Hiking Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak (10,457′)  is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range.  It last erupted 100 years ago in 1915.  Despite spewing volcanic ash as far as 200 miles away, this most recent eruption is considered very small.  Fortunately for us, volcanoes don’t explode without warning and the USGS now monitors Lassen very closely.  The trail to the top of the peak is one of the more popular hikes in the park.  Most of the trail is above tree-line and the views are stunning.

Basics:  The roundtrip hike is 5 miles with approximately 2000-ft of elevation gain.  It’s a strenuous walk, but do-able for anyone in decent shape.  After a multi-year restoration project, the newly improved trail is fully open for the 2015 season.  Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the area so it’s a good idea to start this hike early in the day.

For current conditions and information, check the NPS website before heading out: Hiking Lassen Peak Trail – National Park Service.

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Red Tape, Directions and Camping:  There is a $20 entrance fee for Lassen Volcanic National Park.  No additional fees or permits are necessary to hike Lassen Peak.  The trailhead is approximately 7 miles up Highway 89 from the southwest entrance.  It’s easy to find once you’re in the park.  Google Map link to trailhead.

The closest campgrounds are the Southwest Walk-in camp (at the southwest entrance to the park) and the two Summit Lake campgrounds.  Reservations are recommended and can be made through recreation.gov up to six months in advance.  Additional camping information can be found on the Lassen Park website.

Trail Description:  Last weekend, some friends planned a car camping trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  I would never say no to car camping, but I was also excited for the opportunity to hike Lassen Peak.  The trail had been closed on our previous visit to the park in 2009.

Thunderstorms were in the forecast, so we decided to get a relatively early start on Saturday.  It only took about 15 minutes to drive from the Summit Lake South campground to the trailhead.  We were on the trail by 6:45 am.

The Lassen Peak trailhead at 6:45 am.
The Lassen Peak trailhead at 6:45 am.

I wouldn’t say this is an easy hike, but the trail is very well constructed and it follows the same general grade all the way to the summit.

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The parking lot is so far below us!  Lake Helen on the right.
The parking lot is so far below us! Lake Helen on the right.

I started to get tired when we were about 2 miles in.  I was suddenly very interested in reading the last two interpretive signs before reaching the summit.  Anything for a short break.  (Actually, the signs were very interesting; they included quotes from people who were on the mountain during one of the 1914-1915 eruptions.)

Getting close to the summit.
Getting close to the summit.

The trail tops out at a flat area overlooking the summit crater.  We could see a high point with a rocky summit block just beyond the end of the official trail.  We scrambled over to the true high point of the peak.  From trailhead to summit had taken us 1.5 hours.

The trail ends here, but the high point is a little further.
The trail ends here, but the high point is a little further.
Our view in to the crater.
Our view in to the crater.
Rob standing near the very top.
Rob standing near the very top.

We took a break, hydrated, ate some leftover pizza, and watched as a constant stream of hikers began to reach the summit.

A lot more people were coming up the trail as we headed down. The weather was starting to warm up quite a bit.  Thunderstorms didn’t actually hit the area until later that night, but I was still happy to have set out so early in the morning.

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Our view on the way down. Lake Helen on the left and Brokeoff Mountain on the right.
Our view on the way down. Lake Helen on the left and Brokeoff Mountain on the right.

The entire hike took 3 hours roundtrip.  We headed back to camp where we enjoyed a second breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes.

4 thoughts on “Hiking Lassen Peak”

  1. Left over pizza and chocolate chip pancakes, I’m going with you next time… I hope to make it that far north someday. Great photos too. You guys are really getting out this summer!

    1. Yes – trying to get a few trips in before summer ends! We’re going on a lot of these shorter weekend trips because we haven’t planned any multi-week vacations this year.

      It’s always fun to go all out with the cooking/food when car camping. I love backpacking, but car camping certainly has its benefits. 🙂

Any thoughts?