass Hell.
This hike was a top priority on my list, and it usually opens quite late in summer once the snow melts. I kept checking for its opening date on the NPS website and planned my visit around its opening.
Bumpass Hell is a very unique hike with only 3 miles total out and back, but it rewards you with unique geology elements of the park, including sulfur vents, boiling mud pots, steam vents, and unique colored rocks and pools.
The hike has an elevation of around 450 feet, and most of that is on the way back. Also, there is no shade on this hike. So I recommend doing this hike first thing in the morning, as it gets hot in the afternoon.
This is one of the most popular hikes in Lassen National Park, so expect it to be very crowded. The hike is mostly a dirt road and has some great panoramic views of the National Park.
Once you reach the area with the geothermal activity, there is a cool boardwalk to walk up close to the boiling pools and streams safely.
My entire family loved this hike, especially the last boardwalk part! The landscape had so many colors from the minerals, like yellows, greens, greys, and a bright blue body of water!
It is very important not to go off the trail here as it can be very dangerous!
As per the signboard posted there, this trail is named after Kendall Bumpass, who fell in the volcanic hot springs and had to get his leg amputated! So, stay on the Boardwalk trail here!
Parking – There is a parking lot and restrooms at the trailhead. The Parking lot has a scenic overlook area, and you can see the lone boulder there for some excellent photos!
Drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park
Next, we drove the 30-mile-long scenic Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. Driving through the park is one of the most popular things to do here.
The park has two entrances on Hwy 89 –
- The south entrance can be reached via Highway 36 E from I-5.
- The north entrance can be reached via Highway 44 from I-5.
We did this scenic drive from south to north, and the stops are listed below in that order.
It takes around an hour to drive the 30-mile scenic highway without any stops, it will take longer depending on the stops you make. It took us around 4 hours to explore all the stops.
Anu’s Pro-Tip: The National Park provides an audio tour for this drive, which you can download ahead of time from the National Park website here. You will need to download the NPS app on your phone to access this audio tour.
Below are the best stops along the drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park:
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
Located one mile from the south entrance, the Visitor Center is a great place to learn about current programs, events, and park conditions.
There is an exhibit hall, auditorium, and amphitheater here. They also have a cafe, dining area, and gift shop.
This is the most accessible area to see hydrothermal activity in the park, just a mile further from the Visitor Center.
There is a small parking lot here, and the Sulphur Works viewing area is right along the road on Highway 89.
Here was our first encounter with the pungent smell of sulfur and a glimpse of the park’s hydrothermal activities like steam vents and boiling pots.
Next, stop by Emerald Lake to admire the green hues of the water.
The lake got its name because of the reflection of the surrounding trees in the waters, making it look emerald green in color.
Lake Helen is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in Lassen Park. It reminded me of Lake Louise in Banff National Park! The sapphire blue waters look magical, and you can sometimes see the reflection of Lassen Peak in the water.
Lake Helen is right across the Bumpass Hell trailhead parking area at the base of Lassen Peak. There is a small parking lot here.
Lake Helen is a nice place for a picnic or to just admire the lake views from the lake shore.
The lake shore here was rocky, so I recommend wearing good shoes. The water is usually too cold for a swim due to the high elevation.
Lassen Peak Scenic Vista
The Lassen Peak trailhead parking area is also a vista point from which to admire the Lassen Peak from below. This is also where the Lassen Peak trail starts.
At more than 10,000 feet in elevation, Lassen Peak is one the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world.
Kings Creek Meadow Viewpoint
Right after the parking lot for the Kings Creek Falls trailhead, you will come across the Kings Creek Upper meadow.
For a moment, we felt like we were transported to Yosemite.
The beautiful meadow fills with wildflowers in spring and fall colors in the fall months.
You can see great views of Lassen Peak in the background here and might occasionally spot some wildlife like deer.
Enjoy an accessible interpretive trail here, which is just a half-mile loop.
Learn about the history of the Devastated area and the eastern slope of Lassen Peak. There are picnic tables and restrooms here.
Chaos Crags Viewpoint
From the Chaos Crags Viewpoint, you can view the Chaos Crags plug dome volcanoes and the surrounding jumbled landscape that was created during the rockfall avalanches hundreds of years ago.
Reflection Lake is a beautiful lake with a great reflection of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags. There is a half-mile perimeter trail around the lake.
The eastern shore of the lake overlaps with the Lily Pond Interpretive trail, which is a great half-mile family-friendly trail.
Day 2: Kings Creek Falls, Manzanita Lake, Stargazing
On Day 2 of our Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary, we did the following:
- An amazing waterfall hike called Kings Creek Falls.
- Later, we spent the afternoon with a picnic at Lake Manzanita amidst scenery that looked straight out of a postcard.
- Stayed in the park till night and dd stargazing at Manzanita Lake
Kings Creek Falls hike
I so loved this hike! Kings Creek Falls trail had such spectacular views the entire time, and the greenery and waterfalls on this hike were just amazing.
It was a great contrast from the exposed Bumpass Hell trail, which we did the previous day.
This hike is a 3-mile loop trail with around 500 feet of elevation, mostly on the way back up the steep stone steps. Most people who are moderately active should be able to do this hike easily.
I think people with knee issues should avoid this hike due to the steep, uneven stone steps at the end of the hike. Kids 4 and up should be able to do this hike well on their own.
The first part of the hike is walking through a mostly flat forest path, which brings you to a rocky overlook with panoramic views of the park.
After that, you descend down to the falls through a series of switchbacks amidst greenery. It was very peaceful and serene to walk down the trail here.
Once at the bottom of the switchbacks, you will first come across a small teaser waterfall and a small watering hole. My kids had a lot of fun playing here and we must have spent an hour here!
Just a quarter mile further, you will reach the vantage point from where you can see the Kings Creek falls gushing down.
The falls are spectacular, and there are wooden platforms built from where you can see the falls safely.
We saw some folks going down to the base of the falls, but that looked dangerous, and it’s not advisable by the National Park authorities.
Finally, you ascend back up through the steep stone steps. This was the only strenuous part of the hike and was about 3/4th mile.
But the cool part of the climb back is the cascading waterfall flowing right next to the steps the entire way. You get a great view of the falls almost the entire climb up!
The entire Kings Creek Falls hike should take around 2-3 hours, depending on how long you stay to admire the falls.
After the amazing Kings Creek Falls hike, we spent the afternoon at Lake Manzanita with a picnic first and then a walk around the lake. Make sure to pack some food early in the day for your picnic.
Manzanita Lake is the most beautiful lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park and is popular for amazing views, hiking, camping, and water activities like swimming, canoeing, and fishing.
To reach Manzanita Lake, you will have to drive south to north on Highway 89 or the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Lake Manzanita is on the northern end of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
While driving through the National Park from the South entrance to Manzanita Lake, you will come across many attractions like Summit Lake, Devastated Area, Loomis Musem, and finally Manzanita Lake.
There are plenty of things to do at Manzanita Lake:
- Canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding – Bring your own, or during the summer months, you can rent kayaks at the lake.
- bird watching
- Walk the incredibly scenic Manzanita Lake Loop Trail around the perimeter of the lake.
- Stargazing in the night
Manzanita Lake Loop Trail
The Manzanita Lake trail is a leisurely 2-mile stroll along the perimeter of the lake and is mostly flat.
We easily walked the loop trail within an hour with numerous photo stops. It was a tranquil experience looking at the deep blue waters with the volcanic mountain backdrop.
At around the halfway point of the trail, you will see epic views of Mt Lassen and Chaos Crags reflecting in the still blue waters of Manzanita Lake.
Chaos Crags is a group of lava domes seen to the left of Lassen Peak.
Stargazing at Lassen Volcanic National Park
The dark night sky of Lassen Volcanic National Park is far away from civilization, making it ideal for stargazing. The Milky Way can be seen brightly above Lassen Peak on clear nights.
There are also ranger-led stargazing programs during the summer months. Make sure to check the visitor center during your visit for information on current programs.
You can stargaze pretty much from anywhere in the park. Lakeshores and parking lots offer convenient star-gazing spots.
Below are some of the best spots for stargazing in Lassen Volcanic National Park:
- Bumpass Hell Trail parking lot area
- Lake Manzanita Lakeshore
- Lake Helen Lakeshore
- Lake Emerald Lakeshore
- Devastated Area
Due to the elevation, it gets really cold at night in Lassen Volcanic National Park, even in summer, so remember to bring warm layers and blankets.
Optional Day 3: Lassen Peak hike or Subway Lava tube, Burney Falls
If you have 3 days in Lassen Volcanic National Park, then on Day 3, if you are up for a difficult hike, I suggest you do the Lassen Peak hike. This is a very strenuous hike with no shade and is more suitable for experienced hikers.
Families can instead opt to venture out the northern entrance of the park to the amazing Subway Lava Tube and spectacular Burney Falls. We chose to do this on our third day in Lassen.
Lassen Peak Hike
The Lassen Peak hike is a very difficult hike up the Lassen Peak with a 5-mile round trip trail with 2000 feet of elevation gain.
The trailhead parking lot is at 8500 feet. The trail climbs to around 10,500 feet from the trailhead to the peak. The higher altitude and no shade make this trail even more difficult.
The terrain is dirt, gravel, and rocks with steep switchbacks. There can be ice in sections even in the summer.
It is recommended to wear good hiking shoes and dress in layers, as it can be windy or cold at the summit.
The panoramic views from the top are worth the hike. Just make sure you start early in the day to avoid the afternoon heat and carry enough water for the entire hike.
Subway Cave Lava Tube
The Subway Cave Lava Tube is one of the cool free things to do in Lassen National Forest. Technically, it is outside of Lassen National Park.
It is located in Old Station on Highway 89, around 1/4th mile north of Highway 44/89 junction. It is around 15 minutes drive from Manzanita Lake.
The Subway Cave has a 1/3rd mile loop trail to explore the lava tube, and flashlights or headlamps are recommended as there is no light inside.
We did not have headlamps, so we used our phone lights. The floor was quite uneven and rocky, so sturdy shoes are a good idea.
There is parking here and picnic tables and restrooms. We thought this was a neat little stop with an awesome lava tube to explore!
This was our very first lava tube ever, so we loved it! Since then, we have been to the Thurston lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island, which was really incredible.
Burney Falls and Burney Falls Loop Trail
Burney Falls is a spectacular waterfall around 30 minutes north of Subway Cave. It is located in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
It is only a 45-minute drive from Lassen’s north entrance and, I believe, a must-see.
Burney Falls is a 129 feet waterfall and looks more like a cluster of waterfalls plugging in a pool at the base. The waterfalls put on quite a show!
There was a neat little, well-maintained loop trail here that climbed down to the base of the falls, looped around the river, and climbed back up.
We could feel the mist from the falls at the base. The cluster of waterfalls is breathtaking, and I think Burney Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in California!
Where to stay for Lassen Volcanic National Park
There are several towns you can stay in to explore Lassen. As there are not many food options inside Lassen, staying in a nearby city or town is recommended so that can have access to restaurants and groceries.
Chester town is only 40 minutes away and a great base for exploring Lassen volcanic Nationa Park.
Best Western Rose Quartz Inn is a great, budget-friendly hotel with free breakfast and is close to several restaurants. This is where we stayed, and it was a great base for daily visits to Lassen, close to the South Entrance of the park.
Redding town is less than an hour from the north park entrance and an hour and 20 minutes from the southern park entrance.
Redding makes a great base if you want to explore Burney Falls and Shasta Lake, along with Lassen.
Below are some great accommodations in Redding, CA:
Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge is a mid-range hotel at an excellent location. The hotel has a pool and an onsite restaurant, which would be welcome after hiking in the park. Great for couples.
Comfort Suites Redding – Shasta Lake is budget-friendly with an indoor pool and free breakfast. Great for families.
If you decide to stay in Redding, make sure to visit Lake Shasta Caverns, which is one of the top activities in Shasta Lake.
Camping inside Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lake Manzanita has the best campground inside Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The campgrounds have campsites, cabins, restrooms, paid showers, and a store for essential supplies.
Best time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
The best time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park is from late June to early October, with July, August, and September being the busiest months. We visited in early July.
Lassen National Park is covered in snow most of the year from mid-October to early June, making it inaccessible by car.
You can hike or snowshoe in the winter months, though.
How to get to Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is only a 4.5-hour drive from San Francisco, making it one of the best weekend getaways from San Francisco Bay area in the summer months.
You can also combine a visit to Lassen with a Northern California road trip or an Oregon road trip from California.
If you are traveling from outside of California, the best way to reach Lassen is to fly into San Franciso or Sacramento International Airport and then drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
You should definitely add Lassen to your San Francisco itinerary of 7 days or more!
Many visitors combine Lassen Volcanic National Park with Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta on a Northern California road trip.
You will need a car to get to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Below are the driving distances and travel times to Lassen Volcanic National Park from neighboring cities:
- San Francisco to Lassen Volcanic National Park: around 250 miles and a 4.5-hour drive
- Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park: around 50 miles and 50 minutes drive
- Sacramento to Lassen Volcanic National Park: around 190 miles and a 3-hour drive
Lassen Volcanic National Park’s southern entrance can be reached via State Route 36 and the northern entrance can be reached via State Route 44, both are off Interstate 5.
Final Takeaways: Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a hidden gem in California and a highly underrated National Park.
It has snow-covered mountain ranges and meadows like Yosemite, pristine alpine lakes, amazing hiking trails, and geothermal volcanic features like Yellowstone. It is a must-visit.
This weekend or long weekend itinerary for Lassen National Park will ensure that you cover all the top attractions and explore some of the most popular hikes.
I hope you have a great time at Lassen Volcanic National Park as we did!!
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