Family friendly Lassen Volcanic National Park

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By Kristy Esparza, December 30, 2020

Lassen National Park policies and available services may change in response to both weather conditions and Covid-19 safety regulations. Always check the park site directly to see the latest entrance policies and which roads and services are accessible. 

Last June, we found ourselves standing on the rim of an extinct Cinder Cone volcano, staring into its crater. In the distance we could make out Butte Lake. Just a few hours later, I’d be snoozing on its beach while the boys splashed on the shore. We hadn’t been sure what to expect from Lassen Volcanic National Park, but our visit left a lasting impression and countless wonderful memories.  

Lassen offers fun, adventure, and educational experiences for visitors of all ages. This guide will show you the best things to do in Lassen with kids, including how to incorporate hands-on science into your trip in a way that makes them curious to learn more.

With just over 500,000 visitors in 2019, as compared to Yosemite’s 4.4 million or Death Valley’s 1.7 million, Lassen is one of California’s least visited National Parks. I honestly have no idea why. In the span of a long weekend, our 3 and 5 year old boys witnessed spectacular waterfalls, hiked a volcano, were immersed in a lava tube cave, splashed in a few gorgeous lakes, earned Junior Ranger badges, played in June snow, and gaped at boiling mud pots in the park’s hydrothermal areas. And we barely scratched the surface. This park is an awe-inspiring gem. 

If you’re looking for a less crowded family friendly National Park with mind blowing natural wonders, Lassen might be a great fit for your and your family.

In this post:

Must See Sights Near Lassen National Park
Lassen National Park Logistics
What to Pack

What to bring for variable weather, high altitudes, and sandy rocky volcanic hikes? Click here to find out what we brought, and what we wished we had with us.

Build Excitement for Your Adventure

Before a family trip we always add in some new books and experiences to build up excitement about our destination. Check out how we got our kids excited for Lassen here.

Suggested Itinerary

This suggested family-frieind Lassen itinerary takes you through the highlights of Lassen National Park over five days (including your arrival and departure days).

Map of things to do and places to stay in Lassen National Park

When I was starting to plan our Lassen family trip, I felt a little overwhelmed by where each trailhead was and hikes which made sense to group together. I felt that again as I was adding in each of the locations below because there are just so many family friendly things to do in Lassen National Park!

With that in mind, I made a map that lays out each location in this post. You’ll find:

  • Places to Eat
  • Museums
  • Trailheads for Scenic Family Friendly Hikes
  • Volcanic Sites
  • Campgrounds and Lodging

At the end of the post, I pulled some of my favorite spots and experiences into a five-day sample itinerary.

Places to See & Things to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Opportunities for kid-friendly adventure are endless in Lassen Volcanic National Park. We were wowed by our visit, and can’t wait to return! In this section we’ll lead you through the park’s visitor centers, volcanic wonders,  scenic hikes, ideas for adventures off the trails, and ranger-led interpretive programs. 

We did it! Family photo after hiking Cinder Cone - Lassen Family Road Trip
Tunnel View in Winter

Visit one of Lassen’s Visitor Centers

At 166 square miles, Lassen is not huge by National Park standards, but it does take quite awhile to get from one area of the park to another. Most people spend their time on the west side of the park, where trails and scenic highlights are easily accessed along the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. Two visitor centers anchor the road at the main park entrances. Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center is near the southern entrance and the Loomis Museum on the northern end.

At the time of writing, exhibit areas and auditoriums are closed due to COVID precautions. If you’d like to share the Park’s features and history with your family before your visit, the film that you would normally see at one of the visitor centers, “Story Behind the Landscape,” is currently available online. Indoor dining is not available, but you can purchase food to go at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee visitor center and the Manzanita Lake Camper Store near the Loomis Museum.

Always check the official Lassen site to see what is open before your visit. 

Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center

Anchoring the southwestern end of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center is named for the Mountain Maidu phrase for Lassen Peak, meaning “snow mountain. Open year round, the Center offers interactive exhibits that introduce visitors to the park’s natural wonders, from illustrating where to find all four types of volcanoes within the park boundaries to making your own earthquake by jumping on a seismometer. 

The visitor center is also a great place to purchase some supplies and souvenirs at the  bookstore, get a Junior Ranger booklet or badge, and meet up with a park ranger for an Interpretive Program. You’ll also find dining options with a fireplace indoors or sunny patio outdoors and one of the only free Wi-Fi signals in the park.

Loomis Museum

On the northwestern end of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, the Loomis Museum is open during the summer months. Benjamin Franklin Loomis was a photographer who documented the 1915 eruptions of Lassen Peak and advocated for the establishment of the area as a National Park in 1916. In 1929, Loomis donated his museum and 40 acres of land to the National Park Service, which has been used for interpretive exhibits and programs since. 

You’ll find interpretive exhibits and a second bookstore. You can also get Junior Ranger booklets and badges, and meet up with park rangers for an Interpretive Programs.

Trailheads for the Manzanita Lake Loop and the Lily Pond Nature Trail, both good trails with kids of all ages, are located nearby.

Experience Geology in Action at Lassen’s Many Volcanic Natural Wonders

Experiential learning sticks with us in ways that books and photos rarely do. It’s one thing to read that all 4 types of volcanoes can be found in Lassen National Park, and it’s another entirely to track them down and experience their physical differences. 

Though I think Lassen is fascinating for visitors of all ages, it’s a perfect place to visit with dinosaur and volcano loving kids.  With so many dinosaur toys and movies set in landscapes of erupting volcanoes, our kiddos were amazed to experience this active volcanic area first hand. 

Bring geology lessons to life for the whole family by exploring some of the wonderful Lassen sites and activities below with your kids.

Things to do in Lassen - Hike Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak (Southwest Area)

Lassen Peak, or Mount Lassen, is the largest lava dome volcano on Earth. From 1914 to 1917, there was a series of eruptions at Lassen Peak, including a powerful eruption in 1915 which spread volcanic ash as far as 280 miles east. What we now know as Lassen Volcanic National Park was established a year later to preserve the affected surrounding areas for observation and study, and to keep people from settling too close to the area’s active volcanic activity. That’s right, Lassen is still an active volcano. It’s not a question of if it will erupt again, but when. 

That may sound intimidating, but the trail up to Lassen Peak is now one of the most popular in the park!  The 5 mile round trip hike begins at a parking area off of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. You’ll climb 1,957 feet to the summit with an elevation of 10,457 feet. At the summit you’ll be rewarded with awesome views of the park and the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide that reminds you that you’re standing on an active volcano. The view of the Devastated Area from the Peak can help you imagine the force of the 1914 – 1917 eruptions. 

The trail can be steep and rocky, so hiking boots are recommended. There aren’t many trees for cover, so be prepared for sun and wind exposure. Despite the relatively low mileage, this hike is rated by the National Park Service as strenuous. Adventurous families with older children may still want to give it a try. If you’re wondering if hiking to Lassen Peak with kids is a good idea, talk to a park ranger who will be able to describe trail conditions. 

During our trip we knew we weren’t going to be hiking to Lassen Peak, but we still wanted to get a closer look. We drove up to the parking area and walked around a bit near the trailhead. We were there in June and there was still snow in the ground at 8,500 feet!  Playing in June snow beneath the summit of the largest lava dome volcano on Earth was awe-inspiring enough for our family!  

Boiling Things to do in Lassen - Mudpots at Sulphur Work

Sulphur Works (Southwest Area)

You can smell Sulphur Works from the inside of your car as you approach. If you’re not able to do the Bumpass Hell trail, Sulphur Works offers a more accessible peek into Lassen’s geothermal activity.

The area is the center of a wide basin surrounded by volcanic peaks. Geologists believe that each of the encircling peaks are the remains of a massive eroded composite volcano known as Brokeoff Volcano or Mount Tehama. The Sulphur Works hydrothermal area sits where Mount Tehama’s now extinct central vent should be. The boiling mud pots and steam fumaroles that you’ll find are evidence of the magma that still lies beneath the surface of Lassen today.  

Sulphur Works isn’t a trail so much as a grouping of geologic sights alongside the Highway. You’ll park in the designated lot and access the sights and their interpretive signs via a wide sidewalk. This multisensory area is a perfect introduction to the ongoing geothermal activity in Lassen for kids of all ages.

Things to do in Lassen - Devastated Area

Devastated Area Interpretive Trail (Northwest Area)

Located about 10 miles from the Northwest Park Entrance, you’ll find this 0.2 mile stroller-friendly interpretive trail loop. The Devastated Area trail has signage to help visitors understand the area’s formation during the 1915-1916 Lassen Peak eruption during which a pyroclastic flow of boulders, mud, and hot gases flew more than 2 miles from Lassen Peak. The US Forest Service estimated that the eruption cleared more than 5 million feet of timber. 

In this area, you’ll experience the remaining impacts of that eruption through thousands of rocks and boulders made of black dacite, red dacite, and andesite that were flung to the area from the volcano.

 Walking through the area and looking back at Lassen Peak will fire up your kids’ imaginations and forge a lasting impression about the impact of volcanic activity.

Things to do in Lassen - Devil's Kitchen

Devil’s Kitchen (Warner Valley Area)

This 4 mile family friendly hike starts at the Warner Valley Trailhead, which also intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail. In addition to visiting the second largest hydrothermal area in the park, you’ll hike through the area’s lovely meadows and forest. 

After following Hot Springs Creek, you’ll arrive at a loop trail that passes boiling mudpots, steam vents, and boiling springs. We didn’t have time to make it to the Warner Valley Area on our last visit, but per the Lassen National Park site, you’ll hear “sounds of plopping, hissing and belching fill your ears [while] the smell of ‘something’ cooking lingers in the air.” Sounds like a fascinating hike to me!

If your kiddos are getting a little tired of hiking, you can also book a horseback ride to Devil’s Kitchen through Warner Valley’s Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Day passes are also available to their hot spring-fed swimming pool, which would make a fun-for-them and soothing-for-parents conclusion to the ride.

Things to do in Lassen -  Cinder Cone Volcano Hike

Cinder Cone (Butte Lake Area)

Our big adventure of the trip was hiking the Cinder Cone Volcano near Butte Lake. Don’t write off the Butte Lake area just because it’s about an hour east of the northwestern park entrance. Our whole family found the area well worth visiting. 

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 and sandy trail felt like a major accomplishment. We were especially proud of 5 year old JJ who got plenty of encouragement from his fellow hikers. And how many kids get to stare into the crater of the volcano?  It was challenging, exciting, and rewarding all in one. You can read a detailed post about our Cinder Cone hike here

The trail is four miles round trip, and most of that is actually pretty flat. Pick up an interpretive leaflet at the trailhead for some insight about what you’re seeing along the way. A highlight of this portion of the trail is the Fantastic Lava Beds. These rocks are visible remnants of the lava flows that erupted from Cinder Cone and dammed creeks resulting in the creation of Snag Lake and Butte Lake. 

As Cinder Cone comes into view, the challenging portion of the trail becomes clear. You’ll wind around the exposed south side of the volcano with an 800 foot elevation change. As you reach the top, you are rewarded with payoff views in every direction, from Lassen to the Painted Dunes and even down into the crater of the volcano itself. 

If the climb up wasn’t enough for you, you can actually hike down into the crater of Cinder Cone via a steep trail on the north side of the volcano. John did this and created a little cairn to commemorate our big adventure day. The kids and I thought about joining him, but saw him struggle back up the trail and decided we were good for the day!  

This hike won’t be for everyone, but for us, it made for a pretty awesome and memorable day.

Things to do in Lassen - Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell (Southwest Area)

This kid-friendly three-mile trail through the park’s largest hydrothermal area is on the list of most park visitors. The beginning part of the hike offers views of Lassen Peak and Brokeoff Mountain. It then transitions into an otherworldly landscape as you make your way along a boardwalk that winds through mud pots, fumaroles, steam vents, and sulphur springs.

The trail is open in the summer and fall only. The summer opening date depends on how much snow the area had through the spring. It’s very dangerous to veer off the trails here, and the snow and ice can sometimes obscure what is directly under your feet!  The park aims to open the trail in early July, but it is completely dependent on snow and ice levels. You see which trails and roads are open here

Hot Rock photographed by Loomis in 1915

Hot Rock (Northwest Area)

Many visitors probably drive right past Hot Rock without even noticing it, but stopping to see this giant piece of dacite lava is well worth the pause.

The heat of the rocks in the 1915 eruption started an avalanche which carried this 300-ton boulder five miles from Lassen Peak. It was named Hot Rock because it was seen sizzling 40 hours after landing at this spot. The photograph above was taken by Benjamin Franklin Loomis in 1915. 

You might be wondering why stopping to see a large boulder is a great thing to do in Lassen with kids. Well, in addition to helping them imagine the power of the last Lassen eruption, it’s a great spot for little climbers who might be growing tired of sitting in the backseat!

Things to do in Lassen - Boiling Springs Lake

Boiling Springs Lake (Warner Valley Area)

This 3 mile moderate hike starts at the same trailhead you’d take to Devil’s Kitchen, but continues south along the Pacific Crest Trail instead. Like the Devil’s Kitchen hike, on your way to the lake you’ll enjoy crossing meadows and walking through forested wilderness. 

A number of steam vents are located under the lake, which keeps it near 125 degrees. According to the park service, the mudpots on the southeastern shore are some of the best in the park.

Kid-Friendly Lassen: Take a Scenic Family Friendly Hike

While hikes and sights that explore geothermal activity may be the stars of Lassen Volcanic National Park, it’s also just a gorgeous area in its own right. When you’ve had your fill of volcano fun, check out the following family friendly hikes which explore the area’s natural beauty.

Things to Do in Lassen - Lily Pond Nature Trail

Lily Pond Nature Trail (Northwest Area)

The Lily Pond Nature Trail is a short and easy half-mile walk that you can access across from the Loomis Museum. If you’re at the Visitor Center getting oriented, this could be a great place to stretch your legs and get excited for your visit. 

The walk will take you around Reflection Lake and the namesake lily pond, which may offer fun wildlife spotting for kids. Interpretive leaflets will draw your attention to the area’s plants and trees.

Things to Do in Lassen - Kings Creek Falls

Kings Creek Falls (Southwest Area)

If your kids enjoy waterfall hikes, you might want to make time for the popular 2.3 mile loop hike to Kings Creek Falls. The trail actually makes a 700 foot descent from the trailhead along the Upper Cascades trail. As you get closer, a fenced overlook provides a viewing area of the 30 foot falls.

What goes down must come up, so the way back to the trailhead is a bit more of a challenge. You can choose to go back the way you came via the Upper Cascades trail or loop back via the Cascades Foot Trail. There are sections of the foot trail that are steep and narrow, so this portion is one way only.

Things to do in Lassen - Hike the Hat Lake to Paradise Meadow Trail

Hat Lake to Paradise Meadows (Southwest Area)

If your kids love a meadow full of wildflowers, and even a few waterfalls, this might be the hike for you. This 2.8 mile hike with an elevation change of 700 feet is rated as moderate and kid-friendly.

The trail will take you through dry forest, alongside a creek, and into a grassy meadow, and each section has its own native wildflowers. Look for lupine, Scarlet Gillia, Cobwebby Paintbursh, Spotted Coralroot and more throughout the summer. Timing is everything with wildflowers, and this area is supposed to have a relatively long season. Check with a ranger before you go if you’re curious to know what might be in bloom.

If you don’t know your Primrose monkeyflower from your Tinker’s penny, consider downloading a plant identification app like PictureThis or Seek by iNaturalist, which was designed with kids in mind. Even if you don’t have a signal while you’re out in the field, you can take pictures and use them to identify and learn more about the flowers when you get back home.

Things to do at Lassen - Manzanita Lake Loop Trail

Manzanita Lake Loop (Northwest Area)

The Manzanita Lake Loop trail is a popular 1.7 mile flat walk around Manzanita Lake. It’s known for its scenic views of Lassen Peak and as a popular habitat for birds, deer and squirrels.

It is highly recommended as a sunset hike, where you can watch the glow of the setting sun reflected on Lassen Peak from the western shore. 

You can begin the trail from Loomis Plaza, making it another great option to begin your time in the main section of the park after picking up Junior Ranger booklets at the Visitor Center. Though it is a family friendly hike, strollers are not recommended due to rocky and narrow trail sections.

During our visit, we didn’t realize you could just walk out to the trailhead from the Plaza, so we drove around to the Manzanita Lake Picnic Area to eat our lunch. Parking was easy and we got a great table near the lake, but there are no views of Lassen from the area. I feel pretty silly not realizing that we were basically sitting on the trail while there!  An easy walk around the lake would have been ideal after lunch.

Things to do in Lassen National Park - Mill Creek Falls Trail

Mill Creek Falls (Southwest Area)

The 3.4 mile out and back trail to the 75 foot Mill Creek Falls is a good Lassen hiking option with older kids. The trail includes a couple of creek crossings and cuts through a beautiful meadow with wildflowers blooming into July. 

You’ll reach the viewpoint for the Falls about 1.6 miles into the trail. While there is no safe access to the base of the falls, there are two foot bridges that allow you to cross over and see the waterfall from a rare vantage point . Going behind the top of the falls, you’ll see where East Sulphur Creek and Bumpass Creek converge and tumble down into the valley below. 

There are no hand rails on the footbridges at the top of the falls so this trail won’t be a good fit for all families. If you’re considering the hike, ask a ranger about creek conditions before you go and stay off the bridges if the water is still flowing powerfully.

Lassen Adventures with Kids Beyond the Trails

As much as we love to spend time hiking through National Parks, incorporating other types of activities into your trip can provide the novelty you need to shake things up and make lasting memories.

Things to do in Lassen National Park - Kayaking on Manzanita Lake

Try Your Hand at Fly Fishing and Other Popular Watersports

By now you might have noticed that Lassen is home to a LOT of lakes, ponds, and creeks. Visitors are welcome to jump into the water for swimming and wading. Just remember to stay outside of the hydrothermal areas or waters with hydrothermal sources, which can be scalding hot or dangerously acidic!

If you’re worried about the water being too cold for a swim, there are also plenty of non-motorized  boating options. You can Kayak, Canoe, Catacraft, or SUP at Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, Summit Lake, and Juniper Lake. If you don’t have your own, you can rent a boat near the Manzanita Lake Camper Store.

In addition to swimming and boating, Manzanita Lake is known for its fly fishing opportunities. It’s managed as a catch and release fishery with only barbless hooks allowed. If fly fishing is something you’d like to try, this could be a great place to get the whole family involved. If you’re not getting any bites at Manzanita, you can also fish at Butte Lake, Snag Lake, and Horseshoe Lake. 

Things to do in Lassen National Park - Parkcaching Program

Parkcaching

Turn your family adventure into a game with Lassen’s summer parkcaching challenge. Pick up a brochure in one one of the visitor centers and search for objects and information using GPS coordinates within the park. 

This activity challenges you to find physical laminated answer keys which are available during the summer season. Remember WiFi is not available throughout the park. Make sure to download a geocaching app before you go or at the Kohm Yah-Nee visitor center.

I confess that I have an unhealthy love of making everything into a scavenger hunt, so I love the idea of transforming your drive along the Lassen Volcanic National Park highway into an information-finding game of discovery.  Successful teams will be rewarded with a commemorative carabiner.  

Things to do in Lassen - Snoeshoe and Cross Country Skiing

Sled, Ski and Snowshoe Lassen All Winter and Spring

Most visitors will plan their visit during the summer season when the main highway and trails are open. The park is open throughout the year, but vehicle access is very limited between October and June.

If you have a family of sledders, snowshoers, or cross-country skiers, however, there is still plenty to do and see in Lassen Volcanic National Park all winter. The Lassen Volcanic Winter / Spring Guide is a helpful resource for navigating the park in the off season. 

Things to do at Lassen National Park - Learn About the Night Sky

Explore Lassen's Night Sky with your kids

Stargazing with a truly dark sky is one of my favorite parts of getting away to National Parks. Years ago I had an opportunity to visit a “star party” where a bunch of astronomers gather to share their tools and expertise. I’ve never looked at the night sky the same again!  

I love that the Park Rangers at Lassen actively encourage visitors to get out and enjoy the night sky. If you’re camping, you’ll want to leave your site and head out to a lakeshore, meadow, or even a parking area to get a wider view. 

There’s also something thrilling about a night hike. According to the park site, a full moon provides enough light for most visitors to hike some of the park trails while enjoying the night sky. Ask a park ranger for suggestions on which hikes are family friendly at night, and don’t forget to pack a headlamp with a red light option!

Intimidated to start stargazing on your own? Check to see if the park is offering night sky interpretive programs during your visit, or time your stay for the annual dark sky festival where scientists will be happy to introduce your family to astronomy. 

The official website has some great resources and tips to help you get started, and even offers a Junior Ranger Night Explorer badge for kids! As they say, “half the park is after dark!” Don’t forget to enjoy these nighttime natural wonders. 

Surprise patch of snow at the Lassen Peak Trailhead - Lassen with Kids

Play together in the Summer Snow

Snowy conditions can last in Lassen well into the summer!  Check the weather and road conditions before you go, and prepare accordingly.  If there is snow during your summer visit, some trails may be closed, but your kids will enjoy the surprising chance to play in summer snow. 

We visited in the last week of June, and Bumpass Hell was still closed (it opened days after we left), but we were treated to a bit of snow fun at the Lassen Peak parking lot.

Introduce Your Kids to the Lassen Park Rangers

Things to do in Lassen - Ranger Led Programs

Join a Ranger Led Program

I’ve spent many years leading museum tours, so I’m always interested in joining free Ranger-Led Interpretive Talks to hear what the people who know the park best have to say. I find that they offer interesting perspectives and insights that I might completely miss wandering around on my own. 

Lassen has some particularly creative talks and experiences, from Ranger-Led snowshoe hikes in the winter to Public Bird-Banding Demonstrations in the summer. Make sure to check what types of programs are being offered during your visit, as you never know what kind of cool and free experiences you can join. 

We visited during 2020 when all interpretive programming was paused due to COVID, but we can’t wait to join in again when programs resume!

JJ earning his Junior Ranger badge in the age of Covid: Lassen Family Road Trip

Junior Ranger Badges

You can’t visit a National Park with kids without checking out their Junior Ranger program!  Lassen has several programs for kids of all ages.

The Chipmunk Club is for children under 5. Pick up your activity sheet at one of the visitor centers. Complete the sheet at the park, and get your Chipmunk Club sticker when you turn it back in again.

Junior Ranger Badges are for kids 5 – 12. Children can either print their booklet at home or pick one up at a visitor center when they arrive. Each child completes a certain number of activities in the book based on their age and then turns it back in when completed. JJ got his very first Junior Ranger Badge at Lassen and he was thrilled! We found it easiest to print at home and then complete a few activities on our walks or even at the campsite in the evenings. 

Volcano Club Cards are available to curious visitors of all ages. Like the options for children, visitors can pick up a club card at either of the visitor centers. After completing at least seven activities, you submit your findings to a ranger. Volcano Club members have the option of purchasing a Volcano Club Patch at one of the park stores. 

Must See kid-friendly Sights Near Lassen National Park

When I was a kid, my aunt lived in the little town of Cassel, so I spent many summers in the area splashing at Lake Britton and watching Burney’s Fourth of July Parade. It’s a stunningly beautiful region, and I couldn’t write this guide without mentioning a few of its awesome natural wonders.

Things to do near Lassen - Lake Britton in Burney Falls State Park
Must see stops near Lassen - Subway Caves

Subway Caves

Aside from catching my first (and last) fish, exploring caves is probably my most visceral memory of visiting the Lassen area as a child. It’s probably because my aunt thought it would be fun to turn off all the flashlights so we were standing in complete darkness in the middle of a cave. All of your other senses become hyper aware, especially when you’re as afraid of the dark as I was!

Somewhat scary childhood memories aside, I decided we couldn’t go to the area without immersing our own children in the Subway Cave lava tube.  This time we had plenty of headlamps and camping lanterns in tow!

Subway Cave has interpretive signage throughout, and the kids wanted me to reach each and every sign. It’s cool inside and a bit rocky, but it’s an otherwise easy walk to navigate. Our 3 year old was very nervous at first, but he loved it and said it was his favorite part of our trip.

Things to do near Lassen - Burney Falls State Park

Burney Falls

About an hour north of Lassen on Highway 89, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, is the McArthur- Burney Falls State Park. The beautiful 129-foot falls are the centerpiece of the park, and are well worth the side trip if you’re in the area. 

Most people take the Falls Overlook trail from the visitor center near the main parking lot. Paved switchbacks descend quickly with visitors angling to capture the beauty of the falls through photos along the way.  The Falls Overlook trail will bring you to the base of the falls, where you can scramble onto the rocks and gaze up at the spectacular natural wonder before you. 

From there, most visitors will walk back up the switchbacks and be on their way. But there are other lovely trails to explore here. You can continue on the Falls Overlook trail to Burney Creek and loop back over the top of the falls via the Rainbow Footbridge and Fisherman’s Bridge, glimpsing views few others take the time to see.

For our part, we took the Rim Trail from the parking lot to Lake Britton for a picnic and some play time on the beach before ending our visit at Burney Falls. It would have been easy to make a full day of our visit! 

The original plan was to take the Rim Trail out, visit Lake Britton, and take the Creek Trail back so that you arrive at the base of the falls, but part of the Creek Trail was closed due to a recent landslide. If the full Creek Trail is open, I still think this would be a scenic and fun way to explore the park!

WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK

Unlike many other National Parks, Lassen doesn’t have hotels and lodges to house visitors. The vast majority of options are campgrounds. The one exception to this rule is the Drakesbad Guest Ranch

Drakesbad offers all-inclusive lodging with several rustic lodge, cabin, and bungalow options. Make sure to read the accommodation descriptions carefully. Some rooms do not have showers or electricity (there is a communal shower area near the pool and kerosene lamp options). Other activities at the Ranch include a hot spring fed swimming pool, horseback rides, and fishing. Drakesbad activities are available to visitors with a day pass as well. The Drakesbad Guest Ranch is located in the Warner Valley Area, about one and a half hours from the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center. 

If you want to stay in the Warner Valley Area, but would rather camp than pay for all-inclusive lodging, the Warner Valley Campground is just a few minutes down the road. 

See below for descriptions of three of Lassen’s most family friendly campgrounds. 

Places to Stay in Lassen - Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins

Manzanita Lake Campground and Cabins

Most families choose to stay at Manzanita Lake Campground and Camping Cabins. At 5,900 feet, the campground is adjacent to Manzanita Lake and surrounded by towering pines. It’s also in a convenient location near the Loomis Museum, so you’ll have easy access to some of the park’s most kid-friendly trails and activities. 

With 179 sites, this is the largest campground in the park, and has the most amenities. It’s served by the Manzanita Lake Camper Store with ready-to-go meals and picnic supplies, non-motorized boat rentals, and convenience store needs.  This is also where. you’ll find the only gas station in the park.

Campsite at Butte Lake Campground

Butte Lake Campground

During our Lassen trip we chose to camp at Butte Lake. We were looking to get away from crowds and just enjoy a change of scenery, so we didn’t mind that it was an hour drive from the most visited western section of the park. 

We found the campground to be clean and comfortable, even if no frills. What it lacked in amenities, it made up in access to lakes and great trails. We enjoyed waking up and strolling over to the Cinder Cone Trail and had fun relaxing at Butte Lake after a long day of hiking. 

If I were to go again, I’d book one of the sites closer to the boat launch area. You can see the lake from the picnic tables in site B1. We probably would have enjoyed the area even more if our site was closer to the water.

Places to Camp in Lassen - Summit Lake

Summit Lake Campgrounds

Summit Lake Campground is quieter than Manzanita Lake with less amenities, but it also has a very convenient location right in the middle of the popular western half of Lassen National Park. Both Summit Lake North and Summit Lake South have access to the lake, and about a third of the sites have lake views. If you’re planning to take a dip in the lake after a long day exploring, the north side is said to have better swimming access with a day use picnic area along the shore. 

 

Most campground reservations can be made at recreation.gov. If you’d like to stay at the Warner Valley Campground or in one of the Manzanita Lake Cabins, you need to book through www.lassenlodging.com. RV’s are permitted at Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, and Summit Lake Campgrounds, but there are no hook-ups in the park. A dump station is available at Manzanita Lake.

Lassen National Park Logistics

Lassen Peak Trailhead Lot with some snow - Lassen with Kids

When to Visit

Lassen is open all year, but unless your family is prepared to snowshoe or cross country ski throughout the park, you’ll want to plan your visit between June and October when the roads and trails are open. We visited during the last week of June, and there was still enough snow for the Bumpass Hell Trail to be closed. 

In general, plan for the weather at Lassen to be on the cooler side. The warm pajamas that I packed for the kids weren’t quite warm enough in the tent, so we ended up sleeping in our jackets and hats after night one! Layers are key for Lassen comfort. More on that below!

The park’s Alerts & Conditions page is helpful in letting visitors know what is currently open and accessible.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Know Before You Go

GAS: The only gas station in Lassen National Park is at the Manzanita Lake Camper Store, near the northwestern entrance of the park. It’s open 24 hours per day, from late May through late October. Make sure you plan accordingly as most of the Lassen attractions will require driving a decent distance from your tent or cabin. 

FOOD: The only restaurant in the park is the cafe at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center, located at the southwestern entrance. The Manzanita Lake Camper Store has grab and go meals and picnic supplies. We found it easier to just pack everything we needed for our trip, and brought lunches and snacks around the park with us. 

WiFi and CELL SERVICE: Free Wi-Fi is only accessible at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. There is no Wi-Fi in the Manzanita Lake Area. Plan to not have cell service throughout your trip. You might be able to get limited service at the Lassen Peak parking area and Bumpass Hell parking area, but otherwise, prepare to be in the moment while in Lassen.

Artist's Palette, Death Valley National Park

Park Fees

Fees to visit Lassen National Park are $30 per vehicle, which is valid for 7 days. 

If you plan on going to at least three National Parks this year, you may want to purchase an Annual Pass for $80. 

Families with a fourth grade student can also get free entrance to all National Parks through the Every Kid Outdoors Program. This year, the National Park Service has extended the program to include fifth graders who were not able to travel due to COVID in 2020. 

As of fall 2020, the Military Annual Pass has been extended to Veterans and Gold Star Families. More information on the new policy can be found here.

What to Pack

Lassen is a bit tricky to pack for, with its high altitude, chilly summer evenings, and soft volcanic rock on every trail. Below are some of the things we’re happy we had with us, and some that we wish we’d thought to bring.

Kids splashing in the Merced, oblivious to El Cap behind them. Yosemite with kids

Water, water, water!

You always want to bring plenty of water when you’re planning on hiking and being active outdoors, but it’s even more important at higher altitudes. Bring your favorite water bottles (these are great if you’re looking for one), and pick up some extra gallons at the grocery store before you go.

Maps

Because cell phone service is unreliable outside of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee visitor centers, I recommend bringing at least one map with you. We brought the Lassen Volcanic National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map, 268). I’d also recommend becoming familiar with it before you go, especially if you’re like me and have become a bit too accustomed to following Google Maps on your phone. 

Daypack

When hiking with our kids, even closer to home, we always have a daypack to hold everything we’ve just recommended you bring. Plus snacks. John loves his Osprey daypack similar to this one on Amazon

Sun Protection

Being at a higher elevation exposes you to about 25% more ultraviolet radiation than sea level. Make sure to layer on the sunscreen and chapstick throughout your day, and consider getting a hat designed to keep your face and neck covered. JJ’s forest school teacher recommends this one for kids by Sunday Afternoons.

Hiking Shoes

Finding hiking shoes for kids can be kind of a pain, but they really make a difference when you’re on trails with the kinds of loose rocks and gravel found all over Lassen. These hiking shoes by Feetmat have served us well. They are sold at a price point that isn’t so painful when we need to buy replacements for the boys’ ever-growing feet.  

Tent Heater

When we went to Lassen, my California self had never heard of a tent heater. The first night was rough. The second was much better after we layered up in our coats and hats to sleep!  If you’re not staying in one of the heated camping cabins, you might want to consider bringing a heater along with you! Just be sure to read all instructions on how to use them safely and effectively.  

Layers

During our June trip to Lassen, we were freezing in the mornings and nights, bracing against the wind at higher elevations, and stripping off layers while splashing around lakeside. How do you pack when summer temperatures range from 40 – 84 degrees?  Bring layers and very warm sleepwear! I’m linking to some of our favorite layers for the kids here: base layers, fleece, down jacket.

First Aid Kit

We always bring along our handy dandy first aid kit. It’s just a little peace of mind, especially when you’re adventuring through a volcanic wonderland like Lassen.

Trekking Poles

I’d never used trekking poles before our Lassen visit, but I borrowed some from my aunt after researching the Cinder Cone hike. It felt a little silly to be carrying them on the flat part of the trail, but I was super happy to have them with me on the volcano itself!  Several hikers passing by said they wished they had some for the steep downhill. If you’re planning on one of the steeper trails, especially sandy Cinder Cone, you won’t be sorry you have these with you!

Get the Kids excited for A Visit To Lassen

I always spend a good chunk of time getting the kids excited for our next adventure. Introducing some of the things we’re going to see and do while we’re at home makes it that much more exciting when they actually experience them in person. In the case of Lassen, this was a pretty easy task.  Just saying that we’re going to visit a park full of volcanoes was enough to get their imaginations going! 

Below are some tips for getting the whole family excited for your Lassen adventure. 

Kids splashing in the Merced, oblivious to El Cap behind them. Yosemite with kids

Add Some New Lassen-Related Children’s Books to the Rotation

Make Erupting Volcano Rice Krispie Treats

JJ’s 4th birthday was dinosaur themed, of course, so I made an erupting rice krispie treat volcano cake for the occasion. It turned into a family favorite, so I brought it back as a way to get excited for our big volcano adventure in Lassen. My plan was to have it be a road trip snack, but I let the boys pour in the Jello lava this time, so it got a bit soggier than usual!

If you want to try this at home, mold the rice krispie treats around a vase or other cylinder container. Coat the rice krispies in chocolate frosting. Place some dry ice in the central container and pour liquid Jello on top! 

Get ready for camping by making your own Camping Lanterns (aka tent night lights)

Bug Finishing the handle on the Lantern Camping Craft for Kids

This was a simple and fun project that used up the recycled bottles I’ve been storing. If you want to try this at home, I wrote a post about it here.

Pick up a Volcano Science Kit

You can’t go wrong with a volcano science kit!  This is a popular one from National Geographic.

Our Secret for Long Car Trips with Kids

We have a fairly new tradition that gets the boys excited for every long road trip we take. Every 50 miles, they get a small surprise. This can range from activity books they can do in the car or around the campsite to simple snacks. The real surprise with this is that it helps the time fly by for us as much as it does for them!  

Trip Itinerary for a visit to Lassen with kids

Our trip to Lassen was only three days. In that time we were able to gawk at Burney Falls, hike the Cinder Cone volcano, splash around a couple of lakes, immerse ourselves in a subterranean lava tube, earn a Junior Ranger badge, and play in some summer snow beneath Lassen Peak. It was a truly awesome three days!  

The following is an itinerary suggestion for a 5-day family trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The icons on the map are color coded to each day so that you can visualize the distance travelled per day. 

Kids splashing in the Merced, oblivious to El Cap behind them. Yosemite with kids

Day 1: Arrival Day

  • Enter Lassen National Park at the Northwest Entrance.
  • Check into the Visitor Center near the Loomis Museum to pick up Junior Ranger Booklets, Chipmunk Club Activity Sheets, and a Parkcaching Brochure.
  • Settle into your Cabin at the Manzanita Campground.
  • Stretch out your legs with a sunset walk around the Manzanita Lake Loop Trail.

DAY 2: Sites and Hikes Along Lassen Volcanic Park Highway

  • Head out early and get to the Bumpass Hell Trailhead before the crowds.
  • Drive down to the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center for lunch on the terrace and to check out the hands-on exhibitions.
  • Play with the parkcaching map as you slowly work your way back to camp with fun stops along the way. Consider stops at Sulphur Works, Devastated Area, and Hot Rock.
  • Settle back in at camp for dinner and s’mores

DAY 3: Visit a more remote area of the park

  • Head out early and drive to the Butte Lake entrance for the Cinder Cone hike.
  • After your hike, relax by Butte Lake with a picnic lunch and some swimming.
  • Add a stop to explore the Subway Cave on your way back to camp.

OR

  • Reserve a horseback riding excursion with Drakesbad Guest Ranch and explore Devil’s Kitchen by horseback.
  • Picnic and relax at the ranch after your ride with passes to the hot spring-fed swimming pool.

    DAY 4: Hang Out Closer to Camp

    • Sleep in and relax a bit around camp.
    • Head over to the Loomis Museum to get your Junior Ranger Badge, Chipmunk Club Sticker, and Parkcaching Family Carabiner.
    • Attend a Ranger-Led walk or interpretive program.
    • Have lunch by the lake at the Manzanita Lake Picnic Area. Rent some kayaks or other watercraft by the Manzanita Camper Store to explore the lake by water.
    • After dinner at camp, enjoy each moment of your last night in Lassen with a family friendly night hike around the Lily Pond Nature Trail (ideally under a full moon!).
    • Enjoy one last night of s’mores and storytelling around the campfire.

     

    DAY 5: Departure Day

    • Squeeze in a visit to Burney Falls if possible on the way home!

    AND THAT’S A WRAP ON OUR GUIDE TO FAMILY-FRIENDLY LASSEN NATIONAL PARK!

    WE HOPE YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL ADVENTURE IN THIS MAGICAL PLACE.

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