Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park (with Kids)

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of California’s least visited parks. It is located about 5 hours north of the Bay Area, 3 hours north of Sacramento and 1.5 hours east of Redding. It’s location is most of the reason it is less visited than other parks and the fact that it is covered in snow for much of the year. With many of its trails only open from July-Oct, it’s tough to get a visit in when the park is fully operating.

Lassen National Park with kidsEven with the difficulties of visiting, what awaits you is California’s version of Yellowstone, a boiling, bubbling volcanic dreamland. A park dedicated to its volcanic history, it has 4 types of volcanos all in one place as well as sulphur steam vents, boiling mud pots and stunning views over the surrounding areas. Furthermore, it provides a vast network of trails through forest landscapes, around lakes and up volcanic peaks with some even connecting to the Pacific Crest Trail.

In short, Lassen Volcanic National Park is mesmerizing and should be on everyone’s California wish list.

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What to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another. — John Muir

This quote from John Muir is so apt when speaking about Lassen. A volcanic eruption in 1866 from a cinder cone volcano formed the shape we see today. Additionally, lava shot out of the base of one of the many volcanos that have erupted here, creating massive lava beds throughout the area. These destructive forces have created a beautiful landscape filled with bubbling mud pots, waterfalls and forests scattered with black lava rocks.

Explore the Visitor Center & Loomis Museum

Exploring Lassen volcanic National Park with kidsLassen Volcanic National Park is divided into two main areas essentially, the southwest entrance where the main visitor center, Kohm Yah-mah-nee, is housed and the north entrance by Manzanita Lake. If the highway through Lassen is open its nice to start at the south end and work your way up to the north.

The two visitor centers at either end of the park provide guests with an overview of the park as well as information on which trails are open and snow free.

Things to do at Lassen Volcanic National Park - Visitor Centers!The park video can be seen at both centers, however we highly recommend making time to explore the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center as it has several hands on interactive exhibits as well as a great deal of information on the history of the park.

The Loomis Museum at the north entrance is called a museum as it doesn’t have quite the exhibits as the other center. We also heard that it may soon be going under a renovation to return it to an art gallery that it once was. So stay tuned.

Earn Your Junior Ranger Badge

Junior ranger badge at Lassen National ParkAs we recommend at every park, pick up the junior ranger booklet to earn your badge. The booklet here is actually pretty involved and includes an additional worksheet at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center that can take quite a bit of time. Make sure to set time aside!

The park offers either a patch or a wooden badge. My son opted for the wooden badge but kept wondering what other work he could do to also get the patch!

Hiking at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hiking at Lassen Volcanic National Park with kidsThere are over 150 miles of trails in Lassen National Park, with quite a few great easy hikes for families as well as some more strenuous ones for just the grownups. Some of the family friendly hikes include:

  • Manzanita Lake Loop Trail – 1.5 miles
  • Devastated Area Interpretive Trail – .5 miles
  • Lily Pond Nature Trail – .75 miles
  • Boiling Springs Lake – 1.8 miles
  • Crystal Lake – .8 miles
  • Cold Boiling Lake – 1.4 miles
  • Bumpass Hell Trail –  3 miles (CLOSED FOR 2018 SEASON)

Learn About the Hydrothermal Activity in the Park

Hydrothermal mud pot at Lassen National ParkOne of the coolest aspects of Lassen is the live evidence of volcanic activity still happening today, 100 years after the last eruption. From boiling mud pots to steam vents and fumaroles, Lassen has it all. To check these out, head to Sulfur Works, Bumpass Hell or Devils Kitchen.

The Bumpass Hell trail was the hike I was most looking forward to checking out, but unfortunately it is closed for the 2018 season for refurbishment. When it is open, it provides the best examples of hydrothermal activity in the park. Make sure to stay on the wooden path as you do not know what awaits you below!

Experience Manzanita Lake

Manzanita Lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park with kidsManzanita Lake is a must visit in Lassen National Park. It’s the main symbol on all graphics you will see of the park, so you can’t miss it! The lake is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll, picnic lunch or even frolicking in the water.

The 1.5 mile easy flat trail winds around the lake providing beautiful views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags. This trail offers opportunities for animal spotting as well – keep your eyes open for ducks, geese and the occasional muskrat or beaver.

If walking around the lake isn’t enough, you can rent kayaks at the Manzanita Camp Store and head out onto the placid lake for some fun.

Take an Auto Driving Tour

Snow play at Lassen Peak at Lassen Volcanic National Park

One of few national parks where you can play in the snow in the summer!

A good way to see all of the park while going from one end to the other is to pick up the Road Guide to Lassen National Park at either visitor center. Along the 30 miles of highway, you will see sign markers for different points on your map. This provides much better insight into what you are actually looking at as you drive by! The drive takes you by the Sulphur Works, Bumpass Hell Overlook, Lassen Peak Viewpoint, Kings Creek Meadow and so much more. This self guided drive booklet is great to have even if you don’t intend to stop at each marker.

Night Sky Program

The Dark Skies program at Lassen National park is one of the best summer eventsLassen is known for its dark skies which makes it’s yearly program in July or August quite popular. If you are into astronomy, this is the time to visit. Park rangers and astronomers hold special programs, presentations and hikes providing constellation tours and star gazing opportunities. The 2018 program will be held from August 3-4. Book accommodation well in advance as this is very popular here at Lassen as well as Whiskeytown National Recreation Area where they also hold events.

Lassen National Park Lodging

Lassen National Park LodgingIf you wish to stay inside the park itself, your options for lodging are limited to camping or glamping. If camping isn’t your thing, there are a few noteworthy spots to check it out if you don’t feel like roughing it inside the park.

Camping at Lassen National Park

There are a great deal of tent camping sites located at Lassen National Park including spots for RV camping. Campgrounds are open from June until the snow closure which is typically in October. There are over 200 camping spots located throughout the park, however they do fill up quickly during the peak summer months.

Manzanita Lake Cabins

The only accommodation option within the park are the camping cabins located at Manzanita Lake. Each cabin has two rooms, one room with a futon, a small table and two chairs. The other room has two sets of bunk beds with mattresses. While there is electricity, there are no bathrooms inside the cabins nor is bedding provided. This is a great compromise between camping and a hotel – a perfect glamping experience!

Drakesbad Guest Ranch

Drakesbad Guest Ranch is located on the southern end of Lassen near the town of Chester. The Drakesbad has the feel of a dude ranch without the dudes! Think a rustic lodge with wood furniture, a pool and lots of activities like fishing, horseback riding and nightly s’mores roasted over a campfire. The ranch is open form early June until early October and reservations are a must.

Best Western Rose Quartz in Chester

If you need something with the comfort of home that is budget friendly, check out the Best Western Rose Quartz Inn in Chester which is on the south side of the park. Free continental breakfast included and across the street from the local Frosty’s where you can get a mean ice cream and hamburger!

Redding

If you want to have a home base for your visit in UpState California, considering staying in Redding. Approximately 1.5 hours from Lassen it allows you to visit for the day and return to city living for the night. Most of the hotels are chain hotels, but we loved our spacious digs at the TownePlace Suites.

Tips on Visiting Lassen Volcanic National ParkTips on Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park

  • The highway through Lassen opens at a different time every year depending on the snow levels. Some years it has opened in July while in 2018 it opened on Memorial Day weekend. Plan your trips in accordingly.
  • The only gas station near the park is at the Manzanita Lake Camping store. Amazingly, prices are not too much higher than outside the park.
  • The weather at Lassen National Park is generally 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding areas. Dress accordingly.
  • Cell service is almost non-existent inside the park. If you need to meet up with friends, plan in advance where to go.
  • WiFi is available at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
  • Be bear aware as there are about 30 bears in the park. Bear lockers are provided at campsites.
  • Be aware of symptoms of altitude sickness like headache, dizziness, nausea, etc. There are areas of the park that exceed 8,000 feet and more.

Nature is always at work, building, creating and destroying one form out of another and there is no better place to witness this beauty than at Lassen National Park. Created as a National Park in 1916, it is well deserved of it’s status as one of the oldest parks in the system. Make your way to Northern California for a view into this amazing park.

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Exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park with kids is one of the best places to go in the summer for snow play, learning about volcanos and exploring nature.

Thank you VisitCalifornia, Visit Redding and Shasta Cascade for hosting us during our visit. We had an amazing time. All thoughts and opinions here are my own and are not influenced by the hosts.

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