Living in California we’re incredibly fortunate to have access to many National Parks. Lassen Volcanic is more off the beaten track than it’s more famous southern brothers and sisters, but for us it was well worth the trip.
Lassen is around a 4-5 hour drive north from San Francisco, so does require some planning and an overnight stay if you want to make the most of a trip there. We did only manage one day in the park, which was enough to do a beautiful day hike and check out some geothermal activity.
We chose the Cluster Lakes Loop Trail for our day hike in the hope that it would be quieter than the easier and more popular Bumpass Hell Trail. We took the left hand route (taking the circular trail clockwise), saving the lakes for last.
In 2012 a wildfire destroyed 15% of the park and much of that area is covered on the Cluster Lakes Loop Trail. Another hiker we spoke to on the route expressed disappointment that much of the landscape was still in the early stages of recovering from a major burnout, but I didn’t think that took anything away from the experience. It was actually pretty interesting to see the forest recovering and smaller trees springing up. Scorched trees look pretty dramatic. For several we miles we had this trail completely to ourselves which is uncommon for a day hike in a Californian National Park.
After weaving through several miles of barren fire-scorched land the beautiful, still water of Sliver Lake proved too much of a temptation for me. A wild swim in the cool water as horses lapped water in the shallows after many miles of hiking was heavenly. The clear water meant I could see everything. Including leeches. Many, many leaches. They were tiny – meaning hungry – and I was lucky to escape without having one latch onto me. So, in hindsight, that swim perhaps wasn’t the best idea but I live (without having been bitten) to tell the tale.
Silver Lake is almost at the halfway point on the Cluster Lakes Loop trail and was an ideal place to break for lunch. Afterward the last few miles of the trail are brutally uphill and busy. There’s a campsite at the start of the trail, so people staying or parking there campsite venture down to the lakes.
On completion of this 10+ mile hike we still had plenty of time to take in more delights of the park by car. One of my favorite things about California’s National Parks is how accessible many of the highlights are by car. Of course, this does mean they can get crowded and there isn’t any sense of accomplishment when you reach them, but it means that many more people can enjoy nature.
Driving along Lassen Park Road allowed us to make easy stops at Sulphur Works and Lake Helen.
Where to stay in Lassen Volcanic National Park
We started our hike from the Summit Lake campground and immediately regretted not being organized enough to have booked a pitch there. On the banks of Summit Lake – with fire pits, proper loos, and plenty of space on each pitch – this would have the been the perfect place to wake up and start hiking.
We stayed in Red Bluff and although it’s an hour drive from the park, that did have its perks in that we were well fed and watered. Even the Travelodge had the luxury of a pool right next to the river. I maintain that the only acceptable time to eat in Denny’s is before undertaking a massive hike.
I would love to go back to Lassen Volcanic to camp and walk the Bumpass Hell trail. Realistically, with it being so far from San Francisco and now with a baby in tow, that’s unlikely to happen in the near future. But I can dream!