Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Directions: 50 miles east of Redding on Hwy 44 (to the Northwest entrance of the park)
Campground: Manzanita Lake campground (amenities included camp store, pay showers and laundry, kayak rentals), $24/night, reservable through recreation.gov 6 months in advance
Fees: Park entry fee $20, Campground fee $24/night
Sometimes when you make reservations for campgrounds so far in advance, there is just no way to plan around… well, life. With our move to a new house imminent, we thought that we couldn’t possibly keep our reservations for campsites in Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, we got to a point where we just needed a break from all the moving prep and came to the realization that it was a good time to do so. Being surrounded by nature to put life into perspective may be just what we needed to rejuvenate ourselves. We decided last minute to head up north to Lassen and leave this packing craziness behind for a few days. We loaded up the campervan last Wednesday and headed out, feeling our tiredness melt away as we got closer to the park. Having left at 3 pm, hoping that we packed at least all the essentials that were on our camping list, we didn’t get settled into our campsite (A23) in Manzanita campground until close to 8:30 pm. A23 was a nice site on the edge of loop A, however, the parking for the site was pretty much on the campground road (not on a semi-circle like we thought from the campground maps). Thankfully this never became an issue, since the campers at the campground were so considerate and this campground got very quiet and still at 9 pm. Needless to say we got a great night’s sleep.
I love waking up in the morning and looking at the campsite through the campervan window, something about the morning light and the feeling of a fresh new day gets my blood pumping. On our first day at Lassen, we decided to explore Lake Manzanita, which was only about 2 minutes walking distance from the back of our campsite.
We walked to the lake and started our hike on the Manzanita Lake loop trail (1.5 mile loop).
The trail followed the lake for awhile until it turned inward along a creek that flowed toward the lake. I think my family got tired of me saying, “Now this is my kind of hike!” all day long.
The trail led us to the Visitor Center area where we looked around inside the Loomis museum and got some great info from a park ranger about hikes.
Across the street (Hwy 89) from the Visitor’s Center next to Reflection Lake, we caught a glimpse of the sign for Lily Pond Trail. There were many people and cars in the parking lot by the visitor center, but not one person was heading to Lily Pond Trail. So, we took a detour to check out this trail and we are so glad we did. There is an interpretive brochure available at the start of the trail near Reflection Lake and we found the information as well as the hike very interesting. It helped open our eyes about the many types of plants and trees in the area and it was exciting to be able to finally identify some of them. This gave us a much better understanding of our surroundings the rest of the trip. We had no idea that the bark of the Jeffrey pines smelled like vanilla (or butter beer as my daughter described it), I’ve never gone up to a pine tree and taken a big whiff of its bark before. The trail led us through many different types of terrain from lake, mixed pine forrest, meadow, lily pond, and even through a rock avalanche in a short easy 0.75 mile loop.
After finishing the Lily Pond loop trail we headed back across the street to get back on the Manzanita Lake loop trail.
The last part of the Manzanita Lake loop trail had the best views of Mount Lassen. I liked hiking the loop in the counter clockwise direction since it saved the best for last. It was at this point on our hike when I got my “in-awe” feeling and really understood why this park was a National Park. Just incredible!! We headed back to the campsite for some lunch, relaxation and journaling time.
Subway Cave was on our docket for the afternoon. To get there you have to exit the park and drive 16 miles up Hwy 44 through Lassen National Forest. There is a self-guided trail through the cave which is actually a winding lava tube that is about 0.3 miles long. As suggested we brought flashlights, jackets as well as put on our hiking shoes. There were a number of people when we walked the first section, but we waited until no one else was around to continue exploring the cave. Walking through the pitch black cave with just the light from our flashlights and with no other voices and sounds but our own was truly exciting. There is so much to look at and touch. At the end of the 0.3 mile walk through the cave you have the option to exit and walk back along a trail above the cave back to the starting point. However, we chose to walk back to the start through the cave. Going in the backward direction through the cave we just walked through felt like a whole new experience. We noticed some things we hadn’t noticed before and just took our time to savor the experience. Make sure to read all the interpretive signs along the way, it makes the walk much more interesting. The cave was really a highlight of our first day in Lassen.
Since McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park was only 22 miles north of Subway Caves we decided to drive up there to take a look at the famous Burney Falls. This state park is the second oldest state park in the California parks system (first one is Big Basin) and is known for the 129 foot Burney Falls at the entrance of the park. The falls were truly breathtakingly beautiful and the sound of the water flowing (at 100 gallons per day) off the edge and hitting the water below was deafening. The force of the water was palpable! There are many other areas of the park we didn’t get to explore, but we hope to come back another time and camp here.
We cut our visit to the state park short and drove back down Hwy 44 to Manzanita campground to take evening pictures of Lassen.
My daughter and I walked down to Manzanita Lake to take pictures of the lake and Lassen Peak in the evening. The mosquitoes were out in full force, but our repellent kept them from biting us. Even so, it was not so comfortable hanging around the lake when the mosquitoes seemed to be salivating around you and waiting for the repellent to wear off.
The weather in Lassen in July was warm during the day (80s) and cold at night (40s), making mid morning and early evening the best time to hike. Both campgrounds were near lakes, so mosquitoes were a big issue. I don’t really like mosquitoes flying around me all the time, but our repellents seemed to be working well. My hubby escaped the trip without a single bite, while my daughter just got one bite on her forehead. They were very diligent about putting on the yellow patch (Justified laboratories) on top of their mosquito repellent clothing (REI) and rubbing DEET on any exposed skin (their paranoia paid off though). I on the other hand was good until I took off my jacket on an early evening hike for just a little bit without any repellent and got 6 bites on my exposed arms (I was the control in our repellent experiment, yes that’s it). Knowing that the repellents were working made the evening hikes/walks much more enjoyable. Also, since we are constantly going in and out of the van, we tried using the HIG Pest Repeller Ultrasonic Control Electronic Plug-In to keep the bugs out of the campervan. We plugged 2 of these into the van and we were amazed at how great a job they did keeping mosquitos and other insects out of the van. Not just the mosquitos in the evening, but any kind of bugs all day and night. If it weren’t for my hubby trying out all these new items, we would have been bombarded with mosquitos and bugs and I’m sure quite miserable with many bites (many more in my case).
After our first day of exploring, we were extremely glad to have made the time to visit Lassen. We had reservations at Manzanita campground for two nights and Summit Lake North campground for the following two nights after that. We decided to play it by ear how long we stayed knowing we had a busy week when we returned to reality. By 9 pm, the campground became completely silent again and we fell asleep easily with smiles on our faces thinking about our first day in Lassen, no packing nightmares to be had.
If you’re interested, check out our second day at Lassen National Park exploring Echo Lake and camping at Summit Lake North (Lassen Volcanic National Park, Day 2) and our driving tour (Driving Tour of Lassen Volcanic National Park).