If one day someone asks me what my two favorite California National Parks are, I would say Lassen and Redwoods. No, not Yosemite – that is amazing but always busy, sometimes way too busy to be enjoyable. Not Death Valley, which is though very likable but still is a desert that is deadly half of the year. And not Pinnacles, or Sequoia, or Kings Canyon, or the Channel Islands. There are a lot of reasons why I prefer these two. They never disappoint. They always have something new. And also I feel relaxed and almost at home there.
In my five years in California, I was 3 times in Lassen, two times in the last two years. Each visit, we tried to explore new corners and features of the park. And below, I would describe the locations that are the main park attractions and my favorites.
This guide is built around Hwy 89 that goes through the park. And I would describe locations as you pass them from Southern park Entrance to the North.
Mill Creek Falls
We hiked to this falls in our most recent visit. This moderate 1.8 miles one-way trail leads to the waterfall and bridge over it. It passes several meadows and crosses a creek. We visited in August and still got beautiful wildflowers, but this year was cold, and summer came late.
Mill Creek Falls are the highest waterfall in the park. The downside of this hike is there is no way to get closer to the falls, and there are only a few good observation points.
I would suggest hiking it during mid-summer so the trail would have wildflowers; otherwise, if you have limited time, better to skip it.
Bumpass Hell is one of the areas that is a must-see. It’s the largest hydrothermal area and has fantastic views. The place is accessible via the 1.5 miles trail. The parking lot could fill very quickly during the summer. However, the area could also be visited via the 5.2 miles Cold Boiling Lake trail from Kings Creek Picnic Area (however also could be busy). Try to visit late or very early in the day.
I think that hike to the top of Lassen Peak is one of the todo activities not only in Lassen National Park but in California. Lassen Mountain is the southernmost active volcano in Cascades mountains. Also, it erupted very recently in 1915.
The trail is challenging because of the elevation change. It’s 2.5 miles one way with 2000 foot elevation change. Almost immediately from the trail start, you will have excellent views, which will make the hike more enjoyable.
Lake Helen and Kings Creek Meadow
Lake Helen is one of the most photogenic in the park. Situated close to the Lassen Peak, the lake is a great place to rest after the hike. During our first visit, the lake was warm enough to swim. However, the last time it’s still had snow around it.
Kings Creek Meadow is another photogenic area that has a beautiful view of Lassen Peak with the creek and meadow as a foreground.
Kings Creek Falls
If Mill Creek Falls are the highest in the park, Kings Creek Falls are the most beautiful. There are two trails to the falls that could be combined in the loop. The longer is more easy and shorter is steeper.
The hike itself is very scenic, it starts from the meadow that is covered with wildflowers in summer and eventually comes towards the creek. Around a mile from the trailhead, there are lovely cascades on the creek, which are a great place to rest if the day is hot.
The hike ends at the overlook at the top of the falls. However, there is away to the base of them. It’s tricky, and if you not sure in your skills – don’t do it.
Now we get to my favorite place in the park, and one of the absolute favorites in California. Lassen Peak and Castle Craggs are reflected in the water of Manzanita Lake, which makes the place stunning!
There is an easy 1.5 miles trail around the lake. The best views of the peak and the lake are near the Loomis Museum and west of it.
I found the lighting better in the mornings though sunsets are also perfect here. Both are ideal times if you want to see wildlife there.
You can rent a kayak in summer and explore the lake from the water. Or bring your fishing stick.
Manzanita Lake Cabins and Campground
Manzanita Lake is also a place of the best campground in the park. We stayed in the cabins, there are several of them that you could book online though you should do it well in advance.
Cinder Cone and Painted Dunes
Lassen National Park has several separate parts. The Butte Lake section is famous because of Fantastic Lava Fields and 4 miles round trip trail to Cinder Cone.
The trail starts from the lake and follows dark lava rocks that eventually open the view towards the red cone. From that place, the easy trail becomes hard and starts the climb towards the top. The sandy path becomes another challenge.
On the right day, you could see Lassen Peak from the top of the Cinder Cone. Also, you could get a good look over Painted Dunes from here. You could walk down and proceed with the exploration of them from the ground, or return the same way.
Actually, not a part of the park, Subway Cave is a great place to explore on the way between Cider Cone and central section of the park.
It’s a lave tube of one-third of the mile with several caves in it. It’s a fantastic place to explore, especially if you have never been to the cave.
Bring a flashlight because it’s very dark inside.
Info and links
- Closest to Lassen NP big town is Redding (47 miles or about one hour drive), the nearest international airport is in Sacramento (280 miles, ~3h drive). Distance from San Francisco is ~240 miles.
- Before every visit, check the conditions at the official site of Lassen National Park. Winter closes roads and facilities.
- Links to the trails descriptions on alltrails.com:
- If you want to stay at Manzanita Lake, visit recreation.gov to book a campsite. If you’re going to stay in the cabin, you need to book it on LassenLodging.com. Also there you can book a stay at Drakesbad Guest Ranch.