California’s Lassen Volcanic Park includes just over 106,000 acres of volcanoes, lava beads, smoking fumaroles and boiling mudpots along with virgin forests, mountain meadows, clear lakes, cool streams and waterfalls.
All four types of volcanoes — plug dome, shield, cinder cone and composite/strato— are located within the park boundaries.
Prior to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Lassen Peak had the distinction of being the most recent volcano in the lower 48 states to experience an explosive eruption. Possibly the largest plug dome volcano in the world, Lassen Peak is the biggest of more than 30 volcanoes that have erupted over the past 300,000 years in this area.
Celebrating it’s 100 anniversary as a National Park on May 16, 2016 the area was first protected from logging by being declared Lassen Peak Forest Reserve in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Continuing efforts at preservation resulted in President Roosevelt declaring Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone as national monuments on May 6. 1907. It was a series of eruptions beginning in 1914 that brought the area national attention with President Woodrow Wilson signing a congressional bill establishing Lassen Volcanic National Park — 15th national park in the U.S. — on August 9, 1916.
A Wired Magazine article published 12/3/2014 about an ongoing study explains how zircon crystals record activity of magma under Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags going back over 600,000 years including eruptions 100 and 200 times larger than the 1915 event.
Lassen Volcanic National Park pictures
Lassen Peak (10457ft/2811m) is the highest point in the park and records the most snowfall in California averaging 660 inches. This photo was shot from CA State Route 44 north of the park.
A series of photographs, captured by Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Loomis on glass plate negatives, chronicled the 1914 – 1915 Lassen Peak eruptions and aftermath. An advocate for formation of Lassen Volcanic National Park, Loomis promoted the idea and donated land, a museum and seismograph station to the park in 1929.
Artifacts and photographs are viewable at the Loomis Museum and Visitor Center near the north entrance station not far from the intersection of CA 44 and CA 89. CA 89 provides the main access to Lassen Volcanic NP, Sections of the road are closed in winter.
Lake Manzanita is visible from the north entrance station. An access road, just beyond the Loomis Museum, takes you to the parks main campground with tent camping, RV sites and cabins with nearby store, restrooms, showers and laundry.
An short walk from the campground and cabins, one of the easiest hiking trails in the park circles Manzanita Lake.
Lassen Peak is reflected in the lake when viewed from the north end — a good spot to be at sunset.
A smaller body of water, Reflection Lake, across CA 89 from Manzanita Lake offers additional easy hiking opportunities.
Chaos Crags (8530ft, 2592m)— a group of lava domes formed 1,100 years ago — reflect in the calm water of the lake.
We will continue south on CA 89 later, but first I'd like to jump to the the northeastern corner of Lassen Volcanic National Park for some pictures of the volcano that generated early enthusiasm for preserving this area prior to the 1914 – 1915 Lassen Peak eruptions. Six miles south of CA 44 on a dirt road (well maintained but dusty) a NPS maintained campground and parking area indicate you’ve reached Butte Lake, Cinder Cone, the Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes.
Cinder Cone (you guessed it — a cinder cone or scoria cone type of volcano) was formed by eruptions around 1650 although it appears to be more recent for a number of reasons.
Cinder Cone, Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes
Several trails through a mature forest of well spaced fir and pine trees lead from the parking lot to Butte Lake, Prospect Peak, Cinder Cone and beyond.
The trail to Cinder Cone first passes Butte Lake, a body of water that formed when lava poured out of the side of Cinder Cone to produce the Fantastic Lava Beds. The south side of the lake is formed by this lava bed.
A launch area just off the parking area and trail to Cinder Cone makes it easy to launch non-motorized watercraft to explore the lake and wall of lava on the south and west shore.
The Cinder Cone Trail follows the edge of the Fantastic Lava Beds for a mile or more. I added a flash to this early morning shot to illuminate the nearest jagged and jumbled lava blocks piled up to 100 feet high and lacking vegetation other than lichen.
Before long Cinder Cone can be glimpsed through the trees. This trail is actually a section of the Nobles Emigrant Trail — a shortened route for emigrant parties from the eastern U.S. to northern California discovered by William Nobles in 1851.
As you exit the tree line Cinder Cone (6907ft, 2105m), and the trail up the north side rise 700 feet directly ahead. You have been walking in volcanic ash (sometimes covered with pine needles) for a mile or so — a little like walking in loose sand at the beach. It will get much harder going as you climb the cinder cone volcano because of the loose scoria underfoot.
As you stop to catch your breath halfway up look to the left to see Butte Lake and the north end of the Fantastic Lava Beds.
Once you reach the top you’ll see that this is one small section of the lava.
Look in the other direction (west) and you will see Lassen Peak near the western side of the park.
From the top of the lightly vegetated volcano you will see a second rim inside the outer rim
with an inverted cone in the center. Trails circle both rims and another trail leads into the center.
Click on the image above to view a larger version of this panorama.
Looking down from the inner rim you can see into the dormant volcano. A trail leads several hundred feet to the bottom.
Lassen Peak, which can be seen above the outer rim, is about 10 miles west.
A second trail down the south side of Cinder Cone affords great views of the Painted Dunes (volcanic ash), Fantastic Lava Beds and Snag Lake. As you reach the bottom you will pass over the origin of the lava flow. In order to to reach the trail back to Butte Lake you will have to circle around the north west side of Cinder Cone but the additional views are well worth the effort.
Driving the main road through Lassen Volcanic National Park
We return now to CA 89 Scenic Highway, the main route through Lassen Volcanic NP and continue south from Manzanita Lake and the North Entrance Station. These photos were shot in early June, just after the road opened for the 2013 season.
Devastated Area Interpretive Trail
The 1914 – 17 eruptions at Lassen Peak were some of the first volcanic eruptions to be extensively photographed.
A short, level trail with interpretive plaques describing the devastated area — many illustrated with B.F. Loomis’ photos — is located 9.7 miles from the northwest entrance and has picture perfect views of Lassen Peak.
The large rock in the above photo was once part of the dome on Mount Lassen.
Compare this photo to the before and after photos (2nd & 3rd photos) in this USGS Fact Sheet on the Lassen Peak eruptions.
You’ll see that the area has recovered to what it looked like before the devastation. One reason the Devastated Area is being studied today is to help predict how quickly the area around Mount St. Helens will recover.
These lava rocks cooled from the outside in causing them to fracture and break into pyramid-like shapes.
Like a puzzle they could be reassembled into their original configuration.
After viewing this rock, and its interpretive plaque, on the trail you will probably recognize it as similar to one in the parking lot.
An early morning photo of Lassen Peak shot from the Interpretive Trail.
Chaos Crags (8530ft, 2592m), to the right (north) of Lassen Peak, also shot in early morning from the Interpretive Trail.
Exiting the parking lot I was presented with this view of Reading Peak (8701ft, 2652m).
It‘s no wonder they call CA 89 a Scenic Highway.
Hat Lake (intermittent) and west fork of Hat Creek are just down the road.
The Paradise Meadows Trail begins across the street from the Hat Lake parking lot.
The photo above is a telephoto shot from about a mile up the trail and may be the western flank of Lassen Peak.
As the road continues south and climbs toward Lassen Peak several scenic panoramas are reveled.
Points of interest in the photo above include Crater Butte (7267ft, 2215m), Pilot Mountain (7175ft, 2187m),
Horseshoe Lake and Saddle Mountain (7638ft, 2328m).
The combination of snow, rocks, trees and clouds make for beautiful scenery.
Compare the midday shot above to the warmer tones of the early morning photo below.
This is the area known as Upper Meadow with Lassen Peak in the background. Not shown in the photo is the foot deep snow I crossed to take this picture or more snow along the creek just out of the image on the left. You can see a bit of snow in the trees.
This panorama with a woman photographing kids jumping a stream in the Upper Meadow was shot
about 13 1/2 months after the photo above it. The winter of 2013–14 was much dryer than the previous winter.
Compare Lassen Peak on the left in the pano with the amount of snow on the mountain in the earlier photo.
The Lassen Peak parking lot is near the highest point on CA 89 — 8512ft, 2594m.
A trail to the top of Lassen Peak (10457ft, 3187m) begins here.
Continuing south and beginning your descent you quickly come to Lake Helen.
Brokeoff Mountain on the left is the highest remaining remnant of Mount Tehama — a stratovolcano that
reached 11000ft, 3350m in height. Hydrothermal activity and glacial erosion removed the central core leaving a large caldera.
Other remnants of Mount Tehama visible above are Mount Diller (9087ft, 2770m) and Pilot Pinnacle.
Lassen Peak, out of the picture to the right, is on Mount Tehama’s northeastern flank.
A telephoto shot of Pilot Pinnacle (8886ft, 2708m).
Another remnant of Mount Tehama, Diamond Peak (7968ft, 2429m) above in a photo from the Bumpass Hell parking lot.
Diamond Peak is near what was the center of ancient Mount Tehema (Brokeoff Volcano) which towered thousands of feet above.
Bumpass Hell is the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic NP. This early in the season the trail was snow covered and not yet open so I continued south to Sulfur Works where the boiling mudpot above was steaming away.
A telephoto shot captures the interesting shapes formed by boiling mud at Sulfur Works which got its name from efforts to mine sulfur in this area. The smell of rotten eggs is strong here where you can also view fumaroles and other geothermal features.
With a storm brewing I made a quick stop for this photo of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center just inside
the south entrance before heading home. The next essay, from a later visit, begins here and covers
Lassen’s largest hydrothermal area with more info about Mount Tehema.
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