A Perfect Weekend at Lassen, California’s Most Slept-On National Park
Bubbling hot pots, volcano hikes and one last winter adventure await
Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The 4hr. Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
Say “geothermal area” and everybody thinks Iceland.
But we’ve got our own active volcanoes, bubbling hot pots and hydrothermal recreation spots — right here in our own backyard.
Lassen Volcanic National Park got over 19 feet of snow this winter. So while the park’s main highway is currently being plowed (it’s a two-month process, which this year began in March), other areas offer one last chance for snowshoeing and other winter fun — as well as spring hiking and wildflower-filled meadows.
Or just take your kids/impressionable friends to Sulphur Works and let them lose their collective minds. (It’s awesome.)
WHERE TO STAY
The new Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins may be the easiest lodging in the park — especially if you opt for the $150 “Camper’s Amenity Package,” which includes pots, pans, an extra lantern, a cook stove, “s’mores kit,” and more. The two-room cabin sleeps five and might offer the cheapest per-head lodging in the state of California.
Stock up on food on your way into the park or pick up the essentials at the Manzanita Lake Camper Store. For a more salubrious (and expensive) option, consider a stay at the Drakesbad ranch, where meals are included and activities include archery, horseback riding, fishing, and hanging in the hot spring-fed pool.
WHAT TO DO
Rent some snowshoes on your way into the park — try shops in Mineral, Chester, Redding, or Chico — and head to the snowy parts: Ridge Lakes, Diamond Peak, and Forest Lake. Other trails are now snow-free, making for easy spring hiking, like the Manzanita Lake and Lily Pond trails. Or head out for a scenic drive: Lanes Valley Road passes past wildflower meadows, while the eastern route along the park, A21, offers views of “dense forest dotted with volcanoes, lakes, and meadows.”
ABOUT THOSE VOLCANOES
Lassen Peak is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascades — in 1915, it became the first of two volcanoes to erupt in the U.S. in the 20th century. (The other, of course, was its Cascades neighbor, Mount St. Helens.) The three- to five-hour hike up Lassen Peak generally opens in June or July, depending on the previous season’s snowfall. In the meantime, try Sulphur Works, a hydrothermal area that includes steam vents, a quasi-geyser (“Although not a true geyser, this spurting steam located in the middle of a creek, provides a spectacular show!”), a boiling lake and more.
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