We love Lassen National Park for its beautiful wilderness, fun geothermal parlor tricks, and low crowds. It can be done in a day, but if you spend a night or two, you won’t be sorry! Come in the summer as part of a family road trip when neighboring Crater Lake National Park and Yosemite National Park are packed with people, or visit in the fall or spring to catch wildflower blooms and foliage.
What not to miss: Stop at the new Kohm Yah-mah Visitor’s Center at the park’s Southwest entrance for a map, Junior Ranger packets for the kids, and maybe a bite to eat (the restaurant is great!). When we visit, we like to follow the park’s main driving tour, stopping at several of the geothermal wonders within hiking distance from the road. Our favorite: Bumpass Hell, a three mile loop trail featuring a boardwalk view of bubbling, gurgling mud pits that smell like rotten eggs! Stop again at Summit Lake for stunning views of Mt. Lassen and picnic facilities.
If you and your family aren’t up for the trek up Mt. Lassen itself, hike up a cinder cone instead! The trail head is located at Butte Lake Campground (from Highway 44 take the dirt road turnoff to Butte Lake Campground and follow the road for about 6 miles). The hike is over three miles round trip, but only the last 800 feet or so are uphill. (And we do mean straight up!) Kids love running down the soft sand (and the view from the lip of the crater!).
Entrance fee: $10 (one of the lowest in the national park system)
Dining: At the time of our visit, Summit Lake had a sandwich and salad counter service menu by their picnic areas. Otherwise, there’s a nice camp store for lunch supplies at the Manzanita Lake Campground.
Overnight options: Visitors can camp in one of the park’s beautiful high country campgrounds, but if you’re looking for something a bit more comfortable while still relaxed and fun, consider our favorite: St. Bernard Lodge on Highway 36 just three minutes from the park. Situated in the lower Lassen meadows, this lodge is perfect for families: kids (and St. Bernards…yes, the owners have several) have the run of the place, from the ponds and creeks outside to the cozy rec room. Breakfast is included!
Directions: The Southwest entrance is approximately 45 miles east of Red Bluff (I-5) on Highway 36, or 160 miles west of Reno, Nevada via 395 and Highway 36.