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Lassen Volcanic: why you should visit a small park in California with an active volcano

The Lassen Volcanic National Park in California is a hidden gem. It is as beautiful as Yellowstone, but without a large crowd, reports Insider.

Photo: IStock

Yellowstone may be known for its geothermal areas, but Lassen Volcanic National Park - a smaller, less visited national park with its own fair share of geothermal features - also worth exploring.

This park is located in northern California. It is one of the few places with all four major types of volcanoes. In addition to one of California's seven active volcanoes and the world's largest lava plug dome, there are also clear mountain lakes and smoking fumaroles (cracks or holes located in craters, on the slopes and at the foot of volcanoes and is a source of hot gases).

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In addition, Lassen Volcanic generally receives fewer annual visitors than Yellowstone, meaning that visitors have to deal with comparatively fewer crowds.

The park is open year-round, but the peak season is from summer to early fall, before snow covers many roads and facilities.

quiet season

Journalist Kathy Joll's family loves nature. They visited Lassen Volcanic Park.

The campgrounds weren't crowded and offered direct access to the park's attractions, Cathy says. There are seven campsites in Lassen Volcanic and most of them are only open during the season. But recommended in advance to book accommodation if you are going between July and September.

Cathy's family booked Manzanita Lake Campground in advance. At the beginning of June, when they came to rest, there were few free places.

“Our trip fell outside of the typical peak season, but it was still a magical experience. The daytime weather was pleasantly mild and perfect for outdoor activities. Even though temperatures dropped overnight, we were prepared for the cold with thermal underwear and warm bedding,” says Katie.

The lake, which is a short walk from the campsite, offers catch-and-release fishing if you use barbed hooks. Despite the proximity of the lake to the campground, the family had plenty of opportunities to find their own quiet spots for fishing and quiet birdwatching, Cathy says.

Even though the park was still recovering from a massive fire, the hiking trails did not disappoint.

Lassen Volcanic has plenty of beautiful hiking trails, whether you want to go on a day hike or just walk.

The Dixie Fire, the largest single fire in California history that burned nearly half a million acres in 2021, presented the park with new challenges. Some areas may still be inaccessible due to restoration work, so visitors should always check park website before the trip.

On some trails, you will inevitably pass through heavily affected areas. Cathy notes that the trails west of the parkway were unaffected by the fire.

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The family hiked to Kings Creek Falls, a nearly 4km loop that was stunning. There was significant fire damage along the way, but the falls were beautiful and well worth the hike, says Cathy.

Hikers are only allowed to take service animals on a leash with them on the trails. Leashed pets are not allowed on the trails due to the park's efforts to protect wildlife and natural habitats.

“We could see the geothermal landscapes up close without running into crowds of tourists,” says Cathy.

Lassen Volcanic is definitely crowded in high season. However, if you compare the numbers to other geothermal parks, Lassen Volcanic tends to be much less crowded.

Katie managed to capture some scenic photos without the crowds in the background. Keep in mind that car parks tend to be small and can fill up quickly during peak periods, Cathy warns.

sulfur plant with steam vents and boiling mud pots, is the park's most accessible hydrothermal area. You can park next to the main road and get to it via sidewalks.

The family also hiked a 5km round trip trail to Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area in the park. “We did this with five kids ages 5 to 10 and it was doable for them,” says Cathy.

Bumpass Hell is one of the most popular trails in the park for good reason - the scenery is stunning.

This trail is open seasonally, usually starting on Independence Day. However, the dates are subject to snow cover as winter conditions can sometimes persist during the summer. It's always a good idea to check trail conditions before you go hiking.

After sunset

Lassen Volcanic offers a completely different experience when the sun goes down. There is a saying in Lassen Volcanic: "You'll see half of the park after dark."

As a photographer and night sky lover, Cathy recommends getting out and exploring the park in the dark. Lassen Volcanic is known for its stunning night sky. It is held here every year dark sky festival, a multi-day celebration of astronomy and stargazing.

Outside of the festival, you can take part in a ranger-led stargazing program or scout your own site during the daytime and return at night.

Katy went on a day trip around Lake Manzanita and found a few places she thought it would be perfect to return to at night. When she returned, she saw a beautiful view of the Milky Way.

Historical heritage

Lassen Volcanic has done an impressive job of preserving its history. The National Register of Historic Places, the official list of historic places worth preserving in the United States, includes 11 sites located in Lassen Volcanic.

Katy's family enjoyed the visit Loomis Museum, which is located near Lake Manzanita.

Inside the museum was a display of detailed human history in the area, as well as historical photographs, including those taken by Benjamin Franklin Loomis during the last period of the Lassen Peak eruption from 1914 to 1917. In a stone building outside the museum is a seismograph that Loomis built.

Here you can set up children to participate in program "Young Ranger" The children receive a booklet with tasks, and after they are done, the children return it to the ranger in exchange for a badge.

Walking by car

The family was able to get to many scenic spots by car.

Lassen Volcanic National Highway is only 48 km long and runs between Lake Manzanita at the northwest entrance and Southwest Entrance Station.

As you drive along the highway, you will be greeted with dazzling scenery including views of Almanor Lake, dense forests, volcanic peaks, hydrothermal features and emerald mountain lakes. The main highway is a relatively easy road with a few turns. Cathy's family was able to find quiet, scenic spots off the highway fairly easily.

Lassen Volcanic is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts who don't want to deal with large crowds.

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Lassen Volcanic is small compared to many other major national parks, but it has no shortage of accessible and stunning scenery. If you want to immerse yourself in nature and avoid the crowds, consider exploring Lassen Volcanic on your next trip to the area.

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Miscellanea national park California Lassen Volcanic
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