When it comes to National Parks with steamy geothermal features, people usually think of Yellowstone National Park-- but it's certainly not the only park that's hot to trot. There's also California's Lassen Volcanic National Park. It's one of the only places in the world that has all four kinds of volcano, so you know a park that's packing that much heat is definitely gonna have some cool sights to see. Here are some of the park's best other-worldly landscapes and hidden gems to explore:
Some tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park:
-Because of its northern location and high elevation, the park is pretty chilly. As you'll see, snow sticks around until July, and it never gets too hot here. Dress and pack accordingly! -When hiking around mudpots and geothermal spots, stick to the trails and boardwalks. Some spots might seem solid, but you could very easily step into boiling mud and burn yourself. -The park stays open in the winter, even though many roads close. Bring chains for your tires, and be prepared to navigate icy and snowy spots. -The park has killer stargazing, thanks to its remote location, clear, clean air, and high elevation. Bring a telescope or binoculars! -If you want to make your trip to Lassen Volcanic into a longer road trip, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is incredible. The southern terminus is at Lassen Volcanic National Park, and it winds north past Mount Shasta up to Crater Lake National Park, another natural gem with a volcanic past.
Bumpass Hell is the largest area of hydrothermal activity in the entire park, clocking in at around 16 acres. You'll mostly get awesome views of the Martian landscape, with its steaming pools and unusually-hued mud and dirt, but the area also features one of the world's hottest fumerols, which they affectionately call "Big Boiler", since it's been known to reach temperatures of up to 322 degrees Fahrenheit. While you're hiking here, keep in mind that it was named for a miner who had a claim to the area, and who fell through a thin crust of mud and into one of the pools, severely burning his leg, which had to be amputated-- so stay on the boardwalk!
If you're looking for elegant accommodations, Highland Ranch Resort is a great bet. Cottages and lodge rooms, all done up in rustic elegance, with stone showers, fireplaces, and an incredible onsite restaurant with a cozy lounge and stunning deck. The scenery from the resort is utterly breathtaking! Since you're so close to the park and Lassen National Forest, they're more than happy to guide you or help you plan excursions into nature!
Sulphur Works is a trail that will get you a little closer to the bubbling mudpots and steaming pools. It's also right off the main road, so if you're short on time but still want to check out some hot and heavy geothermal weirdness, this is your best bet. The main attraction here is a 5-foot mudpot-- it's all that remains of an extinct volcano known as Mount Tehama. Definitely be cautious here-- this is an area known for looking deceptively safe, but stepping off the boardwalk could mean falling into boiling mud.
There's no trail here at Little Hot Springs Valley, but you can view the steam vents, boiling pools, and mudpots from the road-- it's especially cool if you bring along binoculars! Also be on the lookout for Fart Gulch, a chalky colored hillside-- maybe it's a good thing to just view the place from the road, since the hydrogen sulfide gas is said to smell like rotten eggs or... well, you get the idea.
Then there's the Devil's Kitchen. The highlight of this trail, which takes you past lovely lakes, footbridges, and forests, is a boiling cauldron of awesomeness, complete with hissing steam vents, gloppy mudpots and bubbling springs. While there are hot springs around here, definitely don't strip down and go for a soak-- the water is so acidic that it's eaten holes into the bedrock.
Unlike Yellowstone, there are no true geysers in the Lassen, unless you count Terminal Geyser. In the middle of a creek, you'll find a geyser-like spurt of water, surrounded by clouds of steam, caused by the cool creek flowing overtop of a steam vent-- it's endlessly fascinating to watch. Plus, you don't have to wait around for it to go off, and the hike there winds through the peaceful forests and past other mysterious-looking geothermal features!
This 700-foot-tall Cinder Cone volcano makes for an incredible (but sometimes challenging) hike. Cinder cone volcanoes are made of ash and debris that accumulate around a volcanic vent, so the ground on the trail is softer than normal... plus, since you're hiking up a volcano, the trail is kind of steep. Anyone who makes it to the top is rewarded with views of the whole park and a chance to hike into the crater on the top of the volcano. The whole natural area has a few cinder cones, some in better condition than others, but overall, the whole spot has a weird, alien-landscape feel. Super cool!
Rim Rock Ranch Resort has a place for everyone: 1940s-era hunting cabins, retro motor lodges, campsites and a bed and breakfast-style inn. There's also a little country store onsite as well. It's not too fancy, but if you're looking for something convenient and reasonably priced (and loaded with vintage charm) then Rim Rock is a great option.
One of only two volcanoes to erupt in the US during the 20th century (the other being Mount St. Helens), Lassen Peak is also one of the largest dome volcanoes in the world at an impressive 2,000 feet above the rest of the terrain. Plug dome volcanoes like Lassen form when more viscous lava flows from a volcano, creating a taller, steeper mountain. Lassen Peak’s most powerful recent eruption, in 1915, spread ash as far as 200 miles away! The hike to the top, with its many switchbacks, is only about 5 miles, round trip, and takes between 3-5 hours. But it's worth the trek to say you made it to the top of an active (but dormant!) volcano.
Composite volcanoes, like Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Brokeoff Volcano, are made up of many layers of lava, pumice, and ash. Brokeoff Volcano, also called Mount Tehama, is ancient and eroded but the highest peak, Brokeoff Mountain, boasts an elevation of 9,235 feet, making it perfect for the adventurous hiker. It's a tougher trail, a 7.4 mile round trip with a lot of elevation gain that will take about 6 hours. Pro tip: the trail is usually too snowy to hike any time before mid-July, so plan accordingly.
For a quieter, more relaxing stay, the St. Bernard Lodge is a rustic bed and breakfast. Awesome features here include an outdoor hot tub with killer views, an onsite restaurant that serves simple but delicious breakfasts as well as lunch and dinner, an old-school lodge-y tavern, and tons more. You can even board your horse here, if you're looking to bring one along for the adventure.
If you're looking for a tasty treat or a way to cool off after a long hike, head to Lassen Gift Company and Soda Fountain. Grab a brownie sundae, a banana split, or a malt, and browse their totally random (but totally unique) gift shop trinkets. The vibe is old-school and super friendly!
California is known for growing awesome wine, and the volcanic soil around Lassen makes for extra special grape-growing conditions. The wine is outstanding, and the tasting room is in a gorgeous setting. It almost feels like it's in Tuscany! Plus, $5 for a few tastings and a souvenir glass is a pretty good deal. Go for something dry and red.
The ideal season for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park is pretty short: usually the roads through the park open in July, when the snow melts, and then snow starts to set in again around October. There are parts of the park that you can visit in the winter, but again, with many roads closed and lots of snow, it can be trickier to navigate. The southern visitor center stays open in the winter, and you can sometimes make it out to Sulphur Works, but it's definitely not a full experience. If you want to get as much hiking in as you can, hold out until August to visit, as snow can stick around until mid-July.