Some of the most beautiful and interesting remote hiking in California can be found in Lassen’s spreading expanse of backcountry. While you might not be the only backpacker out there, you’ll definitely leave the crowds on the main road behind and find yourself with more trees, birds, and other mountain critters than people to talk to. You might even get lucky enough to have a pristine lake or mountain stream all to yourself.
Backcountry camping is permitted at Lassen, and several hike-in campgrounds offer some minimal facilities and a way to minimize your impact on the landscape. Check with the ranger station when you enter the park to obtain backcountry permits and get the season’s scoop on trail and campground conditions. Be sure to bring your fishing gear! Tasty trout swim the lakes and streams of the remote Lassen wilderness, offering the chance at a fresh dinner or breakfast.
No major park in California would be complete without a hunk of the Pacific Crest Trail running through it. This high-altitude piece (17 miles, difficult) of the continent-spanning trail offers lots of challenge and solitude, and a fairly short window of months in which you can traverse this part of California. If you’re doing the California leg of the Pacific Crest Trail, try to hit Lassen sometime between June and September, and be prepared for extreme weather conditions from blistering heat to snowstorms.
For a radical change of scenery, take the Cinder Cone from Butte Lake (west end of Butte Lake Campground, 4–5 miles, moderate). Be sure to wear your sturdiest ankle-covering hiking boots on this adventure, since the ground on the Cinder Cone is…well…cinders. Watch your footing so you don’t slide down; even cold cinders can cut you up. The cone rises 800 feet over two miles; to lengthen the hike, walk down the south side of the cone. Geology and photography buffs particularly like this hike, which is accessible by dirt road and shows off some of the more interesting and less-seen volcanic history of Mount Lassen.
If you can’t get enough of Lassen’s geothermal features, enter the park from Warner Valley Road and take a hike to Boiling Springs Lake (Warner Campground Parking Lot, 3 miles, easy to moderate). You’ll get to see bubbling mud pots and check out (from a safe distance) the waters of boiling springs. The walk out and back is reasonably short and non-strenuous. Just be very careful once you reach the geothermal area.
Unlike Bumpass Hell, this region has no nice safe boardwalks encircling the mud pots and fumaroles. These features, along with the hot springs, can be extremely dangerous. This might not be a great hike for young, spirited children. But it’s heaven for serious nature- lovers who want to see what volcanic geothermal features look like in their wild state. Needless to say, trying to swim in (sulfurous, acidic, 125°F) Boiling Springs Lake is a very bad idea.
Looking for a more serious backcountry trek that will take you more than a day? Check the park’s website (www.nps.gov/lavo) for maps, and feel free to call the park to get advice on route planning and necessary equipment before you come. Once you’re in the park, the visitors centers can issue you a free wilderness permit for backcountry hiking and camping, and give you last-minute pointers and current trail information.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition