I crave for 3 days weekends in order to take some type of road trip or camping trip that we wouldn’t normally be able to do. This year, we had originally wanted to backpack the Lost Coast. However, Lost Coast recently started a permit system, so after some googling of no quota wilderness permits, I found Lassen Volcanic National Park!
How had I never heard of this incredible park before? It’s like a mini version of Yellowstone here in California. The park is located only 4 hours or so north of San Francisco, and featured 4 types of volcanoes, dozens of alpine lakes, and some cool geothermal springs. It’s a hidden gem that only gets 10% of the visitors of Yosemite, yet has some of the same incredible views.
Knowing there would be heavy traffic on the Friday night before Labor Day Weekend, we picked a campsite about an hour outside the park in Red Bluff. This way, we wouldn’t have to set up our camp in the pitch dark. We grabbed a bunch of snacks from our offices and made a quick Trader Joe’s run before hitting the road. This happened to be the record-high temperature day and it hit 106 in SF (which is unheard of) so seeing temps of 110+ where we would be camping did not look fun. Luckily it had cooled off by the time we got to Red Bluff.
We woke up with the goal to get to the visitor center by 9AM. Even though there are no quotes for the wilderness permits, we still needed to rent a bear canister from the center and I didn’t want them to run out. After our usual McDonald’s breakfast sandwich stop, we made it to the park right on time!
The visitor center is around 30 minutes from where we decided to start our trek – Summit Lake. The plan was to hike 8 miles around the Cluster Lakes to Rainbow Lake for the first night, set up camp, and day hike around 11 miles the 2nd day including climbing Cinder Cone. The 3rd day we would hike quickly out 5 miles and then do a short 3 mile hike to see the geothermal lands of Bumpass Hell.
I should preface this by saying that this was Jack’s first backpacking trip ever and my first backpacking trip in over 5 years. That’s why we were keeping it easy and just day hiking on day #2. We also only had 1 real backpacking pack – I was carry all the food and water in a much smaller day pack. Unfortunately, this meant we underestimated the amount of food we would need…more on that later!
The first part of the trek was through mostly burnt forest with many alpine lakes throughout. Our favorite lake was Silver Lake – found a little spot of shade to eat lunch, and then we decided to jump in! The water was so clear with a great view of Mount Lassen in the background. Jack ended up swimming across the entire lake! We absolutely loved this spot!
After a relaxing break, we continued on a few more miles. A lot of people had set up camp around Lower Twin Lake, but we decided to keep going for Rainbow Lake. The lake is a bit smaller, but we were able to find a perfect campsite with our tent right along the water. We had dinner (pita bread, peanut butter, jelly, and nutella) and jumped back in the water to swim. There ended up being a lot of other people doing teh same and camping nearby, but we managed to find a bit of solitude. The sunset was also gorgeous – check out the view from inside our tent!
Day 2 was going to be hot, so we were very glad to be day hiking. The Cinder Cone, Painted Dunes, and Fantastic Lava Beds are absolutely not to be missed. However, keep in mind you’ll be hiking in black sand with very little tree cover. I was sweating like no tomorrow, and we should have brought more water before we even started the trek up the Cinder Cone.
The sun was beating down, and the last 10 minutes or so uphill was ROUGH! I actually thought I was about to pass out and ended up sitting on the trail for a few minutes. Once we got to the top, I hid under a bush to get some shade for like 20 minutes to restore myself. After that, I was ready to go explore the cinder cone!
After the Cinder Cone, we hiked back down to Stag Lake. We started hearing thunder in the distance, so we decided to make it back as quickly as possible to camp. The rain was teasing us as it would fall quiet drops but we luckily made it back before any major downpour! We at the rest of our pita PB&J&Nutella dinners and watched the rain fall and listened to the thunder from the inside of our tent.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to hike out. It was gorgeous to see the sun rise over the lake, and we had some great views of the mountain. We made it back to the car by 9:30AM.
We made the drive back to the visitor center and stopped to hike to see Bumpass Hell, one of the most active geothermal areas of the park. The hike was pretty easy before a decline down to the springs. It looked like Mars!
Overall, Lassen Volcanic is a hidden gem not too far from San Francisco. I am so glad we had the opportunity to explore over LDW!