Lassen Peak (10,462 ft.) is a volcanic mountain in northeastern California and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. In May 1915 Lassen had a spectacular eruption captured in photos. This California volcano ignited the imagination of Americans. The Lassen Peak area was given National Park status on August 9, 1916.
People tend to think of active volcanoes in the U.S. only in states like Hawaii and Alaska. The Cascade Volcanic Arc in the Pacific Northwest U.S. is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” with dozens of volcanoes in the Cascade mountain range that stretches from Lassen Peak and Mount Shasta in northeastern California to Mt. Baker in northern Washington State and Mount Garibaldi in southern British Columbia.
Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 was the last major volcanic eruption in the Cascades. Lassen Peak and Mount St. Helens have been the only two Cascade major volcanic eruptions in the past century.
Lake Helen (8,200 ft.) below Lassen Peak on a sunny July day.
On the evening of May 14, 1915, incandescent blocks of lava could be seen bouncing down the flanks of Lassen Peak from as far away as the town of Manton, 20 miles to the west.
On May 22, 1915 Lassen Peak violently erupted and sprayed ash for over 200 miles to the east. Lahars from the heavy snowpack carried lava, mud and rocks down the mountainside and devastated a large area around Lassen Peak.
This was the most powerful of eruptions on Lassen Peak between 1914 and 1917. These Lassen Peak eruptions were the last major volcanic activity to occur in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest until Mt. St. Helens blew off its mountainside in the 1980 devastating eruption of that Washington volcano.
Kohm yah-mah-nee means “snowy mountain” in the local American Indian Mountain Maidu language.
Mount Lassen statistically has among the deepest snowpack on April 1 of any location in the Cascade Range. In June 2011 I wanted to drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park, yet the high snowfall of last year still had Highway 89 closed through the park. The snow depth in April 2011 at Lake Helen (8,200 ft.) was 242 inches. The Lassen Loop, CA SR89 road did not open until July 19, 2011 last year. The snow depth this year was below average with only 145 inches April 2012 and Highway 89 through Lassen National Park opened June 2, 2012.
Lassen Peak and the surrounding area is still a volcanic hot spot landscape with active steam vents, hot springs and bubbling hot mud pools around the National Park.
Hydrothermal Area Danger
For your safety, stay on established trails and boardwalks. Ground in hydrothermal areas can look solid but may actually be a thin crust hiding pools of acidic boiling water or mud. Traveling off-trail in these areas may result in severe injury.
Visitors Have Been Injured When Traveling Off-Trail.
- A visitor was severely burned in the summer of 2010 after he traveled off-trail in the Devils Kitchen hydrothermal area. He stated that “It feels like I put my leg in a flame.”
- On May 5, 2012, a visitor was air-lifted to a regional burn unit after stepping off the sidewalk at Sulphur Works. The ground appeared solid, but she easily broke through a one-inch crust, exposing her foot and ankle to boiling acidic water and mud.
Road Trip on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway are highways through the southern Cascades in California and Oregon. The southern section of the Cascades begins at Lake Almanor, California and extends about 300 miles south to north through Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mt. Shasta, the Klamath Basin, Upper Klamath Lake and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
California State Route 89 is the main road traversing Lassen Volcanic National Park.
My road trip approach to Lassen Volcanic National Park from Oroville was a drive along the Feather River Scenic Byway on California State Route 70 to the Highway 89 cutoff from Highway 70 about 11 miles west of the town of Quincy. This is the southern beginning of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.
Indian Valley near Greenville, California.
Maidu Indians historically lived in the Indian Valley. Four American Indian groups lived in the Lassen area with the Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu.
Ishi, the last member of the Yahi Indians, walked into Oroville, California in 1911. He is believed to be the last American Indian in the U.S. to have lived his life entirely out of contact with Euro-American culture. Ishi had spent his life to the age of about 50 living around the Lassen National Park area of California.
The Lassen area is sparsely populated even today. Northeastern California receives the fewest tourists of any other area in California.
Lake Almanor, California seen from Highway 89. Lake Almanor is a reservoir created in 1927 when Great Western Power constructed the Canyon Dam on the north fork of the Feather River. The dam is now owned by Pacific, Gas & Electric, California’s main utility company. There are PG&E managed campsites all around Lake Almanor.
Chester, California on the northwest side of Lake Almanor is the nearest town to Lassen Volcanic National Park for services and lodging. This is one of the small towns in California that exemplifies my occasional comment that Best Western Hotels are often the best hotel choice in the rural towns of California.
Lake Almanor, Chester and Lassen N.P. California on Google Satellite maps.
My first driving lessons on snow and ice as a teenager were in my cousin’s car in Chester, California. Cousin Dave let me drive his car for the day after I dropped him off at work in Chester one frosty morning December 1977. While making a left turn on the street to his house I made a 360 spin into the neighbor’s yard. A few young men sitting on their porch drinking beer laughed hard at my novice ice driving maneuver.
Highway 89 Morgan Summit, elevation 5,750 ft. on approach to southern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park in dense pine forests.
Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Highway 89 southern entrance payment booth to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
- $5 per person (cyclist, hiker)
- $10 per vehicle for 1 to 7 days.
- $25 annual pass to Lassen Volcanic N.P.
- $80 annual pass to all National Parks and federal recreation areas.
The first impression I had upon getting out of my car at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center was the presence of butterflies all around. Within a minute I saw three different kinds of butterflies. Lassen is a special place with a recorded 83 butterfly species in summer.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is the only location in the world to have examples of all four volcano types:
- Plug Dome (Lassen Peak)
- Cinder Cone (Cinder Cone)
- Shield (Prospect Peak)
- Composite (Brokeoff Mountain).
Overlook pullout for Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Highway 89 through Lassen Volcanic N.P. has an elevation range from 5,000 to 8,500 ft. The road is not steep, but there are places with no shoulder and the potential to drive off a cliff if you are not paying attention. Fortunately for photographers there are frequent overlook pull-outs along the road.
Highway 89 Lassen Loop is closed most of the year, typically closing from snow and ice in October/November and reopening sometime from May to July.
Highway 89 routes around Lassen Peak (10,462 ft.) and reaches a high point on the road at 8,512 feet, an elevation within 2,000 feet of the height of the volcano.
Eruptions, rock slides and glaciers have placed rocks in a variety of locations and positions. Brokeoff Mountain in the background.
There is a large parking lot near the road’s high point for the summit trail to Lassen Peak. The 2,000 ft. ascent to the summit of Lassen peak is about a 3 to 5 hour hike from this location on Highway 89. This summer the Lassen Peak trail is being restored and rehabilitated in a major project to construct retaining walls to reduce erosion along the switchback trail. The Lassen Peak summit trail is only open for hikers this summer August 2-5, Aug 31-Sep 3 and Sep 28-30.
Elevation 8,000 ft. marker on Highway 89 in old growth Jeffrey Pine forest.
The remoteness of Lassen Volcanic National Park and the early date the park was protected as a National Monument and then a National Park between 1907 and 1916 result in some of the largest tracts of old growth forest remaining today in California.
Weather has the potential to change rapidly in the mountains. After about three hours driving and walking in the park, the skies had clouded over by the time I exited the north side of Lassen Volcanic National Park on Highway 89. The 33 mile drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park takes one hour of driving time. There are miles of trails at various hiking levels from easy to strenuous and several lakes and meadows near the road.
Mt. Shasta under cloudy July skies seen from Highway 89 north of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Highway 89 traverses the Hat Valley north of Lassen Peak and miles and miles of pine forest with views of Mt. Shasta (14,179 ft.) before connecting to the town of Mt. Shasta (115 miles north from Lassen Peak) at Interstate 5.
Mt. Shasta is the 5th highest mountain in California and the second highest peak in the Cascade Range behind Mt. Rainier, Washington.
Mount Shasta seen from California Highway 97 looking southwest on a more typically clear summer day during my drive back from Oregon to Monterey.
Lassen Dark Sky Festival August 10-13, 2012
There will be a series of astronomical lectures taking place at Lassen National Park. Details are scarce on the Lassen N.P. website at this time.
Ric Garrido, writer and content owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.