Alluring—but use caution

Lassen Volcanic National Park opens sections of main road, but visitors should come prepared for snowy conditions

Mount Lassen is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range. It last erupted on May 22, 1915.

Mount Lassen is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range. It last erupted on May 22, 1915.

It’s beautiful, but come prepared
In July 2006, my brother Scott and I took a road trip to breathtakingly scenic Lassen Volcanic National Park (approximately an hour and a half northeast of Chico), expecting the same easy access we’d had previous summers to the Lassen Peak parking area and a sunny, exhilarating hike up to the summit and back, with maybe a little snow here and there and at the top.

As it turned out, there was so much snow on the ground that July that we ended up having to park at the Bumpass Hell trailhead and hike three-quarters of a mile just to get to the Lassen Peak parking lot, which was buried in 15 feet of snow. We debated turning around and going home after seeing the thin line in the snow that was the beginning of the 2 1/2-mile-long trail to the 10,457-foot summit, but decided to go ahead and give it our best shot.

We were dressed for hot weather—which was fine, because it was sunny out. We had brought no snow-trekking equipment whatsoever—which turned out to be not as fine. We came across a handful of other trekkers on the trail—some with enough forethought to bring skis and poles.

Along a couple of stretches of our sometimes slippery hike I prayed I wouldn’t misstep and go sliding down the side of the snow-covered mountain. At one point during our ascent, a saintly boy coming down the trail handed me his walking stick.

Needless to say, the incredible view from the top—of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, and majestic Mount Shasta—made it all worth it.

I was reminded of this escapade recently when I received a couple of Lassen Park press releases advising visitors that, due to the late, heavy snowstorms this year, there is still a lot of snow in the park. Some sections of the main road are open, however, thanks to the efforts of the park’s road crew and snowplows.

Bumpass Hell—named after a local cowboy who lost a leg after stepping into a boiling mudpot in 1864—is a spectacular 16-acre geothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park that features steaming fumaroles, hot springs and mudpots.

The main road going into the park from the southwest entrance is open to vehicles from Highway 36 to the Bumpass Hell parking lot; the northwest entrance’s main road is open from Highway 44 to the Devastated Area. It’s expected to open fully Friday (July 8).

The trail into the steaming, stinky (but very interesting) fumarole- and mudpot-filled Bumpass Hell geothermal basin will be closed until roughly mid-July.

Bumpass Hell, by the way, was named after Lassen-area cowboy Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, who had to have his leg amputated due to severe burns he incurred after stepping through the thin crust covering a boiling mudpot in 1864.

“The descent to hell is easy,” Bumpass reportedly said afterward.

Under current conditions, hikers must park in the Bumpass Hell parking area and hike to the Lassen Peak parking lot in order to access the trailhead. The upper 1.2 miles of the Lassen Peak trail will be open to hikers only on Aug. 13 and 14, and Sept. 2-5, due to an ongoing trail-rehabilitation project.

Sunscreen, water and snow gear—skis, snowshoes, crampons, etc.—should be considered essentials for summiting Mount Lassen this summer. Most of the park’s campgrounds are now open, and daily ranger-led programs run through Aug. 14. Go to for more info.