Travel to Lassen National Park, California – Episode 422

categories: USA Travel

Hear about travel to Lassen National Park in northern California as the Amateur Traveler talks to Dick Jordan about this spectacular if less visited destination.


Lassen is in northeastern California. It is just as easy to get from San Francisco as Yosemite National Park but with fewer tourists and one more volcano. The park centers around the dormant volcano Mt. Lassen and features other geothermal active areas.

“About 4 million people go to Yosemite. Virtually all of them come in the May to September time period and virtually all of them go only to the rather small confining Yosemite Valley. So you are going to be there with a lot of your new best friends. Lassen, on the other hand, is about the same distance away and gets about a 10th of the visitation annually that Yosemite does. So it is a much more laid-back, off-the-beaten path but still very scenic park that has geothermal features like Yellowstone. No big geysers but fumaroles and mud pots and a lot of sulfury smelling places as well as a very large mountain that you can hike up to the top of. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to climb it. So it presents a really interesting alternative to some of the better-known tourist destinations.”

“Lassen is a volcano. It is the southernmost volcano, I believe, in the cascade chain that runs north through Oregon and Washington, nearly to the Canadian border. ”

“There are different ways to see this park. You can do a drive-through in an hour.” But Dick recommends that’s not the best way to see it. “You can see some of the more interesting features of the park just by pulling off the road and walking a short distance. Bumpass Hell, which is the major geothermal area, is a 3-mile hike round trip and it’s easy enough for older folks and kids to do. So you could spend one day in the park but in my mind, because it is such a good place for day hiking, I would recommend staying a few days in the park or in one of the small resorts that are nearby. There is plenty of room if you are a camper. If you are a car camper odds are really good any time in the Summer that if you drove in without a reservation you could probably find a campsite somewhere. That’s way different probably from anyplace else in California.”

“The park road opens sometime usually around the middle of May. Last year it was around Memorial Day. Most people are probably not going to climb Lassen peak but there are a lot of good day-hiking trails. They are at 6-8,000 feet so if you live at sea level there’s some huffing and puffing sometimes involved. The King’s Creek Trail right off the park road goes down past some waterfalls. That one is quite nice. Bumpass Hell is something everybody should do.”

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Show Notes

Tales Told From the Road
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Bumpass Hell Trail
Lassen Peak Trail
Kings Creek Falls Trail
Juniper Lake
Drakesbad Guest Ranch
Audio Tours
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Crater Lake National Park
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Bend, Oregon
Mount Shasta
Kings Creek Meadow
Cinder Cone, Lassen
Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins
Tales Told from the Road
Lassen: An Undiscovered National Park Gem


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Chris Christensen: Amateur Traveler Episode 422. Today the amateur traveler goes to a national park almost the same distance from San Francisco as Yosemite, but with a lot less visitors and one more volcano, as we go to Lassen National Park.

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Welcome to The Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen.


I’d like to welcome to the show Dick Jordan, from, and Dick has come to talk to us about Lassen National Park. Dick, welcome to the show.

Dick Jordan: Thanks, Chris, great to be on with you this morning.

Chris Christensen: I wanted to do a show about the most popular national park, but instead, we decided to do Lassen. No, that’s not true, but Dick, I bet that most of the people listening to this have not heard of Lassen National Park.

Dick Jordan: And you could probably be the Drakesbad Guest Ranch on that, Chris, and you’d win.

Chris Christensen: So, put Lassen on a map for us, first of all.

Dick Jordan: So, Lassen, it is Northeastern California. If you headed up Interstate 5 from Sacramento towards Oregon, after about two and a half to three hours, you would get to the towns of Red Bluff and Redding, and if you turn northeast from there, you would find yourself at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Chris Christensen: And I just want to put that in context for some of you who are not from California because some of you think that San Francisco is Northern California, and it turns out there’s a whole lot of California north of that, and we’re up in that area. The nearest big town is probably Sacramento?

Dick Jordan: Yeah, that would be the largest town that is still quite a ways south, about three hours south. The biggest towns close to Lassen are Red Bluff and Redding, and then there’s just a whole bunch of small places along Interstate 5 as you head to the Oregon border.

Chris Christensen: Excellent, and why should someone go to Lassen?

Dick Jordan: Well, let’s suppose that you came from out of state and traveled to San Francisco. It’s likely that as long as you’re there you’d want to go to some other places in Northern California, like Monterey, or the wine country, or Lake Tahoe, or Yosemite National Park, or a little bit farther south even to Kings Canyon Sequoia National Park, where I was last week. Those destinations are all 4-5 hours of driving time from San Francisco, but you’re going to find an awful lot of people in all of those locations. About 4 million people a year ago to Yosemite and virtually all of them come in the May-September time period and virtually all of them go only to the rather small, confining Yosemite Valley. So, you’re going to be there with a lot of your new best friends. Lassen, on the other hand, is about the same distance away and gets a tenth of the visitation annually that Yosemite does.

So, it’s a much more laid back, off the beaten path, but still very scenic part that has geothermal features like Yellowstone, no big geysers, but fumarole holes, and mud pots, and a lot of sulfury smelling places, as well as a very large mountain that you can hike up to the top of. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to climb it. So, it presents a really interesting alternative to some of the better known tourist destinations that people want to visit when they come to San Francisco.

Chris Christensen: Well, and Dick, I feel like you may be burying the lead here a bit. You mentioned that it’s a mountain. What kind of mountain is Lassen?

Dick Jordan: So, Lassen is a volcano. It’s the southernmost, I believe, volcano in the Cascade chain that runs north through Oregon and Washington, nearly to the Canadian border. The ones that people are probably more familiar with are Mt. Rainier, near my old hometown of Seattle, and Mt. Saint Helens, which erupted cataclysmically in 1980, and Mt. Shasta, which is the largest volcano, nearly as high as Mt. Rainier, which is located north of Redding and northwest of Lassen.

Chris Christensen: So, Dick, what kind of itinerary would you recommend for someone that’s going to Lassen?

Dick Jordan: Well, there’s different ways to see this park. You can do a drive through in an hour. So, if you just kind of wanted to see everything through the windshield as you’re zipping off to the next stop on your multi-destination itinerary, you could do that.

Chris Christensen: Although when you say an hour, we should point out that you’re not counting the several area drive from any place.

Dick Jordan: That’s right. That’s from the southwestern entrance, say, of the park, to the northwestern entrance on the park road, and that’s not stopping to hike or do anything other than hang your arm out the window with your Smartphone and take pictures, just as you’re sort of driving. So, that’s probably not the best way to see it. You could spend a day, just a day, and begin by overnighting say in Redding or Red Bluff, and then traversing the park road, and you could see some of the more interesting feature of the park by just pulling off the road and walking a short distance. Bumpass Hell, which is the major geothermal area, is a 3 mile hike round trip, and it’s easy enough for older folks and kids to do. I think I’ve even seen some people with strollers on that trail, although I’m not sure I’d recommend it.

So, you could spend one day kind of going through the park, but in my mind, because it’s such a good place for day hiking, I would recommend staying a few days in the park or in one of the small resorts that are nearby if you can’t get a place to stay in the park. There’s plenty of room if you’re a camper. If you’re a car camper, odds are really good any time in the summer that you drove in without a reservation; you could probably find a campsite somewhere. You may not be able to find the one you wanted, and that’s way different than probably any other place in California.

Chris Christensen: Right, so if you had a few days in the park, what would you do?

Dick Jordan: OK, so you can climb Lassen Peak. It’s about 10,000 feet. Right now they’re working on restoring and improving the trail, so it’s only open on a few days each month in the summer. That’s a hike you can do when the snow is off of the mountain.

Chris Christensen: I was going to say we should tell people in terms of when you can do that. I’ve been there actually one time, only one time, when I was 5 years old, but we do have pictures of my father standing next to a snow drift that’s twice his size, and he’s a 6 foot man. So, when you say, “When the snow is off,” this year I imagine that’s easier.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, for one thing, the park road itself, this is the main paved road to the park that everybody drives, opens sometime between the middle of May or middle of July. Last year it was around Memorial Day. That’s probably when it will be this year. If you go, say, between mid-July and mid-September you will probably not find snow on any of the trails that you would be able to hike up to the top of Lassen Peak, but most people are probably not going to do that. I did when I was in my 20s. I didn’t do it last summer when I went up there 40 odd years later, but there’re lots of good day hiking trails. They are at about 6,000-8,000 feet, so if you live at sea level like you and I do, Chris, there’s some huffing and puffing sometimes involved, but they’re very scenic. Most of them are 3-5 miles long.

Chris Christensen: And I’m going to ask you to recommend a couple that you like.

Dick Jordan: The Kings Creek Trail, which is right off the park road, goes down past the waterfalls. That one is quite nice. Bumpass Hell is something that everybody should do. That’s that 3 mile trail round-trip that goes into the main geothermal features of the park.

Chris Christensen: And let’s pause there and expand on both of those in terms of what you’re going to see in those particular trails. So, Bumpass Hell, you said, and what do we see there?

Dick Jordan: So, what you’re going to see is like a mud pot. It’s sort of a gray blobby thick thing bubbling away, fumaroles where you’ll see sort of like steam venting out, there are…

Chris Christensen: Sulfur smelling steam venting out.

Dick Jordan: …Yeah, right, that rotten egg smell. You will some very colorful, kind of greenish looking, small ponds in there and hear a lot of hissing going on. There are no big geysers like Yellowstone, and there’s a boardwalk through there, so when you get down to the bottom off of the trail you can walk along this boardwalk. It’s very interesting and that’s probably the most popular trail, I would say. The Kings Creek Trail, you’ll be more in the woods and walking along a stream. You’ll probably see, if you’re there in say, mid-July to late-July, a lot of wildflowers, and there’re 3 lakes you can hike down to right off of the park road. When you get on to that trail in particular, and some of the other ones in the park, very soon you will stop seeing any other people. Bumpass Hell, you will see a lot of people. Kings Creek, you’ll tend to see more. Then there’re some trails out by Juniper Lake, which is in the sort of the southeast corner of the park, where you very well may not see anybody at all while hiking all day.

Chris Christensen: And we should say, if you go to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, that is an active volcano, and you could actually, if you go at the right time and the right way, see lava. That is not what you will see at Lassen, but neither is this a extinct volcano. This volcano last erupted, I don’t remember the year, but I remember in the pictures they had at the visitors center there were Model Ts and Model As or something like that, so turn of the century I want to say.

Dick Jordan: Well, the park was established in 1960 and I think the last eruption was around 1912. Now, in the 1970s, the park was concerned that there would either be an eruption or there would be enough seismic activity because of magma building up, that there would be a very large rockslide, and the very nice lodge and cabins at Manzanita Lake in the northwest corner of the park were removed and the campground there was closed for a while. Unfortunately, when the park finally decided that whatever hazard there might have been that had abated, they already removed all of the cabins, the lodge building, the gas station, the grocery store, the bar, and those were never completely rebuilt.

There is now a camper store at Manzanita Lake, but it’s not where it was before, but there are some cabins that have been rebuilt, but these are not the same as the old ones. They’re very nice and I stayed in one last summer for a night. They have no running water or electricity. They’re solid walls, beautiful looking, very comfortable. They’re not like those cheesy tent cabins at Camp Curry in Yosemite, but they don’t have indoor plumbing and they don’t have electricity.

Chris Christensen: I assume there is indoor plumbing and water somewhere nearby.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, what you do is, if you need to get up in the middle of the night, you discover whether bears really go in the woods as you walk your way to the bath house or one of the other toilets. There are coin-operated showers. They do give you a battery-operated lamp if you don’t bring your own, and the nice thing about those cabins is, if you have no camping gear whatsoever, you have never camped in your life and you don’t want to sleep in the dirt, they can provide you with all of the equipment, and sleeping bags, and everything that you need. They’ll even give you a gourmet steak dinner that you can cook out on the fire ring. So, it’s not quite glamping, glamour camping, but as one woman I talked to said, “Hey man, this is camping where you can stand up. Not like a tent where you’re going to like fall over if you try to stand up, or knock your tent down.

Chris Christensen: Excellent. What else should we be doing in Lassen?

Dick Jordan: So, the other thing to do if you want to stay in Lassen is considered going to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, which is in the southeast corner of the park. It’s a place that other park visitors aren’t going to be driving by, because you have to drive quite a ways in, and this is a historic property that the park service acquired. It’s a family resort kind of a place. All meals are provided. There are lodge rooms, there are little cabins, some of which don’t have any electricity, there are some sort of more upscale cabins that have a full bath. Most rooms have a half bath and you walk down to the thermal heated swimming pool and use the shower down there. It’s a very family-friendly place. Kids 12 and under stay and eat for free, so it can be a very economical place to go.

There’s a horse shoe pit, there’s a ping pong table, there’s stargazings on some nights, horseback riding. If you’ve never gone fishing in your life, they’ll set you up with a fishing guide. There’s local hiking, there’s a geothermal feature there called Devil’s Kitchen, and it’s a great place to just kind of hang out and give you some access to some of the more remote areas of the park to go to for day hiking.

Chris Christensen: OK, now one thing that I saw when I went to the Lassen National Park website, and of course most of the national parks, if not all of them, have a nice website these days, but they have a new, the Crater Loop Road, you talked about driving through the park, and that would be really what we would do if we were driving through or doing the day trip, has a cell phone audio tour now.

Dick Jordan: Is that right? Well, must be something new since last…

Chris Christensen: I was going to say that might be something new since you were there

Dick Jordan: …since last summer, because cell phone reception in the park is spotty if best anywhere.

Chris Christensen: Yeah, you were off there where the buses don’t run here.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, I was told that the dump station by Manzanita Lake and a couple spots along the highway in Bumpass Hell, you might be able to get cell reception. I was trying to do actual live video broadcasting from the park last summer, but it didn’t work well, at least with my AT&T iPhone, and if you go to Drakesbad, you can bring your laptop and all of your toys with you, but they aren’t going to work because there’s no interception at all there. So, it’s kind of a way to get away from things, but that’s interesting. I wonder if the audio tour is something you can download and then play offline, because that could work.

Chris Christensen: Yes, you download the files. That is correct.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, yeah, well that’s interesting. There used to be, and I assume they still sell, kind of a little roadside guide to tell you what things that you were seeing as you drove through the park, but the audio thing would be a neat thing to do as well.

Chris Christensen: Well, and apparently they think they have good enough cell phone reception that their signs have a Q.R. Code that you can scan or a number that you can dial.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, we’ve got to be tied to the outside world somehow, right? We just can’t get away from it all.

Chris Christensen: Exactly. Now, Dick, I managed to surprise you there, what else about the park surprised you? You hadn’t been there in a few years in between your visits.

Dick Jordan: One of the things that I continued to marvel at, and I’ve been up through this area probably half a dozen times, either into the park or around it, over the last 40 years, is that has not become more developed. There are not giant resorts anywhere around. There was a plan to build a ski resort, but that fell through, so, that’s changed. The other thing is that over time the number of day visitors does seem to have increased. People have finally discovered this park even if they’re not staying in it, but it still remains a very pleasant, kind of out of the way place where you can almost have the whole park to yourself depending on where you go, even in the middle of the summer.

Chris Christensen: Excellent. We talk about surprises, so, I that the only time I’ve been to the park, I was going to say the last time, but also the only time I’ve been to the park, I was 5 years old. We had just moved to California not that long before that, and I imagine we were still in exploring mode. We walked one of the trails that I’m sure you’ve talked about here, that we were seeing all of the mud pots, all of the bubbling and boiling, and we were standing in front of a boiling lake.

My brother, that was 8 years old at the time, says to my father, “Dad, can this ever turn into a volcano?” and my father, not being a geologist says, “Well, I don’t know. I suppose, maybe,” and I don’t know the name of the man that was handling the dynamite on the nearby road construction project, and whether he had timed that explosion for exactly that point, but right after my brother said that, there was literally an explosion nearby as they were doing some construction apparently. My parents said if they hadn’t grabbed my brother and I, we might still be running, so it was a memorable experience as a kid, but it is a memorable park, I think, for kids because it is an interesting geologic park, and I’d say we haven’t said, “Stop at the tour center,” or stop at the visitor center, rather, but I think that is something I would do in all national parks, certainly in Lassen.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, there are two visitor centers. There’s a pretty new one that old-timers who have gone to the park will remember as the old, kind of Swiss chalet looking thing, and they built a new monitor one that has the visitor’s center in it, it has a cafe that’s open from morning until the end of the afternoon, they have a gift shop, and so on, and most visitors are probably coming in through that southwest entrance, where that new visitor center is. There’s a smaller one at Manzanita Lake in the northwest corner of the park, and certainly if you’re just coming into the park, it’s a good idea to stop at one of those visitor’s centers to get information, to get oriented, to kind of see what the park is about. One other thing you can do, by the way, at Manzanita Lake, is you can rent a kayak. That lake isn’t very big. It has great views of Lassen Peak.

Chris Christensen: It’s also not a boiling lake like some of the other ones.

Dick Jordan: No, no, no, it’s very calm. It’s a regular lake, not full of steaming sulphuric acid or anything like that, and you can walk around it. It’s not very big, so you can take a quick hike around that lake too, but yeah, one of the two visitor centers as you enter to find out what’s going on, check out what ranger programs are going to offered, perhaps, during your stay. One of the things that they’ve done now, this is a third year that they have a dark sky event. This year it will be August 1-3, and one of the nice things about going to a place like Lassen, is you get to see the Milky Way. You get to see all kinds of things that you cannot see if you live in a major metro area like you and I do, Chris. Even if we don’t have the famous San Francisco fog hanging over us, if you look up at the sky at night you can see almost no stars. Well, that’s completely different than Lassen, and that’s one really good reason actually to go to that park. Even if the event itself isn’t on, throughout the summer you’ll be able to see the night sky like you haven’t seen it either before or in years.

Chris Christensen: We have right now staying with us, an international student that’s been living with us for more than a year, who’s originally from Shanghai, and when she went outside in San Jose, which is a large metropolitan area, as you say, and looked up, she was amazed at how many stars she could see, so, I can’t imagine if I were to take her to some place like Lassen where you can really see how many stars are out there.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, and interestingly enough, this event has caused the Sequoia Field Institute, which is the non-profit associated with Sequoia National Park, to put on their own dark sky event I think at the end of July this year. I just met with one of their people last week when I was up at the park and she had gone to Lassen right after I did last summer and participated in that event, and came home to Sequoia and said, “We need to do one of these things,” so, it’s really kind of a big deal, I think, to be able to do that. When I was at Drakesbad, which is probably a week before they did the dark sky event, one of the staff people brought out a couple of telescopes, and even though we did have a bit of a moon that came up later in the night, we were able to look at a number of things through those telescopes. So, that’s a thing, of course, that really intrigues kids because it’s not something that you get to do every day, but as an adult is kind of a fun thing to do too.

Chris Christensen: And, you mentioned Sequoia. For those not familiar with that national park, Sequoia and also neighboring park, Kings Canyon, are also parks in the Sierras, although at the other end way down by Bakersfield and Los Angeles, or closer down to that area.

Dick Jordan: Right. A lot of people from L.A. in particular, come up to Sequoia, which is the southernmost part, because it’s pretty close to them, although from the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s still about the same amount of driving time as to Yosemite or to Lassen. One reason is that the roads are pretty good. It’s basically east of Fresno, and those parks still get quite a bit of visitation, a little under 2 million a year, about half of what Yosemite does, but they are also great places to go. Although, if you go in the spring as I do, you should be prepared for snow, as I was. A week ago I went hiking in 35-degree temperatures in the snow, and then I got back to the Bay Area a week later and I’m hiking in 85-degree temperatures down here in the Bay Area.

Chris Christensen: If you don’t like the weather in California, just drive 20 miles.

Dick Jordan: Exactly.

Chris Christensen: Getting back to the Lassen area though, are there other things that you would see when you go to Lassen that you would lump with that trip?

Dick Jordan: The first trip I did to Lassen, we actually drove north from the San Francisco Bay Area up to Eureka, up where the coastal redwoods are, and spent some time there, and then drove east. It takes about half a day to get to Lassen from there, so you can do a nice kind of coastal loop. You can go as far up as Crescent City, which has more redwood parks, and loop around, you could go directly north from Lassen to another volcanic national park that’s very spectacular, and that’s Crater Lake. That’s probably about 4 hours.

Chris Christensen: That would be a wonderful one to combine, yeah.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, if you’re a person that likes to do outdoor stuff, but also cultural things, you could do what I’ve done many summers, which is go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is at Ashland, in Southern Oregon. It’s about 6 hours of travel time from the San Francisco Bay Area and probably about 2 to 2.5 hours from Lassen, and that’s a great repertory theater company, and they do much more than Shakespeare. They do a lot of contemporary works, they do classical…

Chris Christensen: And if that intrigues you, we have actually had an episode of the Amateur Traveler just on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and on Ashland, Oregon.

Dick Jordan: Right, and so, you could go as far as Bend, Oregon, where you’d have the Three Sisters, three big ice cream cone-like volcanoes close together, and a bunch of lakes nestled at the foot of them, and if you wanted to, you know, sort of even the classic come to San Francisco, go to wine country, go to Tahoe, go to Yosemite, you could also go from wine country, to Lassen, to Yosemite, and to Monterey or whatever, if you wanted to spend, say a couple weeks or so out in California.

Chris Christensen: The other thing that I’m going to offer as an alternative there too, is the other mountain that we mentioned that is near Lassen is Shasta, that Shasta has quite a large lake, a man-made lake around it, and one of the popular activities out there is houseboating. So, if that is something that appeals to you that is something that would be easy to combine with this as well.

Dick Jordan: That’s right, and that’s a trip that I did back in the 1970s with my in-laws and my wife. One thing to be thinking about when you’re going to this part of California is that summer is quite warm. As you were driving up the central towards Lassen, if you get out of your car, the air temperature is probably going to about 90 or 95 degrees…

Chris Christensen: On a cool day.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, on a hot day it will be well over 100. When you get to the park, of course, you’re up about 6,000 feet, so day temperatures are more like 80, 85 during the summer. Fall is a good time to go, and, of course, fall actually kind of begins in a sense earlier than it did when you and I were kids, Chris. Now kids are going back to school around the third week of August, and that means for people who want to travel when families aren’t traveling, fall begins the last week of August. I looked quickly at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch availability. It’s pretty booked in July and early August right now, but late August and September, there are quite a few openings for 2014, and so that’s a great time to go. One of our other Bay Area based travel writers I know went up last September. The weather is generally quite good then, and also, is a good time if you wanted to do that houseboat thing, to go because it will be getting a little bit cooler out on Shasta Lake.

Chris Christensen: Dick, you’re standing in the most beautiful in Lassen. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Dick Jordan: If you want to get a great view of the mountain, and probably a big wildflower broom, is as you’re driving the park road from south to north, and before you get to Kings Creek, is there’s a big meadow, Kings Creek meadow, and you will see a big pull-out area there. Just stop there and gaze up at the mountain, and look at the meadow, and look at the flowers, and look at the creek going through there. To me, that’s one of the most scenic spots in the entire park, and it’s easily accessible by people who are just driving through. You don’t have to be a hiker to get to that spot.

Chris Christensen: If you were looking for the most remote spot you have been in Lassen, where would you mention that?

Dick Jordan: Well, if you go to the very northeast corner of the park to Cinder Cone, which is a small volcanic hump that comes up, you will be away from just about everybody, and that’s because it’s going to take you probably, depending on where you start from in the park, a couple hours to get over there, and it’s well away from the main park road, and it’s off of a less traveled state highway. So, if you went over there, you might not see anybody, or Juniper Lake, which I went to, which is kind of southeast. It’s closer to Drakesbad.

When I went there last summer, this is the end of July, people who were camping nearby kind of walked behind me when I was having lunch at a picnic table on the beach. I saw about 3 people who were tent camping after I hiked in a couple of miles, but basically there was no one there. There was no one on the trail at all, and you get also good views of Lassen, over those lakes. There’re quite a few lakes, actually, in Lassen National Park. So, that’s another great place to go to kind of be on your own and be out of touch. Sorry, can’t use your cell phone, can’t post to Facebook. I don’t think Alicia could last a summer there.

Chris Christensen: And, when you mention Cinder Cone, as I recall you can hike Cinder Cone, because my brother and my father did while we were there.

Dick Jordan: Right, you can hike up to the top of it if you want to. There’re also some hikes that are around in that area if you don’t want to climb the Cinder Cone itself, which you might not want to do if it was a really warm day.

Chris Christensen: Because you’re talking about black cinders. I mean, basically, I have this memory in my mind of the crunch of the cinders under feet when you’re walking here in that area.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, now one of the things that people will discover if they travel through the Cascade chain, particularly on the eastern side, there are big, big lava flows, and if you go north from Lassen towards Oregon, go straight north through Burney [SP], you will pass through an immense field of lava flow. If you go into Southern Oregon you will find Lava Beds National Monument that has caves, and lava tubes where lava once flowed, where you can walk through. If you keep going up to Bend, you will find big piles of lava. So, it’s really kind of an interesting, kind of moon-like landscape in a way, except there aren’t big craters, but there’s all this black basaltic kind of rock all around, and that’s quite a bit different than what you would see, say, if you went to Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra where the rock is mainly granite.

Chris Christensen: Yeah, that’s granite. Before we get to our last three questions, is there anything else people should know before they head up to Lassen?

Dick Jordan: Well, the main thing to know is if you want to stay inside, rather than camping, then you should probably be thinking a few months in advance for booking. There are a number of little resorts outside of the park, and the park has a very nice listing of all the lodging in the area, so if you can’t actually get into a place, say, like Drakesbad, or if camping in one of these efficiency cabins with no electricity or water at Manzanita Lake doesn’t appeal to you, there are some other places, but this is an area where people have come back summer after summer, generation after generation.

Drakesbad, for example, when I was there last summer, there was a family group that had been coming every summer for 50 years. There was another group that had come a little bit earlier in the summer that had been coming every summer for 70 years, and it’s not unusual to find that’s the case with all of these kinds of small resort areas around Lassen. So, people come and while they’re there they book for next year for the same week. That’s what happened to me at Drakesbad. I call it sleeping around. I slept in three different accommodations in four nights.

Chris Christensen: You were filing in the cracks in their schedule basically.

Dick Jordan: Yeah, exactly. It’s like, “Sorry, we’d like to leave you in that room, but someone else is going to be sleeping in your bed tonight and so we have to move you.” The advantage for me as a writer is that I got to see what all the different accommodations were like there. So, if you don’t like being inconvenienced, you can sometimes have a fairly extended stay, even though these places are pretty well booked, but it is helpful to plan ahead. I would say if you’re thinking about going there this summer, you should get on your computer or get on the phone and try to book right now. It will be easier for September, or you ought to be thinking about maybe next year if you’ve already got your summer trip plans for this year finalized.

Chris Christensen: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say only in Lassen?

Dick Jordan: I suppose, it’s not only in Lassen, but it’s one of the very few places where you’re going to take a very deep breath and go, “Yuck! Oh my God! What is that sulfur-y stuff that’s floating around in the air?” You can’t experience that too many places, except maybe Yellowstone itself, which is not a very easy place to get to for us Californians. It’s kind of a long drive, or it’s a couple of flights, and an overnight before you can get there, so, I would say that’s one of the sorts of remarkable things. If you want to experience that gag reflex, weird smell…

Chris Christensen: Way to sell it there, Dick.

Dick Jordan: …it’s the place to go.

Chris Christensen: Actually, and you mentioned Yellowstone and people are interested in Yellowstone. We have an episode on that too. You really know you’re in Lassen when what?

Dick Jordan: You really know when you’re in Lassen when the end of the day comes, and you look around and say, “Where the heck did everybody go?” Which is an experience you won’t have in most national parks, because a lot of people are day-trippers, that come in, that drive the road that say, “Gee, there’s no big Owani fancy hotel like Yosemite had. I don’t want to stay here,” and they’re gone, or they say, “Gee, I wish I would have planned ahead. I would have liked to stay at Drakesbad, but everything is filled,” so they’re gone. This is something in, I would say most of the heavily visited western U.S national parks, you won’t experience.

Chris Christensen: Excellent.

Dick Jordan: Those people would still be there.

Chris Christensen: And, if you had to summarize Lassen in three words, what three words would you choose?

Dick Jordan: Best. National. Park.

Chris Christensen: Interesting. Wow, those are practically fighting words here. I assume somebody would challenge you with that, but that’s excellent. Dick, where can people read more about your travels?

Dick Jordan: They can read more about my travels at You can also find me on Facebook, Tales Told From the Road, on Twitter, I’m @TalesTold, and either under my name, or Tales Told, or Tales Told From the Road, you’ll find me on Pinterest, Google+, and probably a few other social networking sites.

Chris Christensen: And Dick has also been a guest a couple times on This Week in Travel, if you just can’t get enough of Dick Jordan. Thanks so much for joining us on Amateur Traveler.

Dick Jordan: Thanks, Chris. It’s been a great pleasure.


Chris Christensen: I do three news stories for you. One is a news story that just came out today from Monarch Airlines, a small airline that took a vote among their passengers, and 90% of them said, “Let’s just get rid of reclining seats on all planes,” and the airline agrees. In the future when you fly on Monarch Airlines, the seats will not recline, so you won’t have to fight with the person behind you about whether you should. If that seems frightening to you, it’s not nearly as frightening as the visitors who were in the Willis Tower, the old Sears Tower in Chicago. They were standing on the ledge that goes out for the sight-seeing ledge that’s made of glass, and as they stood up, the whole thing cracked into thousands of pieces. What they didn’t realize, that was just the protective layer that was supposed to keep the structural layer, the thick structural layer of glass that was keeping them from plummeting to their deaths, from scratching.

It’s something they routinely change and they were in no danger, but boy, would that be scary. I have stood there and I can’t imagine. Speaking of unimaginable, Thompson is a popular tourism agency out of the U.K. A woman called them to ask them for a refund because her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she claims she was told, “Well, why don’t you just take someone else with you?” I’m not sure that that’s the most appropriate answer in that situation. For links to all three of those stories, check out the show notes at

Chris Christensen: In news of the community, I’d like your opinion. I’m thinking about moving the news segment to the end of the show, just before this segment, the community segment, instead of the beginning. Tell me what you think. I want to thank some of you that have taken the time to leave a review on the Amateur Traveler on iTunes because that’s how a lot of people find the show. The last two reviews we have, both 5-star reviews, one from FFTorched that says, “The host doesn’t just focus on popular destinations, but features many off the beaten path trips. He is great stimulating discussions with his guests and getting the information to help one plan a trip to this location.”

Thanks so much, and then also from Dale Walad [SP] that says, “I have been listening to the Amateur Traveler for years now, but just started listening on iTunes and I love it. I love the mixture of domestic and international, and known and unknown places. Chris, I may be in the minority here, but I like it when you interview yourself and talk about a place you visited.” Thanks so much, Dale, because that’s also probably what next week’s show is going to be, as we talk about Jordan, because I just came back from that trip, including a chance to paparazzi for the Pope, which you can read about on the Amateur Traveler.

Check out that opportunity that I have. I now have a press pass for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and stood 6-10 feet away from as he was with the royal family. So, that was interesting experience that we’ll talk more about next week. With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, feel free to send an e-mail to host at Better yet, leave a comment on this show at Also, if you could leave at iTunes review, especially those of you who like the show that would be great. I understand that that’s a lot of work, but frankly, each episode of the Amateur Traveler takes 8 hours of effort, so I don’t feel very guilty asking. You can also follow me on Twitter @chris2x, and as always thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

6 Responses to “Travel to Lassen National Park, California – Episode 422”

Ernest Brown


This seems like a good place to stay. How is the weather there and what is the best season to visit?



Much of the park does not open until Summer, so really Summer into Fall

Dick Jordan


Ernest, I’m the travel writer who Chris interviewed for this episode of Amateur Traveler.

As Chris said in his comment, although the park itself is open year-round, the main park park road doesn’t open until sometime near the end of May and mid-July, depending on how much snow falls during the winter. (It’s now open for this year.)

Drakesbad Guest Ranch expects to open on June 6 and close on October 13th this year. The Camping Cabins at Manzanita Lake opened on May 22nd and will close on October 12, 2014.

For more information on visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park, read this story which I wrote last year:



The comment about “Virtually all them come in the May to September time period…” is a little misleading. Only 2/3rds of the visitor visit during that time (68%, to be exact). A full 1/3 of the visitors arrive in the ‘off-season’.

That fact being corrected, I’d really like to visit Lassen and it has been on my radar for 10 years now. Thanks for the info!



Thanks for the stat Peter!

Dick Jordan


Peter, since the page on the Yosemite National Park Website with visitor stats that you referenced only goes through 2007, I decided to see if more updated data were available.

On the NPS Website, there is a page ( that will let you view a wide range of visitation reports for any national park, and includes data from January 1991 through April 2014.

NPS doesn’t use terms like “High Season,” “Shoulder Season,” or “Low (or Off) Season” in its reports. Yosemite is open year-round, but in my experience visiting the park in every season of the year, visitation begins to slow down around mid-September and ramps up again in May.

Yosemite park visits from May through September of 2013 amounted to about 68% of the year 2013 total. If you add in April and October, it jumps to 82%.

But if you look at the overnight stays (in hotels/lodges, campgrounds and the backcountry), the number is 78% for May-September and 87% for April-October.

As I pointed out in my interview with Chris, compared to Yosemite, Lassen seems rather quiet at the end of the day, and that may be partially due to the limited in-park lodging at Manzanita Lake and Drakesbad in Lassen.

Not only did Yosemite get nearly 10 times as many visits as Lassen from May-September in 2013 (2,594,885 vs. 366,666), but 49% of Yosemite visits included an overnight stay, while the number is only 20% for Lassen during that same time period.

So you can slice and dice the numbers anyway you like, but the main point is that the path to Yosemite is well-worn while that the Lassen is relatively little trod upon, and that it is not unusual to encounter few if any other park visitors when hiking trails in Lassen, while in Yosemite you’ll likely find many more people no matter which trail you choose.

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