3 Days at Lassen National Park

California Family Road Trip

Waterfalls, Lakes, and Lots of Volcanoes!!

Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
LODGING: tent camping in butte lake campground
Miles Travelled: 464
JJ is a dinosaur-loving, volcano-obsessed five year old, so Lassen Volcanic National Park was the perfect outdoorsy getaway for our family.   I’d visited the area almost every summer as a kid, and was eager to see the waterfalls, caves, and volcanoes through the boys’ eyes.  As an added bonus during this insane summer, Lassen is one of California’s less-traveled National Parks with plenty of room to roam.

The following is an overview of our little Lassen adventure, including some of our favorite spots and a few tips and tricks we learned along the way.

The Highlight Reel

Click the image below for a slideshow of our favorite spots in and around Lassen National Park.

Butte Lake Trees, Gathering Firewood

Quick Tip for Family Road Trips

After four months of staying home, we were beyond excited to be on the road again! Of course, nothing kills the excitement of a family road trip like the constant refrain, “Are we there yet??” To keep the boys’ as upbeat as we were during the drive, I brought along little surprises to celebrate every 50 miles. These ranged from simple road trip snacks to some new stories and sticker books. This kept everyone’s energy up and helped the time to fly by!

Our Top Three Experiences

1. hiking cinder cone

Our big adventure of the trip was hiking the Cinder Cone Volcano near our campground in Butte Lake. We aren’t the type of family who has been out trekking together since the boys were born, so this was a big hike for us. Reaching the top of the volcano after inching up the steep sandy trail felt like a big accomplishment, and we were especially proud of 5 year old JJ who got plenty of encouragement from his fellow hikers. Plus how many kids get to stare into the crater of the volcano??  It was challenging, exciting, and rewarding all in one. More Info


2. subway cave
The Subway Cave is technically outside of the park, but it was right on the way as we drove from Butte Lake to the Lassen’s northern entrance. Exploring this subterranean lava tube is a must-do activity if you’re in the area with kids. It’s not a difficult walk at only 1/3 of a mile, but the complete darkness of the experience ratchets up the adventure quotient. Make sure to bring a flashlight! This was 3 year old Bug’s favorite activity of the trip. More Info


3. geothermal activity at sulphur works
Our last stop on our last day was to Sulphur Works, which isn’t a trail so much as hydrothermal activity featured on the sides of the main park throughway. These boiling mud pots and steam vents remind visitors that they are standing amidst active volcanoes.  Definitely not the kind of thing you see (or smell) everyday! Find out more about the park’s hydrothermal areas here.


We did it! Family photo after hiking Cinder Cone - Lassen Family Road Trip
Boiling Mudpots at Sulphur Works
JJ Rock Scrambling at Burney Falls State Park - Lassen National Park with the Kids


We left Silicon Valley early and made it to McArthur-Burney Falls State Park at 11am. After the long drive, we enjoyed stretching our legs on the mile long Rim Trail to the picnic area at Lake Britton. After lunch, the boys splashed in the lake a bit before we headed back to the main falls. They were spectacular, but drew more tourists than we expected, so we didn’t stay long. During any other time, we highly recommend adding a stop at Burney Falls on a Lassen family road trip, even though it’s a bit of a drive from the park.

After our waterfall fun we headed to the Butte Lake Campground in the northeast section of Lassen National Park. We chose to camp here because it was among the more remote campgrounds in the park, but still accessible for car camping.

After setting up camp, we explored a bit while gathering firewood. Though our site felt a bit more crowded in than we would have liked, it was still spacious for car camping and there was still plenty of room to wander while staying to ourselves.

The day ended as every campout should, with a campfire and s’mores.


The kids splash in Butte Lake after hiking Cinder Cone: Lassen Family Road Trip

Day 2

After enjoying some awesomely delicious campfire breakfast burritos, we headed out for our big adventure of the trip: the hike to Cinder Cone.

The trail starts nice and easy with interpretive signs about the history and natural phenomena of the trail such as the Fantastic Lava Beds that erupted from the base of Cinder Cone forming Butte Lake in the 17th century.

After a little over a mile, the volcano itself comes into view. The rest of the hike to the top is less than a mile, but it is steep and sandy. Trekking poles were helpful in securing our footing. John carried Bug on his back, but JJ did the full trail on his own.

When you reach the top of the volcano, you can see  down into the crater. If you have energy left, you can even hike into it and leave your mark with a cairn. Amazing views surround you in every direction, from Lassen Peak to the Painted Dunes and Snag Lake.

After our big hike, we were ready to relax. We headed back to Butte Lake, where John and I relaxed (ok, I may have snoozed) while the boys enjoyed more lake splashing.


Walking through the dark Subway Caves - Lassen family road trip

Day 3

The first stop after packing up camp on day 3 was Subway Cave, located between Butte Lake and the north entrance to the main section of the park. The boys LOVED Subway Cave, which is an easy 1/3 mile walk but feels very adventurous since you are walking through a subterranean lava tube.

As soon as we arrived at the north entrance, we headed to the table set up outside of the Loomis Museum where Ranger Carly awarded JJ his first Junior Ranger Badge (Bug got one too). Then, we enjoyed a picnic on the shore of Manzanita Lake. There were definitely more people on this side of the park, but still enough space to easily grab a lakeside picnic table.

From there we took a scenic drive following Highway 89 through the park. At the entrance, we were given an interpretive newsletter that highlights points of interest along the way. We stopped at the highest part of the road, the trailhead to Lassen Peak,  which still had some snow, and then paused to gawk at the geothermal phenomena Sulphur Works near the southern entrance.

Knowing there was still so much to do and see, we said “goodbye-for-now” as we ended our amazing little Lassen family road trip.


Where to Camp?

If you're looking for a place to get away from the crowds, check out the Butte Lake Campground. It's off the beaten path and offers fun hiking trails and multiple lakes within walking distance. Book site B1 if you can. It has views of Butte Lake through the trees from the picnic table!
Reserve a Site Here

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    I visited Lassen pre-kids but this makes me want to go back with my crew!

    • Kristy

      Hope you do! I hadn’t been in many years, and it was so fun to see it again through the eyes of our boys. And we hardly scratched the surface on this quick trip!

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