An enchanted land of rugged mountains, alpine lakes, clear streams, deep glaciated canyons, and other-worldly hydrothermal landscapes, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a wild and exotic Northern California treasure. Towering above it all, Lassen Peak rests after its most recent eruption in 1917.
One of the least visited national parks, Lassen sees one-tenth the visitors of the Grand Canyon. Most people stay close to the highway that traverses the park. Here are two walkabouts that take you deep into the backcountry.
Both two-day hikes stop overnight at historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch in the south-central part of the park. Eighteen miles from the nearest village, the cabins are lit by kerosene lamps. Hot springs heat the swimming pool. Stay a couple of days to enjoy the hearty cuisine and day hikes to nearby thermal hotspots. You might even want to try horseback riding, fly-fishing, or a soothing therapeutic massage.
The first Lassen Walkabout is a 19.4 mile, two-day loop. Start and end your hike at lovely Summit Lake, perched at 7,000’ in the shadow of massive Lassen Peak. This hike explores the park’s central region.
Our trail passes a string of inviting mountain lakes, their shorelines dense with wildflowers in the early season. Join the PCT and head south. You may have the trail all to yourselves. Only backpackers and a few daytrippers venture this far. Descend through Grassy Swale along a meandering brook. Cross Kings Creek and follow the signs to Warner Valley and Drakesbad where rustic comfort awaits you.
After your sore muscles have been pampered in the hot springs pool and you have been well fed, your return journey hikes the northern edge of Hot Springs Creek Canyon. Descend to spectacular Kings Creek Falls crashing 50 feet over a rocky natural staircase.
The trail back to Summit Lake ascends through verdant meadows, crossing spring-fed streams. Before returning to your car, stop to take in the awesome grandeur of Lassen Peak and its reflection in the crystal-clear waters.
The second Lassen Walkabout, a two-day, 22.2 mile hike requires two cars. Hiking from the NE to SW corners, it explores the park’s most amazing volcanic features. Start your trek at Butte Lake, 6,100’. One hundred foot high rivers of lava, frozen in time, shape its shoreline.
Head south to Cinder Cone. Eruptions in the 1600s formed this 750 foot high elegant beauty. If you feel ambitious, climb the steep trail over loose cinders. The view is worth the climb – The Painted Dunes, Fantastic Lava Beds, and to the west, 10,457’ snowcapped Lassen Peak.
Turn south on the PCT past a series of lovely jewel lakes, perfect for an afternoon swim. Then descend into Warner Valley and Drakesbad Guest Ranch where a nice soak in the hot springs pool awaits you.
The second hiking day follows the ridgeline of Hot Springs Creek Canyon, past Kings Creek Falls, and up Kings Creek, hiking through forests of mountain hemlock, lodgepole and ponderosa pine. Fields of wildflowers abound through mid-summer.
You will arrive at Bumpass Hell, a thermal wonderland of fumaroles, boiling hot springs, and bubbling mud pots. This is a reminder that the forces that caused Lassen Peak to erupt 100 years ago are still active. She is only resting.
The final leg of the trail climbs to 8,400’, the highest point on these walkabouts. While dropping to the parking lot, pass Lake Helen with magnificent Lassen Peak in the background. Stop for a moment before climbing into your car; breathe the crisp mountain air, and savor your exploration of one of America’s most spectacular and least-visited national parks.
Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park Walkabouts are some of a dozen inn-to-inn hikes found in “Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn.” It can also be purchased as an individual guide.