Lassen Volcanic National Park
Many feel that winter is the best time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park. There is a quiet beauty in its white, winter landscape. Visitors can participate in a variety of activities and adventures months after the heat and summer crowds are gone.
From snowshoeing to sledding, the Lassen Chalet area (elevation 6,700 feet) at the southwest end of the park is a winter "hot spot." The Lassen Park Road is closed by snow in the winter, but it is plowed one mile past the south entrance to the Chalet.
There are guided snowshoe walks for those who want to try snowshoeing and learn about the park's natural history. The walks begin at the Chalet.
Many intermediate and advanced cross-country skiers and snowshoers are drawn to the steep terrain and sweeping views from the snow-covered park road. The road leaves from the Chalet and leads to breathtaking beauty.
There is also a snow play area near the Lassen Chalet where tobogganing, sledding, tubing, and snowboarding are allowed. For those wanting to camp in the snow, the Southwest Walk-In Campground near the Chalet is open year-round. Water and restroom facilities are nearby.
The Manzanita Lake area (elevation 6,000 feet) is a great place to visit at the north end of the park. Those new to cross-country skiing or snowshoeing might try circling Manzanita Lake (approximately 1.5 miles round-trip). The area is relatively flat, and there may be a few marked trails in the area. Photographers will enjoy taking pictures of Manzanita Lake with Lassen Peak towering in the background. More advanced skiers might ascend into the higher elevations above Manzanita Creek.
The road is plowed from the north entrance to the Loomis Ranger Station. During a storm it may be plowed as far as the lower parking area (just east of the Highway 44/89 intersection). Portable toilet facilities are available in the area.
A cross-country ski or snowshoe trip to Butte Lake (elevation 6,100 feet) offers dramatic scenery. There is a sharp contrast between the black Fantastic Lava Beds and the white snow. The four-mile round-trip excursion from Butte Lake to the Cinder Cone (a large tephra cone volcano that looks like a giant ant hill) is also enjoyable. The six-mile gravel road from Highway 44 is not plowed in the winter, and parking may be difficult as there are no designated parking areas.
More ambitious visitors may want to explore the Juniper Lake and Warner Valley areas (elevations 5,700 and 6,800 feet). Relatively few people visit either location once the snow falls because of its limited access. These areas can be reached from the town of Chester, but a great distance may need to be traveled on skis or snowshoes to reach them, as both roads are closed by snow in winter.
Take the time to note the signs of Lassen's winter wildlife. Snowshoe hare and coyote tracks are common throughout the park. Occasional bear prints remind us that sometimes black bear wake up during the winter.
Please protect Lassen's birds and animals by viewing them from a distance and by never feeding them. In the lean months of winter, animals need to conserve their energy. Even well-meaning encounters that cause an animal to run away from a perceived threat can be ultimately fatal.
The park's weather can change dramatically because of its mountainous topography and high elevations, which range from 5,200 to 10,457 feet. A tremendous amount of snow is received during the winter months, often 400 to 700 inches. Temperatures can be extremefrom nighttime temperatures below freezing to daytime temperatures above 50°F.
Prepare for your winter trip to Lassen before you leave home. Let someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to return. Before heading to the mountains have your car winterized. Some items to keep in your car in case of emergency are: a shovel, tire chains, blankets, extra food and water, a flashlight and batteries, a flare and waterproof matches, boots, wool hats and warm gloves, sand or kitty litter, high-energy snacks, and maybe a car phone.
Pack the right equipment for the activity you have planned, and always make sure to carry some of the basics, such as a first-aid kit, shovel, emergency food, plastic tarp, topo map and compass, waterproof matches and a candle, sunglasses, pocket knife, and a repair kit for the equipment that you are using. Wear the proper clothing for your activity, dress in layers with a water-wicking layer next to the body, followed by an insulating layer, and finally a wind- and water-resistant shell. Be sure to wear a hat and gloves; wear layers on your feet as well.
Even if the forecast is good, you should be prepared for poor weather conditions. There have been many occasions when the weather outlook is fair and a storm arrives. Also be aware of avalanche possibilities. Whether you come to Lassen Volcanic National Park in the winter to ski or to play in the snow, come prepared for the elements.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication