As we drove, Dave commented that the landscape was feeling less like California (grey, rocky mountains) and more like the Pacific Northwest (thick pine forests, lots of logging trucks). A quick consult with the map showed that Lassen National Forest straddles the Sierra and Cascade ranges, which are quintessential California and Pacific Northwest, respectively. The drive was picturesque, with twisty roads following creeks and cutting along the mountain. All the plants were freshly green, having recently shaken off winter’s chill.
We were expecting to see much more snow during the drive, since CA-89, the Lassen Volcanic National Park through road, had only recently been cleared of snow and opened. However, we only saw occasional patches of snow. Then we started to climb as we entered the park and the odds were in our favor (and Penny’s) significant snow. It did not take long after entering the park before there was snow, and significant quantities. The drive was a bit harrowing with the thick fog, but the positive side was we could not see the steep drop offs along the road. If you feel that the government is over protecting you, drive the road through Lassen. There isn’t much government protection standing between you and the drop off.
History: Designated a National park on August 9, 1916, in part due to the continuing volcanic activity after the 1915 eruption. President Theodore Roosevelt initially protected the area with the formation of Cinder Cone National Monument and Lassen Peak National Monument in 1905.
Native Americans inhabited the area and believed that Lassen would one day blow itself apart. Lassen Peak was used as a landmark for immigrants on their way to the fertile Sacramento Valley.
Campground: We stayed at the Manzanita Lake campground, in the Northwest corner of the park; this was the only campground open. The other campgrounds were still being cleared of winter related damage. This campground has four loops. Sites can be reserved on loops A and C, loops B and D are first come, first served. Loop D is for tent camping only. There are multiple trail heads in or close to the campground (Manzanita Creek, Crags Lake, Manzanita Lake, Lily Pond Nature Trail, Reflection Lake, Nobles Emigrant). We were in site C44, which was spacious with and felt secluded. Other prime sites in the C loop include C22, C24, C25, and C26. There is no cell service.
Activities: Kayaks can be rented from the camp store for use on Manzanita Lake. We decided to hike the Chaos Crags trail. The sign at the trail head, which was a solid 0.5 miles away from our campsite, indicated a 2 mile walk with approximately 825 feet of elevation increase. Simple math, done at leisure after the hike, determined that the average grade of the trail was 8%. Math, it rocks. There were sections that were rather flat, and sections that were very steep. The 4 mile round trip took us about 3.5 hours. This time includes the 30 minutes we spent at Crags Lake watching Alex throw rocks into the water and laugh at the ‘bloops’. The hike offered amazing views and took us throw an area that had been affected by fire. The hike was sunnier than expected due to reduced tree cover. And there is cell service! We definitely were sore after this hike.
Skiing and snowboarding are also options for activities! In June! Our first night camping, it rained at the campground, but higher elevations received approximately six inches of snow. The through road was closed again to allow for plowing.
The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center has great interactive displays. There is a description of the different types of volcanoes (cinder cone, composite, plug flow) and an interactive map that will light up the type examples with in the park with the push of a button (Alex loved this). Another interactive exhibit had a tunnel that was perfect for a toddler to run through; a light lit up as Alex ran through the tunnel. This was also a great source of joy. Two gift shops, an area with children’s toys, a cafe, and theater round out the offerings at the visitor center.
Overall: This is a beautiful park with hiking options that we did not even scratch the surface of in regards to activities and hikes. Note that if you are interested in the Lave Tube caves, which are located in Lassen National Forest, about 45 minutes north on CA-44/CA-89. As our usual, we wish we were spending more time here.