Sneaking a Peek at Lassen Peak

Sneaking a Peek at Lassen Peak

Although at 10,457’ Lassen Peak is both the highest and most prominent feature in Lassen Volcanic National Park, getting a glimpse of it isn’t always that easy.

After viewing it from the shore of Manzanita Lake on the northwest corner of the park, there are only a few opportunities to see it while driving along the park’s through-road. And in the Warner Valley and other parts of the park’s southwest section—about two to three thousand feet below the trailhead to Lassen Peak—intervening ridges mostly block views of the mountain.

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But here a few photos of the now-dormant volcano that I was able to take during my trip at the end of July.

Manzanita Lake

When I first visited Lassen in 1972, a lodge and cabins were at Manzanita Lake near the park entrance. It was a beautiful, tranquil place to stay, with easy road access to many of the park’s hiking trails.

Even though there hadn’t been an eruption since 1914-15, seismic activity raised concerns that a rockslide down adjacent Chaos Crags could endanger campers and lodgers. Both the campground and lodge were closed by the mid-1970’s and the lodge was eventually torn down.

The Manzanita Lake campground has long since re-opened, and three years ago, basic cabins (no electricity or running water) like the one I stayed in last month were built.

A nearly level mile and a half long trail winds around Manzanita Lake and affords great view of Lassen Peak from late morning until sunset.

Kings Creek Upper Meadows

When I drove through the park a couple of weeks ago, most park visitors I saw sped down the road to the nearly-full parking area at the trailhead to Kings Creek Falls. But if they had stopped at the pullout at Upper Meadows just to the south of the falls trailhead, they could have taken advantage of this classic Lassen Peak photo-op.

Down to Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes

After leaving Upper Meadows behind, I took a steep half-mile hike to Terrace Lake. It, along with Shadow and Cliff Lakes farther downslope, provides a handy respite from the occasionally madding crowd of park visitors who seem to content with shooting “drive-by” photos and never bother to step very far off the main road during their brief day-trip through the park.

Because you’re still well-below the tree line, there’s quite a bit of shade from the afternoon sun, making hiking pleasant. But to spot Lassen Peak, you’ll got to peek over, around, or through the forest.

At the Peak Trailhead

I climbed Lassen Peak during my 1972 visit to the park.  I overhead a guest in the lodge’s dining room complain to her husband that the National Park Service should have built a road to the summit so she could get a view from the top without huffing and puffing her way 5.0 miles and 2,000’ up and down the mountain. Although you don’t need mountain climbing skills to reach the top, you do have to be physically fit enough for strenuous hiking up a high-altitude rocky trail.

Trail reconstruction work has limited both off-trail and on-trail access to the Lassen Peak this year. The peak trail will be open this coming weekend, and once again on Labor Day weekend.

For me, the trail closures meant I didn’t have to repeat my four-decades ago feat of summiting Lassen, and gave me a convenient excuse for photographing the trail from its beginning rather than its finish high above me.

On the Way to (Bumpass) Hell

Bumpass Hell, with bubbling toxic lakes and steaming fumaroles like those in America’s most famous hydrothermal national park, Yellowstone, is one of Lassen’s most heavily visited attractions.

The trail to Bumpass Hell is mostly a long, gentle uphill traverse across the flanks of the mountain until you literally drop down into Hell. On the way back to the parking lot, hikers looking over fields of blooming lupine see Lassen Peak rising to the northwest.

Solitude in the Shadow of Lassen

East of Drakesbad Guest Ranch, where I spent four of five nights during my latest trip to Lassen, are a series of lakes accessible only by driving on mostly unpaved roads or, in many cases, by hiking in.

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As you would expect, few visitors make the long drive from the park’s well-beaten main road to these lakes. If you are seeking solitude during your stay at Lassen, this is where to head.

After lunching alone at a picnic area on the northeast shore of Juniper Lake, I shouldered my day-pack, grabbed my camera, and hiked three miles over the hill to Horseshoe Lake and back. I didn’t see another soul on the trail. The few backpackers camped out at Horseshoe Lake were too far off the trail to engage in conversation, and the ranger assigned to the station near the lake was nowhere to be seen, probably off patrolling on foot or horseback.

Was I actually still in Lassen? Sneaking a peak through the trees, I could see that I surely was.(Click on an image to enlarge to full-size. Visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more of this week’s Travel Photo Thursday shots.)
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(While guest lodging within the park where Dick Jordan stayed thanks to the courtesy of the park concessionaire is almost fully booked through August, you may still find some availability this month, and more in September and during the first two weeks of October when the season ends. There are a number of campsites a number of campsites at Manzanita Lake as well as elsewhere in the park, and you may be able to snag one even if you drive in without having reservations. ReadLassen: Off-The-Beaten National Park Path” on Tales Told From The Road to learn more about visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park.)

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15 Replies to “Sneaking a Peek at Lassen Peak”

  1. We used to drive up 5 hours to Lassen in late August to catch the spring flowers in all the meadows…such an amazing place and one of my favorite parks. Thanks for taking us there again, sweet!

    1. Alas, presumably due to the light snowfall this year (the park road opened for Memorial Day), I saw fewer wildflowers than on my previous visits to Lassen. Lupine was blooming everywhere, but not much else was in flower.

  2. What a gorgeous place to stay and to explore! Is the air clearer up there? I like the idea of camping, but not sure about staying so close to a volcano, even if its not active!
    Such incredible beauty, and would be a great place for hiking.

    1. About 100,000-plus people live in the two major towns (1-2 hour drive) west of Lassen, but there are no major man-made sources of air pollution there, so the skies over Lassen are quite clear. (Smoke from a forest fire up in Oregon did drift down for a part of a day, but then dissipated.)

      Lassen hasn’t blown its top since 1914-15, and although there was some concern back in the 1970’s that a rockslide might occur near Manzanita Lake, that didn’t happen.

      You can sleep soundly in Lassen without fear of being covered in hot lava, ala Pompei.

  3. The skies in these photographs are so clear and to my mind dominant. I would love to be in these photographs and find myself imagining what the air would feel like. Lovely.

  4. I’ve never heard of Lassen Peak but it looks beautiful – and very happy there isn’t a road to the top to keep the people away. That’s the allure of the mountains – beauty and solitude.

    1. Lassen is one of the lesser known U.S. national parks, perhaps in part because there is limited lodging in or near the park.

      I did see a few people on road bikes huffing and puffing their way along the park road (which crests at 8,512′), and you can kayak on some of the lakes, so pack up your bike and boat and head to Lassen!

  5. We haven’t made it to Lassen NP yet but after seeing these beautiful pictures, I really want to go now. It’s so scenic and a bit unexpected for having Volcanic in its name. I just need to figure out the best way to get there from SoCal.

    1. Mary,

      One of the other guests staying at Drakesbad when I was there was from Temecula. He drove to Lassen, overnighting at Modesto, abou6 6.5 from home and 4-plus hours from Lassen. On the way home, he was going to head down US 395, a more scenic, but longer route. He didn’t know where he’d stop along the way, but Mammoth Lakes would have been about the mid-way point.

      If you didn’t want to spend two days on the road each way, you could reach Lassen by flying to Redding (the closest airport, about an hour away from the park), Reno, or Sacramento. See my initial story on Lassen for my tips on getting there and where to stay.

  6. Oh, that’s funny that she wanted a road. Poor woman.
    It’d be amazing to see a volcano up close. It’s almost mesmerizing even through the trees.

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