Lassen Volcanic National Park may not be as well-known as some of the other national parks across the United States, but if you’re looking for a memorable camping trip, it’s not one to be missed. Full of fascinating hydrothermal areas, stunning lakes, and remnants of past volcanic activity, the park has so much to see and do.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about Lassen Volcanic National Park camping.
What to Expect From a Lassen Volcanic National Park Camping Trip
As the park’s name suggests, the focal point of Lassen Volcanic National Park is Lassen Peak (also known as Mount Lassen) itself. The active volcano reaches an elevation of 10,457 feet and is one of the biggest lava domes on the planet. It’s also one of just two volcanoes that erupted in the 1900s in the United States.
Another feature that makes this park unique is its hydrothermal areas, which include fumaroles, boiling pools, steaming ground, mud pots, and a geyser. The park has seven different hydrothermal areas, with a range of accessibility. Some can be reached by car, others by trail, and others can be viewed at a distance.
Things to Do at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Now that you have the basics covered, it’s time to plan your Lassen Volcanic National Park camping trip! Below are the best things to do at the park.
Visiting Sulphur Works
Sulphur Works is one of the most popular hydrothermal areas at Lassen Volcanic National Park. It’s also the most accessible, requiring just a short walk on a paved sidewalk, located just off the main highway.
At Sulphur Works, you’ll see vibrant colors, alluring bubbling mud pots, and steam vents. Many past visitors have described it as a must-see feature of the park!
Hiking is a great way to see Lassen Volcanic National Park and the many sights and features it has. Plus, there are a ton of different trails, terrains, distances, and levels of difficulty to choose from. A few hikes I recommend are listed below:
- Lassen Peak – Hiking Lassen Peak is not for the faint of heart, but if you can manage it, it’s not one to miss. The hike is strenuous, five miles long, and will likely take four or five hours to complete. It culminates in reaching the summit and going into the volcano’s crater.
- Cinder Cone – Cinder Cone is another difficult trail, and it takes around three hours to complete the four-mile roundtrip hike. On the hike, you’ll get to see the cone up close, view Lava Beds, and see Lassen Peak in the distance. At the cone’s peak, you’ll get to observe panoramic views of the park.
- Kings Creek Falls – Kings Creek Falls is a 2.8-mile loop that takes about two hours to hike. You’ll pass the Lower Kings Creek Meadow, see scenic views, and ultimately reach an overlook to view the 30-foot waterfall.
- Devil’s Kitchen – This moderate, 4.2-mile hike takes around two hours and is a great way to see the park’s second-biggest hydrothermal area. On the hike, you’ll see mud pots, steam vents, boiling spring pools, and the colorful red and yellow mounds that surround them.
- Devastated Area Interpretive Trail – This trail is just half a mile on a paved loop, great for those who prefer a shorter or less strenuous hike. It’s a great way to see the impact of Lassen Peak’s past eruptions and get to view the volcano itself!
If these don’t seem right for you or you’re itching for even more, there are many more amazing hikes that this national park offers!
There are numerous lakes throughout the park that offer access to non-motorized boating and other water activities. Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, and Summit Lake are the most popular for boats. And if you don’t have your own boat, you can rent one at Manzanita Lake.
Although you can boat at other lakes, too, boating is not allowed at Helen Lake, Emerald Lake, Reflection Lake, or Boiling Springs.
Fishing options at Lassen Volcanic National Park include rod fishing, reel fishing, and fly fishing.
Manzanita Lake and Butte Lake are the most popular, although Manzanita Lake only allows catch-and-release fishing. At Butte Lake, rainbow trout are the most common fish that people can catch.
If you plan to fish, make sure you have a California fishing permit, as this is required.
Because the national park is so remote, it lacks the light pollution common in other places. This fact makes it ideal for stargazing.
When camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park, you can look at the stars on your own, or you can do so at one of the park’s organized programs. There are often ranger-led Starry Night programs, and if you visit during the summer, you may be lucky enough to visit during the Lassen Dark Sky Festival.
In the wintertime, some parts of Lassen Volcanic National Park are closed, but certain areas and activities remain open. If you visit during this time, you can enjoy the snow, snowshoe, cross-country ski, backcountry ski or snowboard, and more!
Sulphur Works is the only hydrothermal area that’s accessible during this time. You can also visit the Manzanita Lake area to enjoy the sights and reach some trails for skiing and snowshoeing. Additionally, the park’s visitor centers remain open year-round.
Where to Stay at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Choosing a Campground
For camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park, there are seven campgrounds to choose from: Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, Lost Creek Group, Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake, Southwest Walk-In, and Warner Valley.
If you’re not sure which Lassen Volcanic National Park campground is right for you, keep reading for an overview of each.
Butte Lake campground is relatively remote, as it takes about 45 minutes to drive there from the Northwest Entrance of the park. From this campground, consider a challenging hike up Cinder Cone volcano, or enjoy some boating and fishing on the lake. Reservations are required.
The Juniper Lake campground is situated on the eastern shore of this beautiful lake. It makes activities like hiking, swimming, and boating very accessible.
Campsites are first come first served. Just keep in mind that getting to the campground requires a 13-mile drive, more than half of which is unpaved and unsuitable for large vehicles.
Lost Creek Group
Lost Creek Group has eight campsites designated for groups. It’s conveniently located off the park’s main road, offering easy access to hiking trails and other park features. It’s particularly near Manzanita Lake, the Devastated Area, and Summit Lake.
Manzanita Lake Campground is the largest campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Its proximity to the lake makes it a great spot for kayaking, swimming, and fishing, and there are hiking trails nearby, too. It’s a great option for both groups and families.
Plus, not only does Manzanita Lake have plenty of campsites, but it also campground offers cabins for those who would prefer those accommodations. Reservations are required.
Located 17.5 miles north of the Southwest Entrance of the park, Summit Lake Campground is located on the beautiful and tranquil lake that gives the campground its name.
The campground has two different sections: north and south, which are connected by an easy hiking trail. The northern section is ideal for swimming in the lake, whereas the southern section is grassier.
Reservations are required.
This is the only campground that’s open year-round for Lassen Volcanic National Park camping. However, it may be closed due to the 2021 Dixie Fires, so be sure to check its status before you plan to stay here.
It’s located very close to the Southwest Entrance of the park, just east of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center parking area. Visitors can access the 3.8-mile Mill Creek Falls hiking trail from the campground. In the winter, it also has a sledding area to enjoy.
Last but not least is the Warner Valley campground, which is accessible to vehicles via a gravel road, about a mile north of the Warner Valley Ranger Station. From here, visitors can reach several different hiking trails.
Backpacking and Backcountry Camping
Backcountry camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park may be more suitable for your trip if you plan on backpacking through the park.
Backcountry camping, otherwise known as camping outside of designated campgrounds, is permitted at Volcanic National Park, but it requires a permit. So make sure to plan ahead!
You can start your backpacking trip at one of the four main backpacking trailheads. These include Warner Valley, Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, and Summit Lake.
Choose your starting place based on the things you plan to do during your trip. Juniper Lake Trailhead, for example, is a great choice if you want to visit Juniper Lake. Starting at Butte Lake Trailhead gives you access to an area that makes a great base camp for visiting Juniper Lake and Rainbow Lake.
The park’s website warns that Summit Lake Trailhead can be quite congested, so if you’re looking for a truly remote wilderness experience, you should start at one of the other options.
If tent or RV camping isn’t your thing, there are still a few other ways to enjoy camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
For lodging that resembles a hotel, consider Drakesbad Guest Ranch, which is located in Warner Valley. Additionally, as mentioned above, Manzanita Lake offers some basic cabins.
Just remember to make a reservation for these accommodations!
Considerations for Lassen Volcanic National Park Camping
When planning a Lassen Volcanic National Park camping trip, it’s important to think through key considerations, including when to visit, entry fees, and other things that may impact your trip.
Keep reading to learn what to consider when visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Your Visit May Vary by Season
Lassen Volcanic National Park experiences a range of seasons. In the summer, temperatures frequently reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more, and in the peak of winter, lows average around 20 degrees. Snow is common in the winter, too.
Because the weather sees such high variability, your experience at the national park will likely be different depending on the time of year during which you visit.
The summertime, from July to September, is the busiest season at Lassen Volcanic National Park. This is also when the most activities and features are open. As the weather gets colder, access to certain parts of the park will close, as snowfall makes some of the park’s roads inaccessible.
However, the wintertime offers a new set of things to do, including sledding, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and more. Keep in mind that some parts of the park remain closed due to snow, and vehicle access is limited.
As the weather warms in the spring, activities and park features will re-open again.
Additionally, if you’re camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park, keep in mind that the availability of drinking water may vary depending on the temperatures.
Cell phone service at Lassen Volcanic National Park is very limited, so plan accordingly. The park does offer free Wi-Fi at its Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
Gas stations in and around the park are also limited. There is one store within the park that does offer gas, but it experiences pump outages from time to time, so this gas may not always be available. It is highly recommended that you fill your gas tank before your arrival.
The 2021 Dixie Fires impacted 68% of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Most parts of the park have re-opened, but some areas may be still closed for safety reasons or for repairs. These closures include the park’s Southwest Campground and the Drakesbad Guest Ranch.
You don’t need to make reservations in advance to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, but you will need to purchase a pass to visit. The park recommends purchasing your pass online (but make sure to bring a printed copy), though you can also make the purchase in person upon arrival.
Passes and fees are as follows:
- Seven-day vehicle entrance pass: $30 (only $10 in the winter)
- Seven-day motorcycle entrance pass: $25
- Seven-day individual entrance fee: $15
- Park annual pass: $55 (also covers a limited number of the pass holder’s guests)
If your dates are flexible, consider visiting on a fee-free day. Some individuals and groups may also be eligible for year-round free entrance or discounts (including seniors, military members, individuals with disabilities, fourth graders, and those with nationwide passes).
What to Pack for Lassen Volcanic National Park Camping
When you’re packing for Lassen Volcanic National Park camping, you’ll want to bring layers of clothes. Even if it’s summer, temperatures can fluctuate depending on the time of day and elevation. Therefore, layers, such as lighter clothes, jackets, and sweatshirts will ensure that you’re prepared for a variety of temperatures and weather conditions that are common at the park.
You should also pack for the activities you plan to do while camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park. For example, if you think you might want to go swimming in one of the lakes, pack a swimsuit. If you plan to hike, bring hiking shoes. And while many areas are shaded, sunscreen is always a good idea for those that are not.
Additionally, make sure to plan for the campground where you’ll be staying. Some have drinking water available, and others do not (though you should bring your own drinking water anyway to be safe, because drinking water access may be limited in colder temperatures).
If you’re backcountry camping, you will also need a bear-resistant container for your food, trash, and anything else that’s scented.
How to Get to Lassen Volcanic National Park
If you plan to fly to the area, the airports closest to Lassen Volcanic National Park are Redding, Sacramento, and Reno. Redding is the nearest to the park, but Sacramento and Reno are larger airports, so they may be easier and more affordable to fly to.
There is no public transportation to the park, so you should rent a car from the airport (if you’re not driving the whole way in your own vehicle).
When you drive to the national park, there are several different entrances and addresses. If you plan to use GPS, you can navigate to one of the following:
- The Northwest Entrance visitor center, the Loomis Museum, is located at 29489 Lassen National Park Hwy, Shingletown, CA 96088.
- The Southwest Entrance visitor center, the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, is located at 21820 Lassen National Park Hwy, Mineral, CA 96063.
There are other entrances, too, but they lead to more remote areas of the park, so I recommend sticking with one of the main entrances for easier access to all that the park has to see and do.
Between the Northwest and Southwest entrances is the scenic 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, which is a great way to start your visit. The drive takes about an hour and passes sights like Sulphur Works, Lake Helen, Lassen Peak, forests, valleys, and more.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Camping: a Trip You Won’t Forget
As you can see, there is so much to enjoy on a Lassen Volcanic National Park camping trip. With some proper planning for the type of visit you want to have, you are sure to have a memorable experience.
Considering camping at more national parks? Check out our national park camping page for more guides, tips, and things to do!