Keith's been talking up Lassen for months now, but we had no idea what we were getting into. Lassen is a National Park that nobody I know has ever visited, nor do they have any idea what's there, other than a former volcano, nor do they know where it's located (southeast of Redding—now you know). I, until recently, was one of those people. The park's motto, Explore the Undiscovered, is apt. [Update: turns out a friend has been to Lassen, twice, but she never told me, so the above paragraph still stands.]
But now I know more than most because we ended up visiting the park twice in two weeks, due to my losing my camera (at Lake Helen, one of many volcanically formed lakes) during the first visit. A kind, honest camper found it and turned it in, anonymously, so to you, whoever you are, THANK YOU. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I had no idea I was so attached to my little orange Canon PowerShot until I lost it, full of Lassen photos (and videos—this tiny camera also takes decent video), so we appreciate your turning it in to the lost & found. Note: if your lost item ends up in a National Park lost & found, the park will mail it to you—our tax dollars at work. But I felt the need to retrieve my camera, due to its delicate nature. Plus, visiting Lassen again—worth it.
First, a visit to nearby McCloud and Burney Falls. We're waterfall aficionados, having lived by so many of them in SW Washington state, but California is experiencing one of its worst droughts in a century, so we didn't think we'd get much of a waterfall experience any time soon. Wrong! Burney Falls is fed by underwater springs so potent, they never dry up. They form a sort of geological sandwich between layers of Earth's crust. That's right—water counts as a layer, at least around Burney. Look at all this water...
That's a lot of water. Watch out for falling rocks on your way down to the cool, cool pools, bridges and trails below.
|We did see a gigantic boulder in the middle of the road, but not on this hike|
McCloud has a three-tier waterfall and you can swim at two of its levels. We chose not to, but plenty of people were taking the McCloud plunge and they looked happy and refreshed. Not as spectacular and mind-blowing as Burney, but worth a stop, especially with little kids, older people, or people with decreased mobility. You can park at one of three lots, or walk the trail up and down. A very convenient waterfall experience.
|McCloud is a pothole fall—look at all these potholes|
|Tiny dot in the pool is a swimmer|
Our stay in Burney was uneventful, and that's good for a motel by the road. There's also lots of cabins and campsites available throughout the area, but we wanted to crash and shower easily and efficiently after a long day on the road and several hikes.
What's in Lassen? Before you enter the north side, if you crave traveling through a thousands-year-old lava tube, stop by Subway Cave. It's a cave that's very much like a subway tunnel, with former lava chunks dotting your path. It's also really cool in there, temperature-wise—perfect on a hot day. You go in and pop out a third of a mile away. Happy lava travels.
Pack your bathing suits because there's plenty of lakes in the park. Pristine, glass-like, volcanically formed lakes full of various shades of blue-green water. So refreshing.
|Summit Lake - drive right up and jump in, no hiking necessary|
|Rain in the sunshine at Summit Lake|
A three-hour round-trip hike will reward you with three mountain lakes—Terrace, Shadow and Cliff (we didn't get to Cliff due to time constraints and a kid who hates hiking). Why are there three beautiful, swimmable lakes so close together in one mountainous area? Because it's that kind of park.
|Terrace Lake - a 15-minute hike downhill through the woods|
|Shadow Lake - ten minutes from Terrace Lake|
Then there's Lake Helen, just off the main road. This is where I dropped my camera and we drove off, not realizing it was missing for a few miles. Oh, the anxiety! This is another, park-and-swim lake. Just lakes everywhere you go, as if we were in Minnesota or something.
|Lassen peak in the background|
Devastated Area Interpretive Trail has plenty of volcanic background story and gigantic tossed rocks from the last huge volcanic explosion of 1915. Anyone can do this walk. It's flat, short and paved.
Plenty of mountain peaks throughout your journey. Plus July is the month for wildflowers. We had no idea. We just stumbled upon all these flowers, especially on the hike to Kings Creek Falls, which starts on a hillside before heading toward multiple meadows with the creek flowing throughout the trail before you get to the falls.
|We were actually lost when I found this columbine - very Alice in Wonderland|
|Kings Creek Falls - it's not the biggest during a drought year, but still quite nice|
For something completely different and inarguably weird, head down to Bumpass Hell. Named after a guy named Bumpass, who had dreams of sulphur-mining glory before falling into the boiling hot streams running throughout the area and getting his leg amputated as a result, Bumpass Hell is not a typical hiking destination. We did it at the end of a busy day and we were TIRED. The elevation of the park had something to do with our energy levels. We were walking over rocky, steep terrain at around 8,000 feet, so plan for that.
Still, I'm very glad we got to Bumpass because, just look at it. It smells like rotten eggs. That's what you want at the end of your day. There's boardwalks throughout the area so you won't hurt, maim or kill yourself once you get to the smoking fumaroles, which hiss and shoosh loudly as you approach, adding to your Dante's Inferno-like experience. Plus there's boiling mud. BOILING MUD, I tell you!
|Signs warn to stay on the boardwalk or risk serious injury or death|
|Not a place for the overly anxious|
|A roaring fumarole - what more could you want?|
|A nearby algae-filled stream|
|This little bird is hopping in the green stream like it's no big thing|
Sometimes you just can't do a hike but you want to see some boiling mud and hydrothermal activity. You can drive right up to the Sulphur Works near the south entrance to the park and walk along the sidewalk for crazy otherworldly sights.
I found this interesting (besides the fact that I was staring at a large pool of rapidly boiling mud by the side of the road)—this branch in the mud had weird hieroglyphic-like markings from being boiled. At least I saw imagery in it. Do you?
|Jean-Michel Basquiat-like hydrothermal art?|
On the other side of the road is a deep valley with a stream (of course) and lots of steam coming up through the ground. It was too late in the day for a decent photo, but perhaps this will give you an idea.
|Sulphur Works - looking down from the road|
Be sure to stay at the Mill Creek Resort, little cabins in the woods, south of the park. No TV, wifi, or traffic. That's pretty nice.
|Can't think of a rhyme|
If you miss the resort's dinner hour (kitchen closes at 6:30), the nearby Mineral Lodge has one cafe to meet your needs.
|Mineral Lodge - the only game in town - good food, nice bar, pool table, Shrek pinball|
Come the dawn, there might be a deer or two on the porch, or perhaps a wood chipmunk in your kitchen trash can. "We get that a lot around here," laughed the owner when I told him about that visitor. Also, he called them "critters," which I liked.
Be sure to have breakfast out on the Mill Creek Resort deck, so you can watch dozens of hummingbirds battle one another for multiple-feeder territorial rights. Hummingbirds are fierce. The pancakes and French Toast are really good too. The Harley Davidson riders having a hearty breakfast at the next table were good. Everything was good.
|This guy's a fighter - don't mess with his feeder|
|They're not being cute - they want to kick each other's asses|