Lassen Volcano National Park--A place where summer comes late and leaves early

This is another in Vittles series on our National Parks

When we left Red Bluff it was the beginning of Summer but when we reached Lake Helen in Lassen Volcano National Park it was still early Spring. The Lake was still frozen and the surrounding country completely covered with snow.

It had been half a lifetime since our last visit to Mount Lassen. The Peak at 10,457 feet dominates the Park and is one of only two active volcanoes in the continental United States. On our first visit we climbed the Peak.

This trip we were content to act as the usual tourist. Despite our long experience with snowy mountain country it was still exciting as we entered the Park and then climbed to the road's highest point at 8,512 feet surrounded by snow. In places alongside the road the snow was still piled twice as high as our automobile.

This road which traverses the Park is only open during the summer months. If you are planning on a trip to Lassen before the first of June or in November you should contact the Park Staff first. This is also true of ten of the eleven campgrounds in the Park. Depending on the snow year some don't open until the first of July.

Besides its magnificent forests and exciting mountain scenery one of the first things we noticed was the small number of people we met in the Park. True it was a day in midweek when our visit took place but after some of our experiences in parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon this lack of human activity was most rewarding.

We were going to lunch at Lake Helen where there is a picnic area but with all the snow we could not locate it. Summit Lake at 7000 feet was clear of snow but barely so we went on to Manzanita Lake where there is a Ranger Station and the Loomis Museum.

This Museum is must when visiting the park since it has photos and a history of the last eruption which occurred in May 1914. Some of the photos were taken during the actual eruption when the peak sent a huge mushroom cloud seven miles into the stratosphere. The museum also has dramatic photographs on how the surrounding countryside has healed itself in the 70 years that have past. The lunar landscape that was the result of the eruption has now in many places returned to forest. There is no fee for visiting the Museum which is open daily from June 25 to September 6.

Lassen Park has a fine network of trails and there are many lakes most of which can only be reached by hikers. For overnight camping a free back country permit must be obtained from a Ranger.

In summer access to the Park is available either from Red Bluff or Redding. We made a loop trip starting at Red Bluff on Highway 36 which than junctions with Highway 89 to the Park. The country surrounding the Park is very dramatic itself. Old lava stones pit most of the countryside and as the road climbs to the southwest Park Entrance one passes through deep forest.

On the other end of the park, past Manzanita Lake, the road junctions with Highway 44 and from here it is only 47 miles to Redding. As we left the Park and pointed our car toward Redding we kept thinking how fortunate the people who lived close to the Park really were. For us it was another example of so much to do, so little time.

Some advance information is almost a must when planning a visit to Lassen Park. By mail write to P.O. Box 100 Mineral, Ca 96063. Telephone 530-4444. On the web at

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Last Update:9/15/04

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