Lassen Volcanic National Park was my final National Park to visit in California. Additionally, there were two more very obscure park service units 3 hours north that I would want to tack on if traveling in the area.
I found an $89 direct roundtrip flight from Burbank to Redding on Avelo- a steal. Previously, there were no nonstops from Southern California to Redding (United recently added a daily to LAX, but it´s more than 3x the price).
The outbound was on Thursday morning with the return Sunday morning in the middle of the Labor Day holiday weekend. Typically, this was too inefficient a use of vacation days/a weekend for me, but given I´m currently unemployed, this seemed like a perfect trip.
To add to the reasons to go, the window to visit these parks is short. The road crossing the park is only snow-free in summer/fall, typically June-October. However, after Labor Day, Tule Lake National Monument shuts down for the winter. But summers aren´t safe either because of fires; I tried to go two years ago, but the trip was derailed due to the 2021 Dixie Fire and I went to Kings Canyon and Fresno instead. This time I would not be deterred!
August 31, 2023: The Ultimate
My 75-minute Avelo flight arrived at Redding Municipal Airport at 8:12 am. After picking up the rental car and a breakfast burrito, it was a 1-hour journey the entrance to the park. While Redding is flat farmland in the Central Valley, the terrain here is thick forest, not so different than in Oregon. I paid the steep $30 entry fee and continued south. The park is dominated by the 10,500 ft. (3,100 meter) Lassen Peak, towering over the road.
Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcano of the Cascade mountain range and the largest plug volcano on earth. The chain includes Shasta, Hood, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier. Like the others, Lassen is active. It most recently erupted multiple times between 1914-1917. The extraordinarily violent eruption on May 22, 1915 was well-documented by scientists and locals in the area and led to the creation of the national park.
My first task was to climb Lassen Peak. The trail starts at the highest point on the park road – 8,500 feet (2,700meters) above sea level. At only 5 miles roundtrip, it is much easier than climbing the other volcanos (especially Shasta), but the altitude was going to be a challenge since I was on the ground in Burbank just 4 hours before.
The trail relentlessly switchbacked up the slope. I was constantly being egged on by a high school football team descending the mountain because I wore a cross country shirt. While the thin air was a struggle, I ended up making it to the top in just 75 minutes (less than half of the estimated time according to the Park Service.
The top was…. surprisingly cold and windy! In addition to the chilly weather, the summit crater was filled in with snow.
The end of the trail is not the true summit. To reach that, I had to cross the snowfield and scramble for a few minutes. My reward was a view of the steep north slope.
The trip down was uneventful. I then continued south past a beautiful lake to the parking lot for my next hike. This one is 3 miles roundtrip to reach the Bumpass Hell, one of the best named spots on the planet.
The Bumpass Hell is a geothermal hot spot where hot sulfuric gasses spew from the earth. The gases can turn water into boiling water, kill all plant life and turn the ground yellow. A strange sight to say the least!
Legend has it that in 1862, Mr. Kendall Vanhook Bumpass discovered the site when he accidentally broke through the ground, burning his food. After proclaiming his discovery to the press, he took a local newspaper editor on a tour of the site, hoping to eventually mine the minerals and develop a tourist attraction. Quoting Virgil, Bumpass said “The descent to Hell is easy” at which point he broke through the ground again, this time thigh-deep in the scalding mud, which stuck to his leg. Bumpass was silent as he boiled alive, in too much pain to scream. He would survive, but the burns caused so much damage to the leg that it had to be amputated.
Luckily now there are wooden boardwalks over the terrain so there is no debate where to safely walk.
Further down the south slope of the mountain, there is another geothermal hot spot with a boiling lake directly next to the road. Back in the day, this was the location of a commercial bath house.
I then drove to my campsite. With no cell coverage and nobody to talk to, there wasn´t much else to do but walk around until sunset. At 20:30, I went to bed, exhausted from the very long day. The next day, I continued my journey north.
September 1, 2023: Burney Falls
After sleeping many hours, I drove 30-minutes north to reach Mc Arthur-Burney Falls State Park, California´s second state park. The park protects the exceptionally beautiful Burney Falls, which Theodore Roosevelt once called “the eighth wonder of the world”. The Mc Arthur name comes from the family who owned the land and saved the falls by donating it to the State rather than the power company.
Most of the water in the falls comes from an underground aquifer, a year-round source. In the springtime and summer, this water is joined by runoff from the snowy peaks to the north. The two water sources merge so that water to not only falls down the river but also sprouts from the rock in more than 100 places! The sight is mesmerizing.
The falls are accessible by a short trail that can be extended into a 1.2-mile (2 kilometer) loop.
Recent news articles have noted that the secret of the falls is out due to social media. People have been flocking in droves to see the falls because of Instagram and to a lesser extent TikTok. This has created hours-long traffic jams to enter the park during the summer. Locals have stopped visiting in the summer.
Luckily, I visited at 8:00 right when the park opened before the crowds could arrive.
After about 90 minutes at the falls (I really stretched it), I continued north towards the Lava Beds.
While less spectacular than California´s other National Parks, Lassen is still a beautiful place. All the main attractions can be seen along the 33-mile park road. The obvious highlight is climbing Lassen Peak, which takes a half-day. The volcanic sites are fun but less impressive than Yellowstone. Add in a half-day of other attractions in the park and you have a fantastic day trip. If not climbing the peak, the park highlights can be seen in a half-day and can be combined in a day trip with Burney Falls.
As for Burney Falls, it is really spectacular and worthy of all the hype. While many bemoan the Instagram crowds, Burney Falls deserves to be seen by the masses. I would therefore challenge California State Parks to find a solution so that more people can see the wonder of the falls in an enjoyable way.