The Best 22 Ways to Experience Lassen Volcanic National Park with Kids (+ Map and itinerary)

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 weren’t sure what to expect, but visiting Lassen with our kids left a lasting impression and countless wonderful memories.  

Lassen offers fun, adventure, and even educational experiences for visitors of all ages. With just over 500,000 visitors in 2019, Lassen is one of California’s least visited National Parks. And I honestly have no idea why. In a short time, we boys witnessed spectacular waterfalls, hiked a volcano, were immersed in a lava tube cave, splashed in gorgeous lakes, earned Junior Ranger badges, played in July snow, and gaped at boiling mud pots in 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 filled with natural wonders, consider a visit to Lassen.

Things are changing fast – make sure to double-check what’s open before your trip. And be sure to follow all local guidelines to keep yourself and others safe!

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IN THIS POST:

MAP OF PLACES FEATURED IN THIS POST

When planning our trip to Lassen with the kids, I felt overwhelmed. It was a lot to figure out where everything was and what made sense to group together. 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 Family Friendly Hikes
  • Volcanic Sites
  • Campgrounds and Lodging

A family-friendly 4-day sample itinerary follows at the end of the post

YOUTUBE OF OUR VISIT TO LASSEN IN JUNE 2020

Cover Image from our YouTube Video on Lassen National Park

PLACES TO SEE & THINGS TO DO IN LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK

Family photo taken just after descending Cinder Cone Volcano in the Butte Lake area of Lassen National Park
Family photo after descending the Cinder Cone Volcano in the Butte Lake area of Lassen National Park

Opportunities for kid-friendly adventure are endless in Lassen Volcanic National Park. In this section, we’ll lead you through the places to see and things to do when visiting Lassen with kids. This section share’s the park visitor centers, volcanic wondersscenic hikes, ideas for adventures off the trails, and ranger-led interpretive programs.

VISIT ONE OF LASSEN’S VISTOR CENTERS

Welcome Sign to Lassen National Park

At 166 square miles, Lassen is not huge by National Park standards, but it does take quite a while 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.

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. This makes it a great first stop when visiting Lassen with kids.

The visitor center is also a good place to purchase 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 Program.

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. Reading that all 4 types of volcanoes can be found in Lassen is interesting. Experiencing those volcanoes in person is very different. For many of us, it’s those experiences that stick.

Though Lassen is fascinating for all visitors, it’s a perfect place to visit with dinosaur and volcano-loving kids.  Our boys were amazed to experience an active volcanic area firsthand. Bring geology lessons to life by exploring some of the awesome Lassen sites below with your kids.

CINDER CONE

Looking into the Crater of the Cinder Cone Volcano
Looking into the crater of Cinder Cone

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. 

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 at Lassen with the kids.

LASSEN PEAK

View of Lassen Peak from the trailhead parking lot
Views of Lassen Peak from the parking lot near the trailhead.

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 here, 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!  

SULPHUR WORKS

Boiling Mud Pot at Sulphur Works
Boiling mud pot at Sulphur Works

Sulphur Works is a perfect Lassen stop with kids. You can smell it 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 is 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.

BUMPASS HELL

This family-friendly three-mile trail through the park’s largest hydrothermal area is the most popular in the park. 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

DEVASTATED AREA INTERPRETIVE TRAIL

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.

HOT ROCK

Hot Rock photographed by Loomis in 1915
Photo of Hot Rock taken bay Benjamin Franklin Loomis in 1915

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 that 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.

You might be wondering why stopping to see a large boulder is a great thing to do when visiting 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!

DEVIL’S KITCHEN

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 mud pots, 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.

BOILING SPRINGS LAKE

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, you’ll enjoy crossing meadows and walking through forested wilderness on the way to the lake. 

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

TAKE A SCENIC FAMILY FRIENDLY HIKE

Hikes and geothermal sites may be the stars of a Lassen visit with kids, but it’s also simply a gorgeous place. Make sure to check out the family-friendly hikes which explore the area’s natural beauty.

LILY POND NATURE TRAIL

The Lily Pond Nature Trail is a short and easy half-mile walk. You can access it from the Loomis Museum. The walk will take you around Reflection Lake and the namesake lily pond, which may offer fun wildlife spotting. Interpretive leaflets will draw your attention to the area’s plants and trees.

MANZANITA LAKE LOOP

Picnic area at Manzanita Lake
Manzanita Lake Picnic 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 great Lassen hike with kids, strollers are not recommended due to rocky and narrow trail sections.

During our visit, we didn’t realize we 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.

KINGS CREEK FALLS

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.

MILL CREEK FALLS

The 3.4-mile out and back trail to the 75 foot Mill Creek Falls is a good Lassen hike 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 footbridges that allow you to cross over and see the waterfall from above, 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 handrails 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.

HAT LAKE TO PARADISE MEADOWS

This trail meanders through a meadow full of wildflowers and a few waterfalls, making it a great option when hiking in Lassen with kids. At 2.8 miles long with an elevation change of 700 feet, it is rated as moderate and kid-friendly.

The trail will take you through a dry forest, alongside a creek, and into a grassy meadow, and each section has its own native wildflowers. Look for lupine, Scarlet Gilia, Cobwebby Paintbrush, 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.

LASSEN ADVENTURES WITH KIDS BEYOND THE TRAILS

Incorporating some novel activities into your trip can shake things up and create lasting memories.

By now you’ve probably noticed that Lassen is home to a LOT of lakes, ponds, and creeks. Visitors are welcome to jump into most bodies of water for swimming and wading. Just remember to stay outside of the hydrothermal areas or waters with hydrothermal sources! These 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. Make some fun memories of your trip to Lassen with the kids by renting a kayak, canoe, catacraft, or SUP. Manzanita Lake is the easiest to access, but Butte Lake, Summit Lake, and Juniper Lake also allow watercraft. Rent your 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. 

EXPLORE THE NIGHT SKY

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 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 Lassen night hikes are good for kids, 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. 

PARKCACHING

Turn your family adventure into a game with Lassen’s summer parkcaching challenge. Pick up a brochure in 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 are rewarded with a commemorative carabiner.  

SLED, SKI, AND SNOWSHOE 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. 

SUMMER SNOW

Playing in snow near Lassen Peak in July
July snow near Lassen Peak

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 love to play in summer snow. 

We visited in the first days of July. 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.

MEET THE LASSEN PARK RANGERS

INTERPRETIVE PROGRAMS

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!

JUNIOR RANGER BADGES

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

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 child, my aunt lived in the little town of Cassel. 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. I couldn’t write this guide without mentioning a few more of its awesome natural wonders.

SUBWAY CAVES

Subway Cave Silhouettes

Aside from catching my first (and last) fish, exploring caves is probably my most visceral memory of the area. If you’re visiting Lassen with kids, don’t miss a stop at the Subway Cave lava tube.  Just make sure you have headlamps with you when you go!

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

BURNEY FALLS

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. They are well worth the side trip. 

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 brings you to the base of the falls. Here 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. From there, loop back over the top of the falls via the Rainbow Footbridge and Fisherman’s Bridge. You’ll glimpse views few others take the time to see.

We took the Rim Trail to Lake Britton for a picnic and some playtime on the beach and then ended 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. This way, you arrive at the base of the falls instead of having to take the switchbacks down. Unfortunately, part of the Creek Trail closed due to a recent landslide. When the full is open, this is a beautiful and fun route!

WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK WITH KIDS

FAMILY-FRIENDLY LASSEN CAMPGROUNDS

Campsite Morning at Butte Lake
Morning at the Butte Lake Campground

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. RVs 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.

MANZANITA LAKE CABINS AND CAMPGROUND

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.

BUTTE LAKE CAMPGROUND

During our trip, we chose to camp at Butte Lake. We were looking to get away from crowds and simply enjoy a change of scenery, so we didn’t mind that it was an hour’s 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 site B1. We probably would have enjoyed the area even more if our site was closer to the water.

SUMMIT LAKE CAMPGROUND

Summit Lake Campground is quieter than Manzanita Lake with fewer 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. 

DRAKESBAD GUEST RANCH

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 a rustic lodge, cabins, and bungalows. 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. It takes about one and a half hours to arrive 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. 

LASSEN WITH KIDS 4-DAY ITINERARY

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 4-day trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park with kids. The icons on the map are color-coded to each day so that you can visualize the distance traveled per day.

DAY 1: SETTLE IN AND RELAX

  • 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 stretching your legs at Sulphur Works, Devastated Area, and Hot Rock.
  • Settle back in at camp for dinner and s’mores
  • Take a family friendly night hike around the Lily Pond Nature Trail (ideally under a full moon!).

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 ranch’s hot spring-fed swimming pool.

DAY 4: MORNING NEAR CAMP BEFORE HEADING HOME

  • Head over to the Loomis Museum to get your Junior Ranger Badge or Chipmunk Club Sticker and Parkcaching Family Carabiner.
  • Have lunch by the lake at the Manzanita Lake Picnic Area.
  • Squeeze in a visit to Burney Falls if possible on the way home!

LASSEN NATIONAL PARK LOGISTICS

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.

WHEN TO VISIT

Lassen is open all year, but most plan to visit between June and October. This assures that all the roads and trails are open. We visited during the first week of July, and Bumpass Hell Trail was still closed. 

In general, plan for the weather at Lassen to be on the cooler side. Days can be warm, but the nights are almost always cool. We ended up sleeping in our jackets and hats after freezing on night one! Layers are key for comfort in Lassen. More on that below!

The park’s Alerts & Conditions page helps let visitors know what is currently open and accessible.

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 fourth-grade students 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 FOR YOUR LASSEN NATIONAL PARK ADVENTURE

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.

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.

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 get a hat to keep your face and neck covered. JJ’s forest school teacher recommends this one for kids by Sunday Afternoons.

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 layersfleecedown jacket.

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. 

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.

DAY PACK

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.

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. Our favorites for the boys are Merrell Trail Chasers. They are sold at a price point that isn’t so painful when we need to buy replacements for the boys’ ever-growing feet.  Click here to read more about hiking shoes for kids.

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. 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

The Backpack Explorer series has quickly become my boys’ favorite book to bring on adventures. It encourages close looking through a series of badges they can earn for what they find. It’s really made a difference in how they engage with the natural world around them on our family hikes.

CAMPING CRAFTS

DIY Lanterns made from recycled juice bottles, double as camping night lights

Making camping lanterns was a fun project to do at home as we were getting ready for our first big camping trip of the season. The boys were happy to bring them along, and they doubled as night lights in the tent. Check out the full post here.

VOLCANO FUN

Playing with our Rice Krispie volcano

JJ’s 4th birthday was dinosaur-themed (of course) and 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. I planned 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 mix into the container until it “erupts”!

PICK UP A VOLCANO SCIENCE KIT

If baking a volcano isn’t going to make it onto your list, you can’t go wrong with a volcano science kit.  This is a popular one from National Geographic.

ROAD TRIP GAMES

We have a fairly new road trip 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. When possible, I try to make the surprises relate to our destination for double impact. The real surprise with this is that it helps the time fly by for us as much as it does for them!

Dreading a long drive? Check out more road trip boredom busters and packing tips here.

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ABOUT VISITING LASSEN WITH KIDS, YOU MIGHT ENJOY THESE:

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Pin for Lassen with Kids Post - view from Cinder Cone volcano of Fantastic Lava Beds, Painted Dunes, and Snag Lake

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