Did you know Lassen Peak was being observed by a local resident, B.F. Loomis, who captured the volcanic eruption on his camera. Check out this amazing photo here.
Lassen Volcanic is a hidden gem, and that is an understatement. High altitude lakes, snow capped peaks, geothermal areas, waterfalls, and lava all packed into this park that doesn’t hit many people’s radar even though it is only 3 hours from Sacramento and 4.5 hours from San Francisco. This is a park we’ll need to come back to for a few reasons. For starters, it’s gorgeous and we need more time to explore. Secondly, we didn’t summit Mt. Lassen with the girls because we got distracted by that solar eclipse everyone was talking about (yes, it was awesome, see below). And third, the park got so much snow last winter that the trail to Bumpass Hell was closed due to damage so we missed out on that major geothermal spot. But let’s back up a bit.
We drove from Crater Lake to Lava Beds National Monument as a quick one night stop over on our way to Lassen. We got into Lava Beds around lunchtime, got the RV situated and went on a quick walk to the ranger station. We learned about some of the local wildlife that we should watch out for and also the (rather sad) history of the area. As with so many of these wonderful places, the local tribes were forced off their lands and whole cultures were all but lost. There are pictographs found in the lava caves that date back over 6,000 years. That area of California was also used for internment camps during WWII. Not the best history but an important one nonetheless. The landscape was also rugged with lava fields scattered all around.
Lava Beds was the only “first come, first serve” campground we encountered on our road trip. We were lucky enough to find a spot before it filled up for the night. We set up camp next to another family with a daughter a few months older than our girls. Quincy, Leona, and Alex all played for about an hour while we chatted with her parents. Again, it was nice seeing parents of young children out and about. We also encountered the longest good bye as the three girls spent thirty minutes saying “Bye!” to each other.
We got up really remarkably early the next morning to make our way into Lassen so we could get there by breakfast and we timed it pretty well, the girls woke up with maybe 30 minutes to go. We checked out the museum and learned about some of the history of Lassen Volcanic National Park and its impact on seismology. We met some great people in the museum, Coby and Regina, who mentioned watching the eclipse at Bumpass Trailhead the following morning. From there we went to our campsite at Summit Lake for some lunch, playtime, and a hike out to Echo Lake (also known as the nap time walk).
After Echo Lake, we had a snack and walked about fifty yards to Summit Lake, a small lake with a sandy shallow grade. The girls played with sticks and rocks and then walked around the entire lake as we looked at wild flowers. We were both really impressed that the girls trekked around the entire lake.
We got up early the next morning to get to Bumpass Trailead so we could play and have breakfast and have plenty of time to get situated before the big show. We drove by some beautiful meadows and alpine lakes in the shadow of Lassen Peak. There was a little solar eclipse party in the parking lot of Bumpass Trailhead with some cool photography gear with solar filters, sharing of eclipse glasses, and people just genuinely being awesome human beings enjoying one of nature’s most inspiring spectacles together. We were at about 86% obstruction at the latitude we were at and we definitely noticed that it got cooler and the light changed, it almost felt like golden hour but with a subtle gray cast, it’s hard to describe. I don’t think the pictures will quite do it justice.
We wanted to hike out to the Bumpass Hell geothermal area but the trail was closed so we headed south down the road to the visitor’s center and the trailhead for Mill Creek Falls. The girls napped most of the way but woke up in time for Quincy to alert us that we were near water – “AGUA! AGUA! AGUA!” One thing that struck us about this place is that within a quarter mile of being on any trail, we really felt like we were in the backcountry. It was so quiet and beautiful and I always felt like we had the trail to ourselves.
After lunch at the visitor’s center – Sean made the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches (amazing because we were starving) – we backtracked a bit to the boiling mud pots. They are super neat, smell awful, and the steam made an already warm day just a touch warmer. It was on our walk to see the mud pots that Quincy thought she could jump off the curb onto the sidewalk. Newsflash – 17 month olds aren’t the best jumpers and she landed on her face. I felt awful because she was closer to me and Sean made sure to remind me about it for the rest of the trip.
We headed out to Lake Tahoe vowing to come back. If you’re trying to avoid some crowds and get into the wilderness and beauty of northeastern California, Lassen Volcanic is definitely a park for you.
The quintessence according to:
Mary and Sean: With such a unique moment, it was the highlight for the both of us. The eclipse environment was pretty neat. Mostly we was impressed with the group of people who all became a very social bunch for a few hours while we watched the moon pass in front of the sun. It helped that our daughters were good conversation starters, but overall, it was such a great vibe from everyone “tailgating” for the eclipse. We also kept thinking to ourselves about the natural beauty of the park and its diversity, ranging from volcanoes and lava fields to great mountains to climb with snow capped peaks. If this park were closer to major cities, it would be just as busy as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. There is no doubt we will be in the path of totality in 2024 when the next solar eclipse crosses the United States of America. Totality or bust!