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Lassen Peak

Explore, and even climb, a still-active volcano

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Looking up at this almost treeless, silent mountain, rising to 10,457 feet/3,187 meters in a turquoise-blue sky, it’s hard to imagine that a century ago, it was rocked by violent eruptions that flattened trees and devastated the land for miles around. Lassen Peak’s flare-ups began in May 1914, but the heaviest devastation didn’t occur until one year later, with massive mudslides and steaming clouds of volcanic gases. Steam eruptions continued until 1921.

One of the best spots to admire Lassen Peak is from Lake Helen, which lies at its base just beyond the Bumpass Hell Overlook. This high-elevation lake often wears a cap of snow and ice into midsummer, giving the lake an icy turquoise hue. Even in drier years it’s a spectacular site. For a great picnic spot, aim for the area on the lake’s east side.

If you choose to hike up the volcano (a strenuous but not technical climb—doable by kids with a lot of energy), be prepared for company, especially on summer weekends.

Start early in the morning to beat the heat, carry plenty of water, and wear sun hats. The path begins on a deceptively easy grade though mountain hemlock and white bark pines, but gets steeper as you leave the trees. A series of switchbacks ascend to Lassen’s first summit, with head-spinning views. To visit Lassen’s actual crater, continue a short distance to the peak’s second summit. 

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