Lassen Volcanic National Park in Winter: 5 Things to Do
From volcanic hotpots to a wintry summit climb
Come visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in winter and you’ll discover a gorgeous winter landscape with a most unexpected element: the park’s famous volcanic features, like bubbling hot pots and steam vents. Mother Nature doesn’t close up shop for winter — so while you might be viewing them from a pair of cross-country skis, those hydrothermal sites burble away all season long.
Unlike, say, Yosemite, Lassen doesn’t feel tremendously overcrowded during the summer, so the road-less-traveled appeal of a winter visit might not be as immediately apparent. On the other hand: Those hydrothermal sites are even weirder, and more incredible, against a snowy backdrop.
Here, our top five things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park in winter.
Leaving from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center in the Southwest Area, skiers and snowshoers have a two-mile round-trip trek — on a snowy but well-maintained park highway — to the wild, super-hot, super-smelly Sulphur Works, the only hydrothermal area open during the winter. The visitor’s center is opened year-round, though both it and the road leading to will close during heavy snowfall.
Snowshoeing newbie? Learn the basics with a free ranger tour on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, from the first weekend in January through March. Rangers will provide all the snowshoeing basics, from how to put ’em on to how to walk on snow. Just wear boots and bring $1 to donate for snowshoe maintenance.
However you decide to take in the park — whether on cross-country skis in the backcountry or from the comfort of the seats in front of the fire at the Visitor’s Center — the youngest members of your party might enjoy a little look-don’t-approach wildlife safari: Challenge them to spot winter residents like the Stellar’s jay, snowshoe hare, or Sierra Nevada red fox — the last of which appears sufficiently rarely that sightings should be reported to park staff.
With the wide variety of trails here, the area around Manzanita Lake has something to offer all levels of cross-country skiers — from the 1.5-mile Manzanita Campground Loop to the park road route along Lassen Volcanic Highway. Follow it for as long as you like, from the Loomis Plaza parking area — it’s 28 miles (and up to three days) to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
Summiting Lassen Peak in winter is an iconic California outdoors experience — and one of the hardest things to do in Lassen National Park in winter, bar none. You’ll need two or three days, a laundry-list of equipment (think: ice axe, ski crampons), and sufficient winter outdoors experience that you won’t freeze overnight. If you’re coming up short — but still want to give this a go — do so in the company of a guiding company like SWS Mountain Guides, which offers a winter mountaineering course that concludes with a summit attempt.
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