Lassen Volcanic National Park


I only made it a few miles into Lassen Volcanic National Park, but it was enough to convince me that I should return, someday.  I had done almost no research on Lassen, merely assuming that I’d probably see some old lava flows or something boring like that.  Instead, I found a park that’s alive–quite literally bubbling over with activity.  Not to mention, I ended up there in the middle of a snowstorm.


Lassen Volcanic National Park is located on CA Rte. 89.  The closest city is Redding, California.  From Interstate 5, you can take either CA Rte. 36 or 44 to access the park.  Remember, Rte. 89 will not be open in the winter, or even the early spring, so you cannot expect to drive through on Rte. 89.

As I drove north on Rte. 89, past Lake Almanor, I had a feeling I was about to run into trouble.  The dreary weather turned downright grey, rain began to fall, and the temperature gauge in my rental car began to warn me that I was driving into the dead of winter.  Of course, I was headed uphill, but I thought, “this is April, how bad can it be?”  Turns out, pretty bad.

There wasn’t any snow on the road, anywhere, but as I continued to climb, the white stuff at the edge of the road went from an occasional patch…

… to a solid blanket…

… to a six-foot-high mountain.  As I entered the park, I received the bad news: the road was closed beyond Sulphur Works, Lassen’s southernmost attraction.  This meant I couldn’t make the trip straight through the park, and would instead need to drive southwest to I-5, then north.  With the prospect of that long drive ahead of me, I decided to enjoy Sulphur Works as best I could.

Now before I go any further, I should mention that at this point, it was pouring the snow.  This caused a great deal of anxiety for me, because as much as I wanted to pull out my rather pricey camera and take pictures, I really didn’t want to get it wet.  So, I only took a few pictures.

Sulphur Works smells about as appealing as it sounds, but you just have to get over the foul odor.  In this small area, essentially one side of a hill, water comes bubbling up from below the ground at boiling temperatures.  Steam vents out wherever it can, making it look like there’s a fire burning underground.  That six-foot-deep layer of snow suddenly disappears altogether.  It’s an amazing contrast between very cold and very hot.  If there was ever a chance that hell could freeze over, this is probably what it would look like.

You can’t get very close to the steam vents.  Signs warn not to stray from the side of the road, or else you might step into a muddy hole and flash-boil your foot.

Despite the pouring snow, blowing wind, and sub-freezing temperatures, I walked a short distance beyond the Sulphur Works, to get an overall view.  It’s easy to see where the geothermal energy is, and isn’t.

Beyond, the road was shut down, even though from this viewpoint, it appeared to be cleared.  The highest point on the park road is still several miles ahead (it tops out at 8512 feet).  It’s incredible to think that there were mountain peaks of even greater heights surrounding the road, and yet I couldn’t see a single one, because of the snow and fog.

While snow kept me from seeing many of the attractions in Lassen, I’m intrigued merely by their names: Chaos Jumbles, Devil’s Kitchen, Cold Boiling Lake, and my favorite, Bumpass Hell.  Do your research on the park by visiting the NPS website.

Because Rte. 89 was closed, I had to backtrack south, to Rte. 36.  From that intersection, it’s about 45 miles to Interstate 5.  Unfortunately, there’s no other road to take you around Lassen.

I visited Lassen again, during much warmer weather in 2013.  You can check out that visit here.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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