The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park for Families

Take a hike. What to do in Lassen National Park with kids.
Take a hike when visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park to enjoy the mountain scenery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Visit a gem of the Northern California with fewer crowds than the national parks of Southern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park. Find majestic mountain scenery covered in evergreens, just like Sequoia or Yosemite. Though as part of the Cascade Mountain Range, Lassen Park is an actual volcano. See its legendary volcanic activity during hikes and learn more about volcano at the visitor center.  Read on for what to do in Lassen National Park with kids.

Table of Contents

Lassen Volcanic National Park

At a Glance

Year Established: 1916 though combined two national monuments from 1907
Located: Northern California
Size: over 310,000 acres
Top Feature: Lassen Peak—the largest plug dome volcano in the world

Top Things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Stop by a Visitor Center–Grab a map and ask the park rangers any questions, like wildlife sitings and park ranger programming.

Learn about Volcanoes—Kids love volcanoes so take the time and learn about them.

Drive through Lassen—Enter at the northwest or southern entrance and drive the Lassen Volcanic National Park Parkway for expansive views of Lassen Peak and the evergreen forests.

Hiking—Lassen offers over 150 miles of trails, including a section of the Pacific Rim Trail.

Summer Snow Play—Find a patch of snow in the summer. Playing in the snow in shorts is a must for kids.

Night Sky Programs—Park rangers host night sky program during the summer with telescopes and tours of the night sky.

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Take a park sign pic, what to do in Lassen National Park with kids.
Grab a picture of the kids next to the park sign before exploring Lassen. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Visitor Centers in Lassen

With two visitor centers in the park, find maps, junior ranger booklets,  restrooms along with interpretive areas at each. Learn about seasonal park ranger programming too.

Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center

At the southwest entrance of the park, it’s the place to learn about the volcanic activity in the par. If your child wants to earn a  Junior Ranger badge, find the answers in the interpretive display. Finally there’s a short educational film too.

Find a cafe with salads, sandwiches, coffee drinks, soft drinks and ice cream also with a gift store. Wifi is available too.

Open daily from May 1 to October 31 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the winter, it is open Wednesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Loomis Museum

Located at the northwest entrance near Manzanita Lake, the Loomis Museum displays the original equipment used to document the last eruption. Find traditionally made baskets as well.

Open during the summer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Loomis museum
Learn about volcanoes during your visit with a walk through the Loomis Museum. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Learn about Volcanoes

The big draw in Lassen Volcanic National Park is the volcanoes. Its namesake, Lassen Peak is the largest plug volcanoes in the world.

Take some time to learn more about the super forces of nature. My kids snooze during science class though mention seismic anything and they’re all ears.

Find all four types of volcanoes in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Then look for volcanic features throughout the park like mudpots and fumeroles, along with steam vents and sulphur springs.

• Cinder Cone—Cinder Cone, near Butte Lake

• Shield—Mount Harness, near Juniper Lake

• Composite—Brokeoff Mountain, near the southern entrance

• Plugged Dome—Lassen Peak

Visit to one of the hydrothermal areas while in Lassen. Learn about the different types of volcanic rocks at the Devastated Area.

• Bumpass Hell–16-acre site with mudpots, pools and steam vents including the Big Boiler. Find a boardwalk to hike the 3-mile round-trip trail. Note this trail might be closed due to snow.

• Sulphur Works–Easy area to explore, one mile from the Southwest entrance.

• Cold Boiling Lake–Close to the Kings Creek Picnic Area see a bubbling lake.

During your visit, kids can earn the Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Volcano Club patch (additional $2.50 fee). Pick up a booklet at the visitor center or Loomis Museum. Then complete seven of the 14 activities listed.

Scenic Drives in Lassen

Lassen Volcanic National Highway—The 30-mile (48 km) scenic route is the only road that bisects the park and open seasonally. It’s a must for a summer visit and connects Manzanita Lake with the Southwest entrance.

Juniper Lake Road—A 13-mile (20 km) road outside of Chester, CA, on the southeast part of the park used to reach the lake. Seasonal road with steep inclines and gravel for the last portion.

Warner Valley Road—A 13-mile (20 km) road outside of Chester southern part of the park to reach Drakesbad Ranch and Warner Valley campground. Seasonal road with steep inclines and gravel for the last portion.

Butte Lake Road—A 6-mile (9 km) road on the northeast portion of the park. Seasonal gravel road open in the summer. Consider checking in with a park ranger as to the condition of the road.

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Hiking in Lassen

With over 150 miles of trails in Lassen Volcanic National Park, take the family on a hike during your visit. The Pacific Coast Trail (PCH) long distance trail, runs through Lassen for 17 miles and marks the half-way point.

Trail Name Distance Elevation
Devastated Area Interpretive Trail .5-mile 6,470 feet
Lily Pond Nature Trail .75-mile 5,920 feet
Manzanita Lake Loop 1.5-mile 5,890 feet
Boiling Springs Lake 1.8-mile 5,640 to 6,020 feet
Crystal Lake .8-mile 6,820 to 7,200 feet
Cold Boiling Lake 1.4-mile 7,380 to 7,420 feet

Water Sports in Lassen

Find water recreation in Lassen Volcanic National Park, like swimming, boating and fishing. Though the water is cool, even in the summer.

• Swimming–Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake and Emerald Lake

• Non-Motorized Boating–Butte Lake, Juniper Lake, Summit Lake. Manzanita Lake offers kayak, canoe and SUP rental.

• Catch-and-Release Fishing–Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake and Horseshoe Lake offer trout. Requires a valid California Fishing License (16+).

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Winter in Lassen 

Snow comes early to Lassen Volcanic National Park and the scenic drives close due to snow from December until May. When the scenic roads are closed, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is another way to get around.

The Manzanita Lake area is plowed regularly and offers an area for winter recreation like sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Find a parking area with a year-round restroom near the Loomis Museum.

In the southwest area of Lassen Volcanic National Park near the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center, find another snow play area. This area offers steeper terrain for sledding. Picnicking is allowed in the parking lot.

Wildlife Viewing in Lassen

Lassen features three different ecological zones. Find lots of animals within the park though dawn and dusk are the best wildlife viewing times. The Park Rangers can also point out areas that offer the best chance at seeing wildlife.

  • Black bear (though not Grizzly bear)
  • Mule deer
  • Red fox
  • Gray fox
  • Mountain lion
  • Bobcat
  • Mink
  • Beaver
  • Pika
  • Snowshoe Hare (white)
  • Bats

Be Bear Aware

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to about 30 bears. The National Park Service recommends the following guidelines to reducing encounters.

•Make noise when hiking, kids are good at this.

•Be aware of the possibility of bears at streams.

•Store food when not eating or preparing in the bear-proof storage lockers.

•Keep 100 years between you and bears.

•Put all trash in a bear resistant trash container.

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Summer snow play. What to do in Lassen National Park with kids.
Lassen Volcanic National Park offers summer snow play, always a kid favorite. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids at Lassen Volcanic National Park

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them after completing their booklets.

Since a ranger station is located at both entrances, pick up the Junior Ranger booklets at either entrance. Complete the activities based on age while exploring the park. Lassen Volcanic National Park hands out patches, instead of plastic or wood badges.

Additional Junior Ranger Badges

Lassen Volcanic National Park offers additional Junior Ranger badges.

Junior Ranger Night Explorer–Earn at a Night Sky Badge or work on it during your stay.

Junior Firefighter Program–An opportunity to learn about the important work of the U.S. Forest Service along with the NPS.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Volcano Club–Pick up a Volcano Card at the Visitor Center and complete the required activities.

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Where to Eat in Lassen

Lassen Volcanic National Park doesn’t feature a lodge with dining. Visitors need to be prepared to pack in their food.

Manzanita Lake Camper Store

Forget something basic, then stop by the camp store salads, sandwiches, s’mores kits, soft-serve ice cream, beverages along with apparel. Rent kayaks for Manzanita Lake too.

The only gas pump in the park is behind the store and seasonal. Find showers and a coin-operated laundry next to the camper store too.

Open seasonally from May until early October.

Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center

Find a small cafe inside the visitor center with salads, sandwiches, coffee drinks, soft drinks and ice cream also with a gift store. Wifi is available too.

Picnicking in Lassen

Find picnic tables at several popular sites with the park.

  • Lake Helen
  • Kings Creek
  • Summit Lake North
  • Manzanita Lake

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Where to Stay in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Camping. What to do in Lassen National Park with kids.
I reserved a cabin at the Manzanita Lake Campground. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If the kids are begging to camp, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers some options from traditional tent camping, RV camping, camping cabins along with glamping.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch

For an exclusive experience, stay at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch for a rustic lodge decorated in pine furnishings. Enjoy a mineral water pool, fly-fishing in Warner valley, horseback riding or pony rides along with campfire s’mores, archery and arts and crafts for the kids. $$$$

Located in Warner Valley area. Open form early June until early October and reservations are a must.

Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins

During our visit, I reserved a camping cabin. It’s a favorite for families, all the camping kids love with the roof, door and electricity Mom needs. There’s even bunk beds for the kids.

Bring the gear for a cookout, like a stove and lantern. Then add the sleeping bags to throw on the mattresses. And don’t forget the marshmallows.

Each cabin features two rooms, one room outfitted with a futon and a small table and two chairs. The other room has two sets of bunk beds with mattresses. The cabin also features a front porch.

Outside, enjoy dinner under the stars with a standard picnic table, a fire ring with grate and a bear box for food storage. A water spigot is nearby and the bathhouse is within walking distance along with the Manzanita Camping Store.

Campgrounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park

In Lassen traditional camp sites offer a picnic table, fire ring, bear box, potable water nearby and toilets (vault or flushing).

Campgrounds are open from early June until the snow closure in the fall (October). No hook ups in the park though find a dump station at Manzanita Lake.

Manzanita Lake

  • Summer only
  • Reservations recommended
  • 179 sites including RV sites
  • Potable water with flush toilets
  • Dump station
  • Camper Store with Showers and Laudromat

Butte Lake Campground

  • Summer only
  • Reservations recommended
  • 101 sites including RV sites
  • Potable water with flush toilets

Juniper Lake Campground

  • Summer only
  • Reservations recommended
  • 18 sites, no RVs
  • Lake water only

Summit Lake North Campground

  • Summer only
  • Reservations recommended
  • 46 sites, including RV sites
  • Potable water with flush toilets

Summit Lake South Campground

  • Summer only
  • Reservations recommended
  • 48 sites, including RV sites
  • Potable water with flush toilets

Warner Valley Campground

  • Summer only
  • Reservations recommended
  • 17 sites, no RVs
  • no water

Also find the Lost Creek Group Campground and the Southwest Walk-in with 20 sites.

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History of Lassen

Lassen Peak started to erupt 825,000 years ago. Four different American Indian groups used Lassen during the summer months.

Next the Gold Rush brought settlers looking for gold. Then the Emigrant Trail passed through Lassen with more settlers looking for a new life on the West Coast.

It’s been over a hundred years since the last eruptions of Lassen Peak from 1914 to 1921. At the time, local Benjamin Loomis documented the eruption. He later advocated for the creation of a national park.

Theodore Roosevelt created two separate national monuments in the area in 1907. They were combined to form Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916. It’s the fifteenth national park in the National Park Service.

The People of Lassen

Four American Indian groups lived in the Lassen area. The Atsugewi, Yana, Yani and Maidu people moved to the area during the warmer months for hunting and gathering. Pine needles were woven into baskets. Find artifacts in the Loomis Museum.

Next William Nobles and Peter Lassen developed a pioneer trail through the Lassen area. Emigrants used the trail during the Gold Rush to get to California.

Benjamin Loomis documented the 1914-1915 eruption by photographing it. To see his work stop by the Loomis Museum.

Where’s Lassen Volcanic National Park

Located north of San Francisco, Lassen Volcanic National Park is 50 miles east of Redding. Redding is the largest city located north of Sacramento so it offers all the services and supplies for travelers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per vehicle.

The main road through Lassen National Park closes for snow. Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway usually fully opens up in late May or early June and closes in late October or early November.

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Altitude Sickness

Be on the lookout for acute mountain sickness when traveling over 8,000 feet. It’s caused by a lower amount of oxygen at higher elevations. Look for the following symptoms.

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Insomnia, or restless sleep

If anyone in your group is exhibiting any symptoms, then head down 2,000 feet and definitely below 10,000 feet.

To prevent symptoms, head up into the mountains at a gradual pace, especially if you live at sea-level. Spend a day at 5,000 to 7,000 feet, take it easy and drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids.

I have a child who suffers for Altitude Sickness and I didn’t know it was an issue until a trip up Pike’s Peak in Colorado (14,000 feet).

First he got a severe headache and started crying. Since it was a short trip, the cog train leaves after 45 minutes at the top. Thankfully he fell asleep on the way back down and felt better at a lower elevation.

Then we had to cut short a ski trip on a 10,000-foot mountain. Now we realize that he can’t go over 9,000 feet and it hasn’t been an issue since. Though I remind him to drink lots of fluids and keep track with a graduated water bottle.

Know Before You Go

  • Stay on boardwalks and established trails in thermal areas.
  • Cell service is limited. And data is non-existent.
  • Watch your children at all times, many features have barricades kids can climb over.
  • Wild animals are unpredictable, give them space and don’t feed them.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit. Food service is limited.
  • Know your personal limits and the limits of your equipment.

Looking for a National Park in California big on scenery and lean on crowds? Try Lassen Volcanic National Park to learn about volcanoes, hike, see the stars and camp in cabin. All the details you need in this handy guide. Where to go in California for a weekend away | Best National Parks in California | Less Crowded National Parks in California #California #NationalParks
credit: Catherine Parker

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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