How many days do you need in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and what is there to discover in this northern California gem?
Explore the largest plug dome volcano in the world and a park filled with over 300 volcanoes; Fascinating learning opportunities and incredible scenic views are abound – with relatively few crowds, at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.
No matter how long you can spare in your California road trip itinerary, you’ll be able to get something out of this incredible California nature spot.
Before we dive into some itinerary ideas, we’ll take you through a few of the practicalities of visiting Lassen Valconic; it is somewhat isolated compared to other California attractions and has a short season due to weather extremes you’ll experience in the Cascade Mountains.
We’ll walk you through what to do with the kids, lodging options, and hikes – and most importantly, how long do you need in Lassen Volcanic National Park?
- Best Time To Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
- How To Get To Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Lassen Volcanic Entry Fees & Open Hours
- Where To Stay Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Things To Do In Lassen Volcanic National Park In Summer
- Lassen Volcanic National Park Things to Do in Winter
- Suggested Itineraries For Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Final Tips For Visiting Lassen Volcanic With Kids
- Where To Next After Lassen Volcanic?
Best Time To Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
We will tackle this subject first as seasons make a big difference to what you can experience at Lassen Volcanic.
A quick geography lesson first – Lassen Volcanic is found in the northeast of California. Its dominant feature is Lassen Peak, the largest plug volcano in the world and the southernmost volcano in the Cascades, which stretches from British Columbia through to California – part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire.
Standing over 10,000 feet, Lassen Peak attracts heavy snowfall in the winter, making the 30-mile-long scenic Highway 89, which connects the north and south entrance of the national park, impassable for at least six months of the year.
Here’s what to expect in each season at Lassen Volcanic:
Spring (April – June) – A great time for wildflowers and waterfalls, although many trails can still be shut due to snow and muddy conditions. You’re likely only to need half a day.
Summer (mid-June to September) – Peak season for the park; the main highway should reopen in June, leaving behind sunny weather and great hiking and camping conditions. You’ll only be able to access the highest peaks in summer once the snow has melted, making summer the best time to visit this national park.
Unlike other national parks, you won’t find Lassen overcrowded even in the peak of summer; it’s one of the least visited national parks on the West Coast.
Fall (October November)– A quieter time with lower temperatures and fewer crowds. You’ll capture spectacular fall foliage, though watch the weather. Some hiking trails may close early if there’s snowfall.
Winter (December to March) – Although hiking trails may be closed, it’s still a wonderful time to visit where parts of the park can still be visited on a guided tour with rangers, however, the through highway will be closed.
We detail below more things to do in winter in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
How To Get To Lassen Volcanic National Park
The national park has two main entrances in the north and the south. You can drive through the park on Highway 89 only when the snow has melted from approximately mid-June to mid-October.
The north entrance is located close to the town of Singletown on State Highway 44, while the south entrance is found near Mineral, off Highway 36.
There are also some unpaved routes into the park at Drakebas, Juniper Lake, and Butte Lake, giving camping ground access and other hiking trails and boating opportunities.
From the south entrance, you are 57 miles from the closest town of size, Redding, making this a popular side trip for those heading along the I-5. If you are coming from the south or other nearby attractions, you are:
- 226 miles (3 hours 35 minutes) north of San Francisco
- 170 miles (2 hours 45 minutes) north of Sacramento
- 150 miles (2 hours 45 minutes) northeast of Reno
- 141 miles (3 hours) north of Lake Tahoe (Truckee)
Redding Municipality Airport (RDD) is your closest airport, 1.5 hours east, though the closest airport of size is Sacramento International Airport (SMF), 2.5 hours away.
Lassen Volcanic Entry Fees & Open Hours
Lassen Volcanic has a $30 entry fee for standard vehicles valid for 7 consecutive days.
You can also use America the Beautiful or see if your family may be eligible for the 4th Grader/Every Kid Outdoors Pass.
You can enter the park for free on designated National Park free entry days.
The park is open 24 hours, though the southwest visitor center is only open daily in summer, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (May 1 to October 31). From 1 November to 30 April, the visitor center is only open Wednesday to Sunday, except Monday public holidays.
The Loomis Museum near the northeast entrance is only open in summer – check days and times in advance.
In addition to the Junior Ranger program, kids can pick up a Volcano Club Card. They’ll need to complete at least seven activities (available at Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center or Loomis Museum), then they can purchase the exclusive Volcano Club patch – a great souvenir from your time in northern California!
You might also find it handy to have the NPS app for Lassen Volcanic National Park downloaded and ready for your trip. This gives you access to offline maps, and an audio tour is included, which is great for those making the drive through the park.
Where To Stay Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park
There are a few summer options for staying within the national park or nearby lodging options for campers and those in regular vehicles.
Lodgings in Lassen Volcanic
There are two rustic options available within the park:
Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins – a basic back-to-nature option offering your basics of beds, heating, and lighting near Manzanita Lake (you will still need your own bedding); washing amenities are shared. This property is managed by Lassen Lodging.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch is a historic guest ranch located in the remote Warner Valley area of the park, offering accommodations in cabins and lodge rooms. The ranch also has a hot springs-fed swimming pool and offers horseback riding, fishing, and guided hikes.
(We understand it will remain closed for summer 2023 due to ongoing issues with Dixie Fire damage – check the latest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (877) 622-0221).
Camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Seven campgrounds within the park offer tent and RV camping; some offer amenities such as showers and flush toilets, or there are primitive options.
The best for RVs and trailers are Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, and Summit Lake – these camp areas require reservations via recreation.gov. (Note there are no hookups in the park, but a dump station is available at Manzanita Lake)
Other campsites are more rustic and operate first come when they are open for summer.
The only accessible campground in winter, over snow, is Southwest Campground. You can only vehicle camp here when permitted, no tent camping. You will need to self-register at the entrance station.
RV Parks Near Lassen Volcanic National Park
As well as campgrounds within the national park, several nearby campgrounds are suitable for RVs with full hookups.
Mt Lassen/Shingletown KOA is located west of the park’s north entrance. Offering RV sites with full hookups, tent sites, and cabins, this pet-friendly park is an excellent choice for campers. Being a KOA, you also benefit from extra amenities such as a heated swimming pool, tree swings, playground, and playing courts.
Hat Creek Resort and RV Park is found about 30 miles north of the park in Lassen National Forest. Offering RV sites with full hookups, as well as cabins, yurts, and tent sites, the park is located on the banks of Hat Creek and offers opportunities for fishing and other outdoor activities.
Lassen RV Park Campground situated north of the park, offers RV sites with full hookups, as well as tent sites and cabins on their 68-acre property. The park has amenities such as a summer swimming pool, BBQs, and a pavilion in this rustic wilderness escape.
Nearest Hotels and Motels to Lassen Volcanic National Park
The nearest town of size to Lassen Volcanic is Redding. You can use Redding as a base for exploring northern California or as a pass-through before or after your visit to Lassen Volcanic.
A good affordable family choice we recommend is Americana Modern Hotel, or try Sheraton Redding Hotel at Sundial Bridge for a comfortable city stay, including a pool.
Search for more accommodation choices in Redding here:
Red Bluff is a little closer but more limited, with basic chain-owned and locally-owned motels and dining options around 45 minutes from the south entrance.
Things To Do In Lassen Volcanic National Park In Summer
So before we dive into planning out your time in Lassen Volcanic, let’s go through the park’s key attractions, which are accessible and best enjoyed in the warm months of summer:
The unique aspect of visiting Lassen Volcanic is witnessing geologically active areas where heated water and steam rise to the surface. The park has several hydrothermal areas, including Bumpass Hell, Sulphur Works, and Devils Kitchen.
Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in the park, and it’s known for its bubbling mud pots, steaming vents, and boiling hot springs. The area is named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a miner who lost a leg after falling into a boiling mud pot in the area in the late 1800s.
Visitors to Bumpass Hell can take a 1.5-mile trail (3-mile return) that leads through the area and offers views of its unique features. We’d allow at least 2 hours, and we warned, parking can fill early in the day; come early or later in the afternoon.
Do note, though, this popular trail may not open until well into July, depending on how heavy snowfall has been. If this is an essential for your Lassen itinerary (it should be!), we’d time your trip for late July/August to be sure it’s open.
Sulphur Works is another popular hydrothermal area in the park, and it’s known for its yellow and orange-stained rocks and the strong smell of sulfur in the air. The area features mud pots, fumaroles, and boiling hot springs.
A great stop for young visitors or those that cannot walk far, you can view Sulphur Works from a small boardwalk just off the main highway through the park, making it the most accessible stopping point, even on a drive-through trip to Lassen Volcanic.
Devils Kitchen is the second-largest hydrothermal area in the park, located near the popular hiking trail to Lassen Peak in Warner Valley.
The area is known for its bubbling mud pots, steam vents, and a small geyser that occasionally erupts. Visitors can view the area from a short trail that leads through the hydrothermal features.
It’s not quite as big and impressive as Bumpass, but a slightly easier hike (still, we’d allow 2 hours). It makes an attractive stop for families looking for a shorter day trip to Lassen Volcanic or for when Bumpass Hell is still closed for the season.
Hikes in Lassen Volcanic
In addition to Bumpass Hell, the park has over 150 miles of hiking trails. Some of the most popular and worth getting on your Lassen volcanic itinerary include:
Lassen Peak Trail (allow 4-5 hours)
A 5-mile round trip will take hikers to the summit of Lassen Peak, the park’s largest volcano. A challenging hike (we would not recommend it for inexperienced family hikers), you’ll be rewarded with sweeping scenic views from the peak at 10,457 feet.
Kings Creek Falls Trail (allow 2 hours)
A more moderate hike that takes you through a forested area of the park, the 2.3 mile out and back round trip takes you past Kings Creek Falls and offers ample wildlife spotting opportunities, allowing around 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete.
Manzanita Lake Loop (allow 1 hour)
Starting at Loomia Plaza, this easy grade 1.7 mile loop is good for beginners, though you’ll still need to allow a good hour to complete (not recommended for strollers and pushchairs).
Cinder Cone Trail (allow 3 hours)
Again a more challenging hike, but those with fit tweens and teens will be fine to take on this 4-mile round trip to Cinder Cone Summit (or base walk only 2.4 miles).
Found in the Butte Lake area of the park, rising 700 feet above the surrounding landscape, you’ll see more unique features of the park, including Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes. Your trail is made of cinders (soft volcanic ash) which makes a unique experience – closed footwear highly recommended!
Devastated Area (allow 20 minutes)
More of a picnic stop but a must in the park; there’s a short 0.2-mile Interpretive Trail. Here you will see the aftermath of damage caused by the last eruption of Lassen Peak over a century ago. See the rugged landscape, twisted trees, and lava rocks left in the path of destruction that was left after the 1915-16 eruption.
This trail is wheelchair and pushchair passable and includes interactive audio to learn more about the park’s volcanic activity.
Water Activities in Lassen Volcanic
Although primarily known for its hydrothermal activities, several water-based activities attract visitors to the park and surrounding region:
Manzanita Lake is the largest in the park, where visitors can swim, kayak, and fish. It’s located at the park’s northwest entrance and one of the most popular spots in the park. Look for the designated swimming and separate boat launch areas (non-motorized boats only).
Manzanita Lake is the only part of the park where you can hire watercraft from the Camper Store (summer 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM).
Summit Lake sits in the center of the park at a high elevation. This beautiful alpine lake offers some stunning landscapes, perfect for picnicking, fishing, and hiking.
Juniper Lake is a quiet spot in the southeast of the park, good for tent camping, summer swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Butte Lake is found in the northeast of the park, 45 minutes from the north entrance is another popular spot for fishing and boating (NB it was closed in 2022 due to low water levels – check if you plan to visit in summer 2023)
NB – any fishing requires a valid California fishing license – check out all our top tips for traveling with fishing rods on your roof.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Things to Do in Winter
As we mentioned above, it is more challenging to visit Lassen Volcanic in winter as the main road through the park (Highway 89) is closed due to snow. There are still several activities that outdoor enthusiasts can participate in over the winter at Lassen Volcanic:
Visitors can enjoy hiking in the park’s lower elevations during winter. Trails near Manzanita Lake, the Loomis Museum, and the southwest entrance are typically accessible.
The park offers cross-country skiing opportunities on groomed trails near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center for advanced cross-country skiers.
The Manzanita Lake area offers routes that would better suit beginners.
Sledding and Tubing
Visitors can bring their own sleds or tubes to designated sledding areas in the park, such as the hill behind the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (6,700 feet elevation).
Manzanita Lake Area has gentler terrain at 5,800 feet elevation for beginners. Try Chaos Jumbles Area and the northern shore of Manzanita Lake. There are restrooms and water amenities here in winter but no visitor services from November through May.
You can explore the park on snowshoes, with trails available near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and Manzanita Lake. Look out for ranger-led snowshoe walks on weekends during the winter. Visitors can learn about the park’s natural and cultural history while enjoying the winter scenery.
Can you still see any of the thermal areas of the park in winter?
Whilst higher elevations are closed, it’s possible to take a 2-mile round trip to see Sulphur Works if you are willing to snowshoe. Note, you need to bring your own equipment; this is not available to rent at the park.
It should go without saying winter weather conditions can be variable, so you should come dressed warmly with plenty of food and clothing. Check with rangers before partaking in any backcountry camping.
Suggested Itineraries For Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park
Our team is lucky enough that three of us have visited Lassen Volcanic with our families, and each of us has a different itinerary to share with different accommodation suggestions, so whatever type of traveler you are, we have a Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary to suit!
Half-Day Lassen Volcanic Itinerary
Many of the highlights of Lassen Volcanic can be viewed with only short walks from your car, so if your itinerary is tight, fear not!
With half a day, you can still fit in many of the highlights and one medium-length hike if you are tackling Lassen Volcanic National Park as a drive-through on your northern California itinerary.
We’d suggest with half a day in Lassen Volcanic National Park (assuming an entrance from the south):
- Start with visiting the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (pick up your maps and junior ranger booklets + Volcano Club Card!)
- Pop into Sulphur Works for a nose full of thermal activity
- Auto tour the park via Summit Lake and drive through Highway 89
- Walk the Devesated Area Interpretive Trail
- Finish your trip with views of Manzanita Lake and pop into the Loomis Museum – make sure to collect any badges!
1-Day Lassen Volcanic National Park Itinerary
If you are staying in or near Lassen Volcanic, you can create a much more thorough itinerary for exploring Lassen Volcanic. Our suggested one-day Lassen volcanic itinerary would include:
- As above, but allow extra time to do the 2-mile Bumpass Hell Trail before it’s too hot in the middle of the day and add a picnic lunch at Lake Helen or Kings Creek Picnic Area along Highway 89.
- If time permits, add either a water sport activity at Manzanita Lake or visit the Butte Lake area of the park and try the Cinder Cone Trail as the day cools.
- Camp at Butte Lake, or head back to one of our nearby accommodation suggestions
2-Day Lassen Volcanic Itinerary
If you have two or more days to spend in Lassen Volcanic, you’ll undoubtedly open up more opportunities to explore deeper into the park.
Two days will allow you more time to take on more remote areas of the park and more throoughly explore its geographic features. Specifically, we would add to the 1 day Lassen itinerary by heading back through the park:
- Spend your morning hiking the Kings Creek Trail and find the Kings Creek Falls. Stop for lunch back in the nearby picnic area.
- For the afternoon, drive back out the southern entrance and head to the Warner Valley entrance.
- See the boiling mud pots and steam vents at Boiling Springs Lake and enjoy the Devils Kitchen Trail.
- If time permits, another smaller geothermal feature to finish your day in Warner Valley is Terminal Geyser – we’d only attempt this last one with a fit and energetic family, otherwise, it’s a lot of walking in 2 days!
So, How Many Days in Lassen Volcanic National Park?
This really comes down to how fit your traveling group is and how deeply you want to explore the park. You will get a pretty good feel for the park in just one day, but 2 to 3 days will allow you to complete several hikes and explore many different aspects of the park on a summer road trip.
Lassen Volcanic is home to over 300 volcanoes, so budding geology enthusiasts will want a minimum of two days to explore the shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome volcano examples that can be found across the 106,000-acre national park.
In winter, a half day at Lassen with your own equipment to enjoy the winter sports activities is likely to be sufficient.
Final Tips For Visiting Lassen Volcanic With Kids
- This cannot be repeated enough; stick to the paths! There are designated boardwalks and trails to keep you safe; avoid the risk of injury and damage to the delicate eco-system.
- Always practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace.
- We’d recommend sturdy shoes for tackling this national park. Sandals are OK for most trails, but you’ll want closed shoes for the Cinder Cone Trail – and a good shower afterward!
- Remember, you be the judge of what your family is capable of handling on any given day. Heat can be brutal in the summer, so longer hikes with small children or for inexperienced hikers may be out of the question. If you do any hiking, take plenty of water, snacks, and sun protection.
- And essential – keep your eye on the weather conditions. Despite the snow-capped mountains, you are in an area of the country extremely prone to wildfires; the devastating effects of the 2021 Dixie fire still affect several sections of the park. Follow fire.ca.gov for up-to-date information.
Where To Next After Lassen Volcanic?
A trip to Lassen Volcanic can easily be combined with other scenic drives in northern California. Some of our favorite recommended nearby stopping points include:
Subway Cave Lava Tubes
If you continue your journey on State Highway 89 just beyond the park, you’ll come to the USDA Forest Service-managed Subway Cave. Seasonally open from April to October, you can take the 1/3-mile self-guided trail through the cave.
You’ll be completely in darkness, and the path is rough, but intrepid explorers with flashlights, warm jackets, and sturdy shoes should have no issues navigating this fascinating part of Lassen National Forest.
Burney Falls Memorial State Park
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is located about an hour’s drive west of Lassen Volcanic National Park and features a beautiful 129-foot waterfall, as well as hiking trails, fishing, and camping opportunities.
You could easily dedicate a whole extra day to exploring this state park. Just be careful where you park; If the lot is full and you park on Highway 89 you could be subjet to a fine or your vehicle towed! Like all things summer road tripping, start your day early.
Lake Almanor is a large reservoir located about an hour’s drive east of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The lake offers opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, and other water sports, as well as hiking trails and scenic overlooks. The Lake has several boat ramps and is known for its clear waters.
Mount Shasta is a majestic peak located about two hours drive north of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The mountain offers opportunities for hiking, climbing, and scenic drives, as well as a charming town with restaurants, shops, and art galleries.
Lake Shasta & Shasta Dam
Lake Shasta is a large reservoir created by the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River. The lake offers swimming, boating, fishing, and house boating opportunities.
Visitors can also tour the Shasta Dam, which was completed in 1945 and stands as the second-tallest dam in the United States. The Shasta Dam tour takes visitors deep into the dam’s inner workings, providing a fascinating look at this impressive engineering feat.
As we mentioned above in accommodation, Redding is a decent-sized town to base yourself for northern California adventures.
The city offers a variety of restaurants, shops, and attractions, including the Sundial Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the Sacramento River that is designed to look like a sundial.
Kids can also cool off at Water Works Park in Redding (summer only), or visit the Turtle Bay Museum and Exploration Park, a 300-acre cultural center with animal exhibits, playgrounds, and gardens.
Further Road Trips in Northern California
- You can head south and continue your journey through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Follow this itinerary from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, with further ideas adding stops from Yosemite to Death Valley
- Heading to the coast, here are the highlights of traveling from San Francisco to the Redwoods
- If you’re heading from San Francisco all the way to Portland, we share further details of taking the inland route, including these incredible volcanic viewing points, or combine a stop at Lassen as part of a complete PNW road trip from San Fran to Seattle.
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