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Destination Feature: Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a unique place of hydrothermal wonders, volcanic beauty, and unlimited outdoor recreation.  With towering peaks, crystal blue lakes, thundering waterfalls, and thick forests, this 106,000-acre stunner is located just 45 miles east of Redding in the Shasta-Cascade Mountain region of Northern California.

Lassen is one of the only places in the world that has all four kinds of volcanoes: composite, shield, lava dome, and cinder cone. It was proclaimed a National Park shortly after the towering Lassen Peak volcano blew its top in a series of dramatic eruptions during 1914-1915. Huge lava rock boulders roared down the hillside, a cloud of ash rose 30,000 feet in the air, and volcanic ash fell on places as far away as 200 miles away.  This was one of only two volcanoes, along with Mount St. Helens, to erupt in the continental U.S. during the 20th century.

Lassen Peak, centered in the park and visible from most places throughout, remains one of the largest lava plug dome volcanoes on Earth, and the third-highest peak in this region at 10,457 feet. If you’re seeking the most stunning views in the entire park, hike the strenuous, rocky trail to the summit, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles along the way.

A 30-mile stretch of Highway 89 traverses the middle of the park and will take about an hour to drive without any stops.  Connecting the northwest and southwest entrances of the park, it rises to 8,500 feet elevation at its highest point and is the only route through Lassen. The most popular of Lassen’s delights can be accessed from this twisty, turny highway.

Many come to Lassen to experience its active geothermic oddities. Although the surface is beautiful, the volcanic fire still burns hot three miles beneath, and indicates the potential for further eruptions in the future.  Hydrothermal sites in Lassen include fantastic features such as mud pots, cinder cones and fumaroles with clever and fascinating names like Big Boiler, Devil’s Kitchen, Fantastic Lava Beds, and Fart Gulch.  Even the park’s painted dunes are actually oxidized volcanic ash.

At Lassen, you can view firsthand evidence of Mother Earth’s endless cycles of steaming, hissing, and boiling destruction, and rejuvenation.  Sulphur Works, with the easiest roadside access, leads you to bubbling pots of mud, created by water being super-heated a few miles below and working its way back up under extreme pressure.  The most popular trail, Bumpass Hell, leads to a safe, aboveground boardwalk path set within a 16-acre eroded vent of an extinct dome volcano. 

Creeks, waterfalls, wildflower-filled meadows, and other recreational areas are found throughout, including popular roadside Lake Helen and the King Creek Meadow picnic area. A vast network of hiking trails, from easy strolls to challenging treks, wind throughout the dense forests and amongst multiple high mountain lakes of crystal-clear water. If you are in reasonably good shape, and seeking gorgeous scenery and solitude, consider the Terrace Lakes Trail.  

Unfortunately, much of Lassen fell victim to the largest fire in California history, the 2021 Dixie Fire, which scorched 963,000 acres over three months. In fact, some of the most popular attractions, including Devils Kitchen and Terminal Geyser, may still be closed and inaccessible during your visit; be sure to check their website or ask a Ranger about current closures. And yet, despite the destruction, beauty abounds, and the natural regeneration of the landscape has already begun.

Smaller RVs and campers can stay in the park’s no-hookup campgrounds, while larger rigs or those desiring hookups are better served staying outside the park.  Lassen’s high elevation means that the main road through the park could be opened late or closed early due to weather conditions, and snow can remain on the ground well into the middle of summer. 

Cell service in the park is unreliable and limited, and you would be wise to fill your gas tank before arrival – only one gas station is available, near the north entrance to the park.  Many Lassen visitors suffer altitude sickness, so be sure to drink plenty of water while visiting. Plan accordingly, and you will surely enjoy your journey to – and through! – this unique place of bubbling, burping, steaming wonders and recreation galore!


About the Authors: Tessa and Philip Miller have been RV’ing since 2013 and have visited 42 states in their Fleetwood Southwind RV. Blog:  or Instagram: @charmingrvadventures

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