My husband and I can’t wait to travel to far corners of the globe in search of adventure, but we forget how much of it we have right in our backyard. Besides the occasional drought and the insane housing prices, California is a lovely place to live and has some of the best natural wonders. So to help you non-Californians experience the beauty of California and perhaps plan your own trip one day, I’m kicking off my Golden State of Adventure series, chronicling the best adventures that California has to offer.
California’s beautiful outdoors comes at a cost: crowded parking lots and the job of photoshopping people’s heads out or your picture of Half-Dome. Until we discovered Lassen Volcanic National Park. We visited in August on an especially sunny day to find barely a crowd, which wasn’t surprising because after living in northern California for 15 years, I had never heard of this place.
Lassen is a four hour drive from the SFO/Bay Area, close to the Nevada border. You can tell that the park doesn’t get the hoards of tourists that Yosemite does because we saw only a couple mom and pop restaurants within a 30 minute drive of the park entrance. And the closest town to spend the night, unless you’re camping, is the city of Redding.
Here’s what you need to know about visiting Lassen:
To explore the park at a leisurely pace, two days are plenty. Entrance fees are $20 per vehicle and your pass can be used for a whole week.
Our first stop: the Subway lava tube located 20 minutes from the park entrance. The underground tunnel system carved over time by hot lava is a short 10 minute walk in darkness so don’t forget a flashlight. Bring a light jacket because it’s ironically nippy in the caves now that the lava’s all gone.
The trails we conquered in 6 hours were:
Paradise Meadows Lake: a trail that takes you well into the woods where we found ourselves about a 100 feet from a bear cub. In the absolute silence we could hear the rustling of leaves and twigs as the bear moved around even though we couldn’t see it completely. And that’s as far as we got on that trail!
Bumpass Hell:for an incredible mini-Yellowstone like setting at the end of the hike. Stay on the marked lanes lest you burn some body parts off!
Lassen Peak: one of the most satisfying hikes I’ve ever done! The trailhead starts at 8,500 ft (2591 meters) and finishes at 10,457 ft (3187 meters). The hike up this volcano takes about 3-5 hours—4.6 miles round trip— depending on your ability and ends in a 360 degree view of the whole region. The air gets thinner as you climb, making it hard to breathe, and you can still find snow at the top in the summer.
I would have loved to stay back and ponder the meaning of life on the shores of Lake Helen but our time at one of the National Park system’s better kept secrets was short.In one day we went from from pristine lakes, sulphur deposits, mud pools, lava caves, lush valleys, clear waterfalls, and towering volcanic peaks – a true epitome of California’s multi-faceted landscapes.