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It’s hard to imagine as another heat wave smothers Sonoma County and beyond, but remnants of the long, snowy winter are making a last stand on a Northern California peak. Snowplay in August? It’s happening in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

This winter the park more than lived up to its native name, Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee, a Mountain Maidu term that translates to Snowy Mountain. The 30-mile-long scenic highway through the park finally opened for the season on July 26 — the latest opening since 1980. Road clearing teams have been plowing since early April, chewing through drifts up to 40 feet thick.

What does this mean for Sonoma County resident? Those in the know would argue it’s always a good time to escape to Lassen, but with snowbanks still dressing the steep slopes of the plug dome volcano, and meltwater bolstering alpine wildflower blooms and recharging streams that feed waterfalls, travelers to the park are in for a colorful, and cooling, treat.

The opening of the park road also means visitors won’t have to go the long way ’round to get from the park hub at Manzanita Lake, on the north side, to the hub at the southwest entrance. This is a good thing since the park has a number of events planned at both locations, and points in between, during the last full month of summer. It also shortens travel between trailheads, offering easier access to 150 miles of sublime hiking.

Half the park is after dark

Lassen’s Dark Sky Festival, a celebration of the celestial, is set for Friday-Sunday. The park’s seclusion from the light litter of civilization, as well as its altitude, draws crowds of stargazers to the park annually. Festival highlights include telescope viewing, which takes place at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, the Bumpass Hell parking lot high on the shoulder of the volcano, and at the Manzanita Lake campground. Astronomers train their scopes on the superstars of the night sky and allow visitors to check them out while offering insights into what they are viewing. A full slate of other activities, including solar scope viewing, a NASA Astrobiology tent, and an art and science fair, are among the planned activities.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, the Lassen Association hosts a guided hike to Devils Kitchen in the Warner Valley, located on the south side of the park outside Chester. This will encompass insights into not only the mudpots and fumaroles of the hydrothermal area, but also volcanic features accessed by other hiking trails within the park.

REI Sierra campout

REI will host a campout at Butte Lake, in the northeast corner of the park, over the weekend of Aug. 18-20. Activities include guided hikes and stand-up paddleboard and kayak tours of the lake, as well as access to tips (and tools) to enhance any camping experience.

This more remote section of the park is home to an otherworldly tableau that includes the Cinder Cone, which last erupted in the mid-1800s, the Fantastic Lava Beds, a flow of jumbled rock towering hundreds of feet over the surrounding landscape, and the Painted Dunes, landforms covered in cinders of different hues.

The last big event of the summer, Art and Wine of Lassen, is set for Sept. 16.

Both local wines and beers — the terroir is distinctly volcanic — are showcased at this annual party, which takes place at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.

Art ranges from prints to paintings to pottery and woodworking.

August on the trails

With the snow finally melting off and all trailheads accessible by car, most of Lassen’s best hikes are primed for exploration.

The snowpack does translate to muddy conditions in some places, as well as the potential for high water at stream crossings, but nothing a good pair of boots can’t handle.

Hydrothermal sights

The trail to Bumpass Hell may still be buried in drifts for a few weeks, but Devils Kitchen and Boiling Springs Lake, both in the Warner Valley, are premier hydrothermal areas.

Boiling Springs Lake, at 2.6 miles round trip, is an easy morning’s hike from the Warner Valley trailhead; the Devils Kitchen is a bit farther afield, at 4.6 miles round trip.

Consider combining the two trails for a full day’s exploration of this pocket of the park, also site of the Drakesbad Guest Ranch.

If you don’t feel like hiking, you can always check out the mudpots at the Sulphur Works, located just a mile above the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.

A choice of waterfalls

If you prefer waterfalls as a destination, Lassen offers three options. Mill Creek Falls is near the Southwest Entrance; it’s a 3.8-mile roller coaster hike to the confluence of Little Hot Springs Creek and Bumpass Creek, where the two waterways merge and plunge about 70 feet off a precipice.

Kings Creek Falls is higher up in the park, and while the 3-mile out-and-back hike to the falls overlook might be boggy and buggy, the falls are worth the effort, tumbling 70 feet into a dark gorge.

The cascades above Hat Creek lie about a mile up the trail to Paradise Meadow; they are a 30-foot tumble of whitewater.

And there’s a no-hike option for waterfalls as well. Bluff Falls drops 40 feet over a cliff just outside the park boundary on Highway 89 as you drive up toward the southwest entrance.

A feast of wildflowers

Lassen’s version of the superbloom should peak this month in the alpine meadows, with Paradise Meadow, accessed via a 3.2-mile out-and back hike from the Hat Creek trailhead, being a premier site for viewing.

The fen, or boggy meadow, in the Warner Valley hosted a bonanza of color and variety at the end of July, and while those flowers may have faded, a new succession may flourish.

Cameron Meadow, best reached from Juniper Lake, on the park’s south side, is another good option for wildflowers; it’s a 1.7-mile hike one way to reach the meadow from the June Lake trailhead. Add another 1.4 miles to reach Snag Lake, which offers a backside view of the Fantastic Lava Beds.

Peak experiences

You’ll see a ton of wildflowers on an ascent of 9,235-foot-high Brokeoff Mountain, but better yet, you’ll also be treated to the best mountain climb in the park. The 7.4-mile round-trip hike to the top presents a moderate challenge for the legs and lungs, traverses a variety of habitats, from woodland to scrubland to windswept alpine, and offers stellar summit views, with Lassen Peak front and center.

A climb to the summit of the park’s namesake volcano, topping out at 10,457 feet, is a close second in terms of a peak experience. Reaching the top isn’t technical and, like Brokeoff, mostly requires a good set of lungs and legs, but hikers should be prepared to cross snowfields near the apex — something that wasn’t always the case in the drought years.

More information about recreational possibilities in Lassen Volcanic National Park, as well as insights into the park’s cultural and historical offerings, is available on the park’s website, at www.nps.gov/lavo.

Tracy Salcedo is a Glen Ellen-based writer and editor, and author of a number of guidebooks to Northern California destinations including Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park. She will be leading the guided hike at Drakesbad on Aug. 17.

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