Volcanoes Galore: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen holds a rich landscape full of coniferous forests and vast mountain slopes.  Fascinatingly, all four types of volcanoes exist within its borders: cinder cone, shield, composite, and plug dome.  We summited two of the four types on our visit in September.


At camp – Lassen National Forest

Lassen is a little known wonder. Thermal features, mountains, volcanoes, forests: Lassen has everything except crowds.  I unfortunately came down with a stomach bug while we were there, which trampled our plans to hike in the backcountry.  However, for once we didn’t need to go to the backcountry to find solitude. We camped at a free national forest site outside the park and went on many day hikes.


A view of the thermal features above Drakesbad Guest Ranch – Lassen Volcanic National Park

First we explored Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area in the park.  We took the long way there, passing Cold Boiling Lake, where you can evidently see gas bubbles rising to the surface.  (We saw none).  Still, this extended hike gave us our first glimpse of just how majestic the landscape of Lassen is. From the lake, we climbed a hill and were granted sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.


On the Hike to Bumpass Hell – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Our route culminated with a boardwalk through colorful sulfates, mud pots, and boiling springs, all showing that Lassen is still a volcanically active place!


Overlooking Bumpass Hell – Lassen Volcanic National Park


Close-up of sulfates – Bumpass Hell

The next day, we climbed one of the four types of volcanoes: the cinder cone. Cinder cone volcanoes form when lava erupts high into the air from a single vent, shattering and hardening in midair and falling as cinders.  Those cinders land around the vent, building a circular cone, and often leaving a crater in the center.


Approaching Cinder Cone – Lassen Volcanic National Park

I enjoyed the Jeffrey pines we saw on our pleasant hike to the volcano.


Jeffrey Pines – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Once we reached it: pleasantries quickly ended as the trek up the cone was extremely difficult: cinders are even harder to walk up than sand is.  Halfway up, however, we were granted views of Lassen Peak.


View of Lassen Peak from Cinder Cone – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Once we reached the top, we looked over into the crater, seeing a path leading down into it. We decided at once that we had to go down to the bottom of the crater.


Atop the Cinder Cone – Lassen Volcanic National Park


Stephanie at the bottom of the crater – Cinder Cone

We then circled down around the other side of the cinder cone, where we explored what they call the Painted Dunes, made up of older lava flows.


Overlooking the Painted Dunes – Cinder Cone

On the following day, we decided to tackle yet another type of volcano: Mount Harkness, the shield volcano.  Shield volcanoes are built up of fluid lava, which spreads out gradually, resulting in a wide and steady slope. This day turned out to be very foggy and overcast: but we didn’t let this stop us. We followed the trail up through beautiful woodland. Eventually, we neared the peak, and at this point, the thick fog gave the hillside a spooky ambiance.


Hiking up Mount Harkness – Lassen Volcanic National Park

The manned lookout at the top didn’t even come into view until we were 50 feet in front of it! As we approached the lookout, we saw the attendant waving vigorously at us from within.  We climbed the steps and he welcomed us, exclaiming “What’s wrong with you all? I didn’t think I’d see anyone up here on a day like today!”  Dave turned out to be an amazing conversationalist, showing great enthusiasm for the park and for his job.  Though we couldn’t see much of the view on this foggy day, whenever the fog lifted, he would point out the unveiled landmarks.


A view through the fog – Mount Harkness summit


Stephanie learning how to monitor fires – Mount Harkness Lookout

He taught us all about fire monitoring, and filled us with interesting facts, such as that Edward Abbey not only used to man the lookout, but also wrote Desert Solitaire here!  We were sad to leave the warm, hospitable lookout, but there was yet another hike we wanted to complete on this day. Alas, we said our parting words and hoped to run into Dave some day in the future.  By the time we left, the fog had cleared enough to get a decent photo of the lookout.


Fire Lookout – Mount Harkness

We then drove 25 miles along mostly dirt roads to Warner Valley, where we planned to hike to Devil’s Kitchen. Upon arrival, the rain started falling. We almost cancelled our hike, but decided that after this long drive, we would suck it up and hike in the rain!  After all, our raincoats had not seen nearly enough use on this trip. The wet hike to Devil’s Kitchen was well worth the effort.

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Devil’s Kitchen – Lassen Volcanic National Park


Devil’s Kitchen – Lassen Volcanic National Park

We had the eerie place to ourselves.  There was a loop around the thermal features, from which we viewed the steam vents and boiling springs. The steam from the Devil’s Kitchen combined with the fog added to the spooky theme of the day.

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The trail above Devil’s Kitchen – Lassen Volcanic National Park

On our last day, we drove to the visitor center, hoping to climb more volcanoes (namely Lassen Peak). Lassen Peak is a plug dome volcano, meaning that it was formed by a non-explosive flows of lava over time. These flows are often followed by explosive eruptions. Lassen Peak erupted multiple times between 1914 and 1920.   Unfortunately, when we arrived at the south visitor center, we learned that the road to Lassen Peak was closed on this day. The adventurous part of me was crushed, but the lazy part of me was happy to be on our way. Still, I was sad to leave the wonders of Lassen behind.

If you are interested in learning about volcanoes and spending time in secluded wilderness, I suggest visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park: you won’t regret it!  Just make sure to climb Mount Harkness and say hello to Dave!

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