And there I stood looking into the crater of a dormant volcano. Later that day I cooled off in an alpine lake & roasted marshmallows under millions of twinkling stars.
I’ve been to many National Parks and Lassen quickly become one of my favorites to explore. In this post, I’m sharing all my favorite things to do in Lassen National Park on a weekend visit plus tons of park tips so you can have the best trip possible. Only got one day? Don’t worry – I also highlight how you should spend your day if you’re short on time!
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Things To Do In A Weekend + Massive Guide!
When To Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park has a very short window of time when it’s widely accessible due to all the snow. Hey, it IS a mountainous national park after all! Elevation reaches over 9000 feet in many areas!
The roads open up at different times each summer, depending on the snow level. Usually, this is in July but can run as late as mid-August if the winter was very heavy in snowfall. And, by end of October, the season shuts down again.
SO, the best time to visit Lassen is in the late summer (end of August – September) when it’s guaranteed to be open and warmer. Check the park service website before booking anything to just make sure it’s open + find any additional park updates.
Lassen NP has been on my bucket list for 4 years. Technically I’ve been here before – a friend and I swung by while visiting the nearby Mossbrea Falls and Burney Falls about 4 years ago. BUT, this was in late October and the roads for the park were already closed down for the winter season. We were able to see a (foggy) Manzanita Lake before turning around defeated.
3 Things To Do Before Entering The Park
Lassen is more bare-bones in terms of services compared to places like Yosemite National Park. There’s only one gas station in the whole park and depending on where you are inside, it can take a couple hours to drive there.
There are also only two general stores (at the visitor centers) and also very limited cell service. So, you have to prepare properly before going in! Here’s what to bring:
- Download Google Maps offline since there is no cell service in the park.
- Have a full tank of gas. The park is HUGE and there’s only one gas station at the Manzanita Lake visitor center (that, of course, is very expensive). You’ll run out of gas faster than you think you will. Fill up at the visitor center inside the park entrance, or outside at the towns of Old Station or Mineral.
- Large water jug & water bottles. With the elevation & summer heat, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Most of the campsites have water pumps if you need to refill your jug!
My Favorite Things To Do In Lassen National Park During A Weekend Visit
Now onto my favorite things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park for a weekend visit! You can squeeze many of these things into a weekend trip & I share a recommend weekend itinerary in this section as well to help you plan your days. If you are looking for a one-day itinerary, scroll to the bottom of this post.
See the Hydrothermal Area At Bumpass Hell
The most famous trail in Lassen is Bumpass Hell for the hydrothermal pools that steam and bubble! No, you can’t soak in the hot springs here as these pools of geothermal water can reach above 240 degrees and literally cook you. (Bumpass was a mountaineer who stepped in a pool by accident and lost his leg due to the burns. So, stick to the safety of the trail and boardwalks so you don’t lose your leg!)
This hike is SUPER cool and the one I have been waiting for years to take since it’s been under restoration. The ground at Bumpass Hell is white and the air smells of sulfur. It’s a super unique site as not many national parks contain hydrothermal pools.
The hike is pretty easy, about 2 miles round trip and without too much elevation gain. Start at the parking lot and find the trailhead in the left side corner. It curls up and over the mountain past sweeping views of the valley below and past purple lupine flower fields. Then, downwards to the thermal area. this part has steps that are the only hard part climbing back up when you’re down. It took us about 1.5 hours since we stopped to take lots of photos.
Stop By Lake Helen
Across the road from the Bumpass Hell trailhead is Lake Helen, a good size alpine lake tucked at the base of mountain peaks. No need to move your car from the Bumpass Hell lot, you can simply walk over.
It’s a great place to enjoy a lunch picnic on the shorelines. Or if you are hot from the hike, wade or swim in to cool off, but only if you’re brave! It’s one of the coldest lakes in the park since it’s so high up. The water doesn’t heat up as much as other lakes in Lassen.
Swim at Summit Lake
We camped at Summit Lake which is also open for swimming and it was one of the highlights of our trip! After our big hike on our second day, we brought beers and a blanket over to the Summit Lake shoreline to go swimming for a few hours. I also did a morning swim the next day.
You can have boats here but you are allowed to kayak or paddleboard, which I saw some people doing. Mostly it’s used for swimming or birdwatching. Make sure to bring your swimsuit if you are camping here!
Learn At Devastated Area Interpretive Trail
I was a little unsure about the Devastate Area Interpretive Trail but it turned out to be very educational AND a fun stop in the park. It’s about a half-mile loop filled with signs detailing the history of the park. Lassen Volcanic National Park is named as such because it contains 4 types of volcanos. And, there as a super big eruption in 1915.
Yes – about 100 years ago a volcano in California erupted!! This trail will teach you everything that happened. There’s also cool volcanic rocks here on display, one is as big as a small shed. It takes about 30 minutes to tour.
See A Dormant Volcano at The Cinder Cone Trail
Cinder Cone trail is one of the best hikes in the state of California in my opinion. Where else can you hike up to the crater of a dormant volcano?! Oddly enough this is not my first time hiking up a volcano, but it was Robin’s first time. Bucket list check!
I’m not going to sugar coat it: the hike up is HARD and the drive here is a bit of a pain in the ass but it’s all worth it when you get to stand at the crater of a volcano looking into the center. Cinder Cone Trailhead is at the Butte Lake Campground. It requires leaving the park and circling around it, and then re-entering.
The road down to the campground is on a gravel forest service road that is full of holes and bumps. Our Kia made it but it wasn’t fun and I was worried we’d pop a tire. Just remember to drive slowly! Headsup, there’s no signage that you are in the right place until you arrive closer to Butte Lake and there is no pay station on this entrance of the park but you are required to have paid. So, make sure you head here once you have a week or annual pass purchased already.
The trail is mostly flat until you reach Cinder Cone itself. You’ll pass by the Fantastic Lava Beds which are neat to see up close. The hard part is the trail up the side of the volcano. We turned a corner, spotted it and the first thing that came out of my mouth was “That is so much UP!” It’s a steep trail made of volcanic rock, which is hard to hike up. It’s a lot like hiking up a 700-foot tall sand dune.
Don’t give up! The crater at the top is worth it! Remember to bring enough water and snacks to enjoy at the top. There’s obviously no shade on the side of a volcano so try to do this hike in the morning before it gets too hot. If you are coming for Golden Hour/sunset, budget in more time than you think you need for the hike up and bring flashlights for the hike back.
Spot the Painted Dunes
Literally right next to Cinder Cone are the Painted Dunes, which are small round pumice hills that formed from layers of oxidized volcanic ash. The top of the dunes are red and look like something you’d find on Mars (a lot like the Painted Hills of Oregon!)
You can’t hike in the Painted Dunes to my knowledge, but you can spot them off one side of the top of Cinder Cone. They make a fantastic photo opp! Unfournatley we visited on a morning that wildfire smoke blew in from the August 2020 lightning fires in the state, which obscured our photos a bit. Check out a better photo here.
Bird Watch at Manzanita Lake
Manzanita Lake is beautiful – it’s lined with pine trees and full of marshes, making it a coveted space for local wildlife. We spotted tons of birds during our short stop at the lake on our way out. Park your car at the boat ramp to access a small beach area. There are picnic tables if you want to bring lunch!
At the time of writing this article, the lake currently closed for swimming and wading due to the otters which have attacked past visitors (seriously.) Boating in hard boats, like kayaks, is permitted if you want to get on the water. You can go swimming at other lakes, like Summit Lake!
Stroll Reflection Lake
Leave your car in the Manzanita Lake visitor center parking lot and cross the road to Reflection Lake for an easy hike. It’s under 1-mile round trip, mostly flat stroll around this small lake. It’s famous of having a stunning reflection of Chaos Crags mountain in the water! I bet it’s best to photograph during sunrise or sunset.
Hike to Kings Creek Falls Trail + Kings Creek Meadow
One of the other most popular hikes is Kings Creek Falls Trail. This 2.2 mile round trip trail slowly takes you up around 700 feet to a beautiful large waterfall draped in ferns. BUT, you have to hike a narrow stone staircase to get here. My husband is terribly afraid of heights so we skipped this hike during our visit (but I’m totally hiking this one on my next trip to Lassen!)
We did stop by Kings Creek Meadow (no hike needed!) There’s a small creek that runs through this scenic meadow that makes a great place to pull off to dip your feet in during a hot day.
Hike around Echo Lake
We didn’t get to hike Echo Lake but our campsite neighbors were heading out for a day hike there the morning we left. I now have this hike on my to-do list for our next visit to the park! It’s about 4.4 miles round trip and takes around 3 hours, making it a great day hike to do in the park.
There’s a long trial with Mount Lassen views that ends at Echo Lake, a reportedly bright blue lake that makes for a lovely place to have a post-hike swim or picnic. NOTE: at the time of our visit there was a bear up near Echo Lake that liked to steal hiker’s backpacks as they were swimming, so keep a close eye on your things during this hike!
Hike Hat Creek to Paradise Meadows
This is another hike we didn’t get a chance to go on but we passed the trailhead a few times. The trail is just under 3 miles round trip. It takes you past Hat Creek and to a stunning cliff encompassed meadow. There’s views of a waterfall here. You end at Paradise Meadows which is full of wildflowers complete with stunning mountain backdrops. Come here in late August if you want to find the purple lupine flower fields blooming!
Lassen National Park Weekend Itinerary
Here’s exactly how we spent our weekend in Lassen National Park if you want to copy our itinerary!
- Arrive at Manzanita Lake entrance around Noon & stop by the visitor center to check the notice board for any park news, trail updates, etc.
- Drive to your campsite & set up camp. Check-in time is 1pm in the park.
- Around 3:30pm-4pm head over to Bumpass Hell for a nice evening hike after a long day of driving. This will take you about 1.5-2 hours.
- Pop over to Lake Helen to dip your feet in to cool off after your hike.
- One your way back to your campsite, pull off at Kings Creek Falls meadow.
- Return to your campsite and enjoy dinner!
- Make sure to look up once it gets dark – Lassen is famous for it’s Dark Sky.
- Wake up around 6:30am, make a quick breakfast and get ready for a half-day hike around Cinder Cone Trail!
- Cinder Cone is about 1.5 hour drive from Summit Lake South, and about an hour from Manzanita Lake. Plan to arrive to the trailhead around 9am to avoid the heat of the day.
- Hike up Cinder Cone! We returned to our car around 11:30am. Make sure to bring snacks for the drive back to your campsite.
- One the way back, stop at Old Station to fill up your tank as you’ll probably have used 3/4 of a tank by now.
- Make lunch at your campsite and enjoy a lazy afternoon + evening by the lake!
- If you still have energy, use this afternoon to do another hike (Kings Creek Falls or Hat Creek.)
- Wake up and challenge yourself to a sunrise swim at Summit Lake. Yes, it’s cold, but it feels AMAZING trust me!
- Pack up camp and head over to the Devastated Area to learn about the park history.
- Next, drive over to Manzanita Lake. You can stroll the lake or cross the street to walk around Reflection Lake.
- By now it’ll be around Noon-1pm and time to head home!
Where To Stay In Lassen National Park
There is limited lodging inside Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Camping At Summit Lake
Lassen National Park camping is the way to go in my opinion. You can pick a campsite next to the hikes you want to do and just already be in the park, ready to go. They’re affordable, usually around $20 per night and you can book sites online ahead of time.
We stayed at Summit Lake, which was right next to a stunning lake that you can swim in. It had water pumps, bear lockers, and collecting firewood was permitted (no need to buy pricey firewood at visitor centers! After our camping trip to Big Sur we realized how quickly buying firewood adds up!)
We stayed in E Loop at Summit Lake South, though if I were staying again I’d want to try and snap up one of the lake-front campsites since I spent a lot of time swimming here. (During COVID all the sites are reservable but normally they keep about half for walk-ins if you weren’t able to book online ahead of time.)
Manzanita Lake Cabins
If tent camping isn’t your thing, you can instead book one of the rustic cabins at Manzanita Lake. These are about $75-$100 a night. Unlike the glamping tents at Half Dome Village in Yosemite, these cabins are super bare-bones. They have no electricity but they do offer 4 walls and a roof. It’s a great choice if you are new to camping or visiting Lassen during a colder month.
Manzanita Lake campsites and cabins are also next to the visitor center and general store, which has a little cafe and microwave you can take advantage of. There are showers here, too!
Rim Rock Ranch in Old Station
If possible, I recommend staying inside the park via camping or in one of the cabins as there aren’t many lodging options right outside the park. Redding is about an hour’s drive away which is not practical if you are planning on visiting the park multiple days.
What To Pack For Lassen Volcanic National Park
Most likely you’ll be visiting in the summer or early fall, which means the days will be hot but the evenings will be cooler. As I’ve mentioned before, you’ll need a lot of water to stay hydrated. I can’t stress that enough! Here’s what to pack for a trip into the park:
- Water bottle & water jug
- Hiking boots or hiking shoes for the trails (these are my favorites)
- Bug spray
- Sunscreen (get an eco-friendly brand if you plan on swimming)
- Swimsuit & towel if you want to swim (Summersalt is my favorite swimsuit brand!)
- Hiking outfit (I love this red set from Old Navy)
- Face mask (this gaiter is handy to keep on your neck while hiking)
- Backpack for hiking (we use this one which is versatile for every-day use, too!)
- Snacks & a packed lunch
- Hand lotion (the hand sanitizer at the bathrooms dries my hands out)
- Credit card for the park entry fee
- Sweater for the evenings or cooler days
- Compostable trash bag so you can pack out your trash (we use these)
- Audiobook downloaded. We love listening to audiobooks around the campfire together.
If you are camping, also bring your normal camping gear plus an extra-thick sweater for the night, it does get pretty chilly. The sites have bear lockers so you don’t need to bring anything special for camping in Lassen.
Only Got One Day In Lassen Volcanic National Park? Here’s What To Do!
Short on time? That’s ok! While this park is HUGE and you easily can spend days exploring it, it does make for a nice day trip as well. This is because the two entrances are on the north and south end of the park, making it easy to enter one side, hit up a few spots, and out the other.
Start at Manzanita Lake. Use the restroom here & check the notice board for any important park updates (like if any trails are closed or if bears have been spotted lately.) You can’t currently swim in Manzanita Lake but you can drive over to the boat landing area if you want to walk up to the shoreline.
Next, go across the street to walk around Reflection Lake, which is an easy .6 mile stroll around a small lake that has a beautiful reflection of Chaos Crags in the water! This makes a really nice first hike in the park to get you going.
After, drive about 20 minutes to the Devastated Area to learn all about the eruption in the park and all the different rock types. This is also easy, it’ll take you under 30 minutes to tour but it’s super informative. There are bathrooms here if you need them.
Onto Bumpass Hell hike next! This is one of the most famous and best hikes in Lassen National Park. It’ll take you about 1.5 hours round trip. It’s not too hard and great for all ages.
After your hike, go across the street to Lake Helen to cool off. Either dip your feet or jump in if you have a swimsuit! You can keep your car in the Bumpass Hell parking lot.
And that’s your day trip into Lassen! Exit through Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center & out into the town of Mineral. OR, reverse this itinerary if you are entering from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center side.
I hope this helps you plan an amazing trip to Lassen! I knew this park would be cool but I was so surprised about HOW DANG beautiful this national park is. It’s not one of my top favorites in the country and I hope to visit again next year to do the hikes I couldn’t squeeze in this trip.
If you have any travel tips to add, leave a comment below so everyone can see! Got questions? Drop a comment or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll to help! Enjoy!