Lassen National Forest

Lassen National Forest is the southernmost section of The Cascade Mountain Range, located in Northern California. This special forest is sometimes referred to as ‘The Crossroads’ because it is a clash of three different landscapes: the sagebrush of The Great Basin, the granite of Sierra Nevada, and the volcanoes of The Cascade and Modoc Plateau.

In this national forest/park, you will find both mild and challenging trails, cool streams and boiling lakes, fields of wildflowers and towers of multicolored stone, all along the walking trails of this 1.2 million acre paradise.

Sign in Lassen National Forest
Sign for Cold Boiling Lake in Lassen National Forest — Photo by Lucas Myers on Unsplash

About Lassen National Forest

Lassen National Forest covers 1,875 square miles across 7 different counties in California: Lassen, Shasta, Tehama, Butte, Plumas, Modoc, and Siskiyou (Siskiyou also has Klamath National Forest within its borders, another beautiful forest you should visit sometime!) The forest’s headquarters are located in Susanville, CA.

The most immediate draw to this forest for most people is the hydrothermal activity. You can see geysers and hot springs at key points such as Sulpher Works, Warner Valley, and Boiling Springs Lake. The volcanic rock and activity are so prominent, they actually makes it into the name of the park: Lassen Volcanic National Park contains only volcanic rock and no other. The last eruption in Lassen was a mere 100 years ago. In fact, the area is still considered an active volcanic site, as it has been for the past 3 million years. The park is such a prominent figure in the geology community that even The United States Geological Survey conducts research here.

The park is full of fumaroles as a result of the boiling water reservoir below the surface. A fumarole is an opening near a volcano that expels sulfurous gasses. The park also features geysers, openings in the earth that spew boiling water many feet in the air, often creating a rainbow in its mighty spray.

Most of these spring waters, aside from being too hot to touch, are far too acidic to bathe in. If you’re looking for a swim in a naturally spring-heated pool, check out Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Here you can stay the night, have some great homecooked meals, gain access to some of the best trailheads, and go on guided horseback rides.  

The Sierra Nevada range - a highlight of Lassen National Forest
The imposing Sierra Nevada is a highlight of Lassen National Forest – Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

History of Lassen National Forest

Lassen became a forest in 1905, back when it was still called Lassen Peak Forest Reserve. Lassen Peak, which last erupted in 1915 and could do so again at any time, is the namesake of the forest. Fortunately, there weren’t many people living in that particular part of California at the time, however an eruption today would be cause for public concern.

The blasts of molten rock left part of the forest a desolate wasteland, too hot to touch for several days. Today, the area is lush with the trees and flowers again that found great nutritional value in the fertile volcanic soil. When viewed at a distance, one can still see the trails that the lava flow seared down the mountain, carving out a brand new watershed. If you travel to the summit of Lassen Peak, you will be standing on pure volcanic rock. This is because when the volcano hurled giant fiery stones into the earth, it created a crater 1,000 feet across. After the creation of the crater, hot lava began to flow into it, solidifying and filling it completely, until even more activity later created even more craters; at least nobody can say Lassen doesn’t have interesting terrain to climb!

Ranger Districts

The forest administration has one supervisor’s office and three ranger districts. To get information on park passes, campfire burning rules, or camping conditions, use the below contact information:

Supervisor’s Office
(530) 257-2151
2550 Riverside Drive
Susanville, CA 96130

Almanor Ranger District
(530) 258-2141
900 E. Hwy 36
Chester, CA 96020

Eagle Lake Ranger District
(530 – 257 4188)
477-050 Eagle Lake Road
Susanville, CA 96130

Hat Creek Ranger District
(530) 336-5521
43225 E. Hwy. 299
Fall River Mills, CA 96028

Old Station Visitor Center
(530) 335-7517
13435 Brian’s Way
Highway 44/89
Old Station, CA 9607

The Old Station Visitor Information Center is a great place to find general park guidance, as well as interpretive displays, gardens, and nature books. In fact, the forest has more than one interpretive site. You can ask the visitor’s center how to get to each of these four picturesque areas featuring educational plaques and identification to enhance your understanding of the forest:

Just remember to bring a flashlight if you plan on exploring the dark lava tunnels of Subway Cave. There are no artificial lights set up along this self-guided trail! Although no hardhats or crawling is required for this short trail, you’ll need durable shoes for the rough cave floor. Officials also advise you to bring a jacket; the temperature hovers in the forties!   

Lassen National Forest has a host of amazing camping spots – Image by bhossfeld from Pixabay

Recreation in Lassen National Forest

In Lassen you will find no shortage of things to do. Indulge in camping of all kinds, mountain biking and road cycling, horseback riding, fishing, boating, water skiing, and OHV road riding and trail riding. The cabin near Ishi Wilderness was constructed in 1936 as a lookout point for wildfire. Now it serves as a beautiful rental available by reservation, June – October.

The primitive two-room cabin retreat features a bedroom with multiple cots, kitchen, picnic bench, and gas-style grill. (Just make sure to bring your own bedding, matches, drinking water, soap, and other such amenities, as the cabin is not equipped with them.) It sits on the edge of Mill Creek Rim, looking out over vast swaths of the forest from 3,600 feet above sea level.

This cabin is a top destination for naturalists. You are almost guaranteed a glimpse at some wildlife, as it is located in a protected area with rules against hunting. This space is a refuge for raptors, mountain lions, bears, hogs, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and rabbits.  

If you would like to see conditions on the ground in Lassen before you travel,  check out real-time weather reports from the USDA’s page of Lassen County Trail Cams.  

Bobcat - a common resident of Lassen National Forest
If you’re lucky (and quiet), you might spot a bobcat in Lassen National Forest

Wilderness Areas

Lassen contains 3 designated wilderness areas to conserve the original nature of the forest, Luckily for us, each one can be respectfully explored! The three areas are:

Caribou Wilderness

Thousand Lakes Wilderness

Ishi Wilderness

If it’s a grand view you’re after, we recommend Caribou Wilderness and Thousand Lakes Wilderness. Caribou Wilderness averages 6,900 feet, and the highest point of the area at Red Cinder is 8,370 feet. The view from this plateau is conifer forest dotted with sapphire blue lakes formed by craters left by the volcanic eruption. If you’d like to go even higher, you’ll have to visit Thousand Lakes Wilderness. This wilderness contains the highest elevation point in all of Lassen Forest: Crater Peak, at 8,677 feet!

Ishi Wilderness is a much lower elevation area dominated by river canyon ridges, rocky outcroppings, and lava pillars. Expect to see plenty of animals here in this State Game Refuge. Ishi Wilderness is named after the last surviving member of the Yahi Yana tribe, a group of Native Americans who made their lives and history in this forest for thousands of years.

Visit Lassen National Forest

Whether you’re into biking and hiking, fishing and swimming, or climbing and riding, Lassen National Forest has activities for you! Stay overnight in the wild or a historic cabin, climb to the peak of Crater Rim or explore the otherworldly Subway Cave; your opportunities for memorable sights and experiences are endless in Lassen.

Stay up to date with the latest Alerts and Notices from the USDA. And remember to save  to your reading list so you’ll always have a quick, easy connection to America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-By Heaven Morrow

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