Lassen Volcanic National Park


Bubbling mud and bottomless pools that belch steam. Hemlock groves that John Muir regarded as the most splendid he'd ever seen. Igneous skylines of ochre and creamy orange. Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northeastern California, is a subdued mountain environment; you won't find glaciers or serrated granite peaks. But if you want colorful scenery and a lesson or three in raw geology, it's the place to go.

The Setting
The southernmost summit of the Cascade Range, 10,457-foot Lassen Peak dominates a vast area; it can be seen easily from the Central Valley 40 miles to the west, as can its satellite peaks. Access is easy: Two good roads lead to the park from Interstate 5, California's main north-south arterial; after an hour of jostling with bigrigs, you'll be setting up your tent. Then it's off to the Lassen Park Road, your sole driving choice in the popular western half of the park. This twisting highway, taken by virtually every visitor, passes through remarkably varied country. Going from south to north, you'll drive up through red-fir forests and enter a volcanic landscape where soft pastels cause the steep-sided ravines to look deceptively tame. At 8,000 feet, deep blue lakes appear, a startling sight in this bare landscape. The highway then crosses a pass at 8,500 feet before dropping into another vast tract of firs. A few miles farther along, you'll reach a region rich in recent geologic history: You'll see immediately why Lassen Park's official middle name is"volcanic."

Steve Roper is the author of the classic Fifty Classic Climbs of North America (with Allen Steck) and Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber. The longtime editor of Ascent, he has written many other books and has had his work appear in Summit, Backpacker, Rock & Ice, and many other magazines. Steve's articles on Yosemite's high country, Zion, the Mount Conness Loop, and El Capitan have been featured on GORP.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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