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Bright fields of wildflowers and clear lakes stand out amid the rugged mountain peaks in Lassen Volcanic National Park—it seems impossible that all this beauty could be punctuated by a plethora of volcanic activity. Between Lassen’s Cinder Cone volcano, mud pots, multiple hydrothermal areas, volcanic gas vents, and turquoise pools of boiling water, this park is as surprising as it is stunning.
Nestled in the Golden State’s northeastern corner, Lassen National Park is unlike any other destination. Though it resides just a short distance inland from the Shasta Cascade, the park’s landscape is entirely unique, allowing visitors to see every known type of volcano in the world without leaving the borders of California.
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Starting the day in the town of Chico—a quaint oasis tucked between the Mendocino and Plumas National Forests—you’d never think you could end up in a park full of volcanoes and boiling pools of water without flying to an exotic place. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at the Lassen volcanic park, making the anticipation palpable as you prepare to take a road trip to what’s sure to become your new favorite national park.
Though it’s a slightly longer route, cruise through Lassen National Forest on your way to the Manzanita Lake Campground. Drive along CA-32 East until it merges with Highway 36 West; soon, you’ll merge onto CA-89, which is known as the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. This is among only 31 roadways in the country that are designated All-American Roads, so it makes for an especially noteworthy experience.
Stop by the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center inside Lassen Volcanic National Park to see the exhibit hall and learn about the park’s history before continuing the drive. After passing Reading Peak, Lassen Peak, Hat Mountain, and Raker Peak, you’ll come upon Manzanita Lake, and your Lassen Volcanic National Park camping trip will officially commence.
Perched at an altitude of 5,900 feet, the Manzanita Lake Campground offers fun for the whole family, but make sure to grab the camera before getting out of the car and checking out the scenery.
Manzanita Lake is the largest Lassen National Park camping area, complete with 179 campsites and so many amenities that you might consider it glamping. Featuring stunning views of the park’s largest volcano—aptly named Lassen Peak, which reaches a whopping 10,457 feet—this campsite provides easy walking access to the lake as well as the various hiking trails. Spend the afternoon swimming and kayaking under the sun as you get acquainted with the new locale, or take it easy by reading a good book and lounging on the shores.
When hunger strikes, settle in at your site’s alfresco table to savor the delectable picnic you packed before leaving Chico. With so much summer produce to choose from (including crowd favorites such as corn, cherries, and avocados), it’s easy to satisfy your whole group and create memories together—like eating watermelon by the dock. While there are numerous things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park, sometimes the best way to experience it is to take a step back and simply appreciate the world around you, so spend the rest of your day catch-and-release fishing and hiking the 1.9-mile Manzanita Lake Trail together.
Take advantage of Lassen’s warm summer nights and the campsite’s firepit by roasting vegetables, skewers, and marshmallows over a fire. (Be sure to pack your favorite s’mores fixings from your backyard campout—there’s no better place to enjoy them than the great outdoors.) When you’re done, clean up and place all your food and cooking materials in the bear-proof storage locker in your campsite before sharing stories and songs around the campfire.
Get cozy in your tent after the sun sets, and prepare for tomorrow’s adventures with a solid night’s sleep.
Though you’ve already done several of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s things to do, there is so much left to see in this wondrous park, and the excitement allows you to rise with the sun. Watching the sky turn from dawn to daytime feels particularly magical with the fresh air swirling around you, and a fresh cup of mountain-roasted coffee only makes the moment better. Cook some oatmeal for breakfast, then pack up for the day’s excursions.
Start at the Loomis Museum for a leisurely stroll through the exhibits to see the equipment B.F. Loomis used to document Lassen’s intricate landscape and most recent eruptions.
Next, drive back along the scenic byway for 40 minutes until you come upon the parking lot for the Bumpass Hell Trail. Once you’ve arrived, hike this 6.3-mile out-and-back trail to see many of the features that put Mt. Lassen National Park on the list of must-see destinations in California. The trail shows off the best of Lassen as you pass hot springs, mud pots, and sulfur vents, making it one of the best places to experience the park’s natural wonders.
While the sights are thrilling in their own right, the inherent danger of the landscape makes this hike even more amazing. Though the rules of leaving no trace and staying on designated pathways should always be followed at any park, they’re particularly necessary in Lassen, where volcanic activity is prevalent.
After the exhilarating trek, head back to the campsite or stop by Summit Lake Campground to see another of Lassen’s beautiful lakes. Continue on to Manzanita Lake Campground so you can recoup and photograph the nearby Reflection Lake.
Take another dip in the lake before taking advantage of the campsite’s shower facilities and winding down. With a long day already under your belt, you’ll be ready to relax at the campground and get to know your fellow campers. (Keep an eye out for the elusive Sierra Nevada red fox, too). After enjoying a hearty meal for dinner, it’s time for dessert. Cut open bananas and fill them with dark chocolate, caramel sauce, toasted coconut, or anything else that sounds tasty; wrap them in tin foil, and warm them amongst the coals until the banana is a bit squishy and the insides are melted.
Indulge in your campfire treats and recall your favorite memories from the weekend. While the days seemed to fly by, nothing beats quality time in nature with the ones you love most. Since there’s so much more to see throughout the park—and over 100 miles of trails left to hike—you’ll surely return to this awe-inspiring national park in the years to come.
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…
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