Lassen; the Under-Appreciated National Park

After sheltering-in-place for three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with travel restrictions severely limiting our trailer camping excursions, the San Mateo Public Health Department eased up and we made our first trip this summer. Lassen Volcanic National Park was our destination; healthy forests, challenging peaks, and fascinating geology just a five hour drive from our house, and with two new Tesla Supercharging locations along the route the trip was easier than ever.

We are so fortunate to have our Safari Condo Alto trailer during this pandemic. When you can “take your house with you” travel in these uncertain times is a lot safer. With the trailer we are self-contained for short trips and can social distance 24/7.

We spent four nights at Volcano Country Camping & RV which is at an elevation of 4,700 ft in the tiny town of Mineral on Hwy 86, nine miles from the southwest park entrance. I put on my N95 mask to go inside to check in. The man at the counter was not wearing a mask, and handed me a grimy pen to sign the credit card receipt. I ignored the offer and used my own.

The campground has about 20 RV sites with full hookups (30A only) and several tent sites. It’s not too crowded, there are plenty of trees for shade, and the electricity was reliable (we did not use the campground bathrooms, so no comment in that regard). Charging an EV at 120V/25A takes all night, but it works. I prefer not to pull the maximum amperage offered and potentially stress aging campground infrastructure. There is also a quite respectable Verizon cell data signal in Mineral.

Lassen offers a multitude of trails, and on most of them you won’t see many people. For our first hike we chose the Brokeoff Mountain trail, which starts at 7,000 ft at a trailhead a quarter mile before you reach the southwest entrance into the park (almost all the trail is in the park, and you need to first go to the park entrance and pay the entrance fee). The trail ascends 2,503 ft to the summit for a seven mile roundtrip. The midday temperature rose to 89F, and the combination of high altitude and heat meant that we were moving slowly on the way up! The reward is views of nearby Mt Lassen and, 70 miles away, Mt Shasta (we didn’t quite make the top but found a spur ridge with a wonderful panorama). Plus, a butterfly perched on Rosemary’s toe while we ate lunch (if you get lucky you can see thousands of them migrating through the park sometime in mid-summer or early fall).

I had hoped to do the Lassen Peak trail the next day, but when we learned that there were still large snow fields on parts of the trail we decided to do the Kings Creek to Warner Valley trail which is at a much lower elevation (trailhead is on Hwy 89, most people use it to visit Kings Creek Falls). That turned out to maybe not be the smartest choice, as it was far hotter than the day before; at lunch our SensorPush wireless thermometer/hygrometer registered 101F, which was made barely tolerable by the 19% humidity! We ate our lunch by Warner Creek, and decided not to continue on to Boiling Springs Lake or the Devils Kitchen geothermal area; it was just too hot. The 1,700 ft climb back to the car was a slog. I drank over 3 liters of water on that hike, which totaled out at 10 miles.

Above left; descending the trail into Warner Valley. Below: view looking up Warner Valley.

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The weather cooled for our third day, but we decided to take it easy. We still wanted to see Devils Kitchen so we wimped out and made the one hour drive to the trailhead in Warner Valley. Because the extremely popular Bumpass Hell Trail was still closed due to snow, the Warner Valley trailhead was probably busier than usual; we got one of the last parking spots

The Devils Kitchen area contains numerous fumaroles and a small pond of boiling water. You will smell the sulfur in the air before you see the source.

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We found a secluded spot by the creek for lunch, and then enjoyed the walk downhill through the meadow back to the trailhead.

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