Lassen is one of my favorite national parks, but it is often neglected when compared to other California parks like Yosemite and Joshua Tree. The park is about 4 hours north of San Francisco and the wide range of elevation made for a beautiful drive as we meandered through the hills and valleys of the volcanoes. With the main road reaching 8,500 ft and Lassen Peak at 10,457 ft, it was refreshing breathing in the cool mountain air.
My trip to Lassen a year ago was a spontaneous one. At 8PM on a Friday night, I asked my roommate what his plans were for the weekend. When we realized we both had absolutely nothing planned, we started packing our camping gears and went to bed early.
We started driving at 5AM from San Francisco and had a series of hikes planned for the day. But the first thing we did was claim a first come first served campsite at Summit Lake Campgrounds. There were many sites available that weekend and the self-pay process was super easy.
The drive within Lassen was gorgeous. The lower sections were surrounded by dense green forests. As we climbed in elevation, we emerged on the mountainside overlooking the volcanoes, lakes, and an endless sea of mountains.
Our first hike was Lassen Peak—a 5-mile round trip hike that starts at 8500 ft and reaches 10,457 ft at the peak. I was concerned about the altitude and elevation gain at first, but it wasn’t as difficult as I had thought. The hike followed a dirt path and at some points included steep switchbacks and rocky sections, but it was nothing unmanageable. We hiked at a pretty aggressive pace with a few photo breaks, and it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes going up.
The summit had the most incredible view. We went on a clear day and on one side we saw Lake Helen and endless mountains stretching into the horizon, and on the other side we saw Mount Shasta in the distance. Aside from the patches of snow, the entire peak was barren, which is such a stark contrast against the greenery in the rest of the park.
We took a break at Lake Helen, which was right next to the trailhead parking lot, and dipped our feet in the freezing water. It was so satisfying especially after a long hike.
Our next hike was Bumpass Hell that led us to the largest hydrothermal area in the park. We started from Kings Creek because the main trail was being restored, which added a few more miles but it was still well worth it. The hike was pretty much a 700 ft elevation gain over 2.5 miles one way as we hiked over an entire mountain to reach Bumpass Hell. There was, however, a beautiful lake along the way so I guess all the effort was justified.
We knew we were close to Bumpass Hell when we started smelling sulfur and saw fewer and fewer trees. When we finally crossed the last hill and saw the hydrothermal area, we were both shocked at how massive and epic it was with hot steam smoking everywhere. The boardwalk allowed us to walk to the middle and see it up close, but it was very warm and unbelievably bright.
That night, we knocked out pretty early and woke up early the next morning to catch the sunrise. We found a spot that faced east and had a clear view of the sun coming up over the mountains.
The last hike before heading home was the hike to Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes. It was a 3-mile roundtrip hike with moderate elevation gains. My favorite lake was Shadow Lake because it was the largest of the three and the reflection of the mountains was beautiful. I also loved how the trail hugs the lake so we got to see it up close and enjoy the view even longer. The last lake, Cliff Lake, wasn’t worth it in my opinion, because it was an extra mile past Shadow Lake and there wasn’t much of a view.
In total, we spent just over 24 hours in Lassen. All the hikes had such incredible views, especially from Lassen Peak, but my favorite thing about the park is still the atmosphere. It was awesome how refreshing the air felt, how satisfying it was going in the lake, and how soothing it was to see mountains stretch into the distance as far as my eyes could see.