How to get away from the crowds at Lassen National Park this summer

For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here….

For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here.

California’s paramount landscape of fire and ice, Lassen Volcanic National Park, is projected to be fully open for summertime activities by June 25. All the park’s roads, campgrounds and trailheads will likely be open for the first time in seven months, with some high-country trails in sun-shielded sites still covered with patches of snow.

Lassen features a landscape built primarily by volcanic blasts and lava flows, with the last series of major eruptions from 1914 to 1918. Its high country is cut by ice and snow. The park’s 106,000 acres is a matrix of lava peaks, basalt flows and geothermal basins that are set amid forests, lakes and streams. The centerpiece, 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, has just an inch or 2 of snow left on portions of the switch-backed trail that leads up from the parking lot. It is expected to melt off soon.

As a national park, Lassen is like Yosemite’s little brother — it gets about 500,000 visitors each year compared to Yosemite’s 5 million. It is a unique destination for camping, hiking, trout fishing and wilderness treks. The Pacific Crest Trail also runs through much of the park.

With summer fast approaching, here’s a quick guide to Lassen, with ideas on how to enjoy the park’s greatest hits.

Camping

Along the Lassen Park Highway, you can find major campgrounds and camping cabins at Manzanita Lake (multiple loops, 179 sites, 20 cabins). Or check out Summit Lake, with two separate campground areas and 94 sites, which opens June 25. Near the southern entrance station, Southwest Walk-in has 20 sites, first come, first served.

In the park’s more remote regions, the campground at Butte Lake (101 sites) is located across the entrance road from the car-top boat access.

Camps are also available at the distant Warner Valley (17 sites, first-come, first-served) and the even more remote Juniper Lake (16 sites, first come, first served, opens June 25). Access to these spots is along dirt roads, and SUVs are advised to reach them.

For campsite availability, check www.Recreation.gov.

A break in the forest on the trail to Paradise Meadow reveals a framed view of Lassen Peak at Lassen Volcanic National Park
A break in the forest on the trail to Paradise Meadow reveals a framed view of Lassen Peak at Lassen Volcanic National ParkTom Stienstra/The Chronicle

Three easy hikes

• The park’s most popular hike, the Bumpass Hell geothermal area (named after a guy who accidentally fell in), is likely to open in the next week or so, rangers say. It’s a 3-mile round trip: a short climb and then a descent to a basin filled with boiling pots, hot springs, steam vents and hydrothermals. A series of boardwalks provide access in the basin.

• From Hat Lake along the Lassen Park Highway, there’s a pretty hike along a creek, past a waterfall (a short cutoff on the right provides the best view) to gorgeous Paradise Meadow. It’s 2.8 miles round trip, with a 700-foot climb on the way in. The meadow is nestled in a mountain bowl at 7,100 feet, where visitors will find an explosion of wildflowers. It’s now neon green and absolutely pristine.

• Mill Creek Falls, a gorgeous 75-foot chute-like waterfall, is a 3.8-mile round trip. The route starts near the southwest parking area (near the park entrance, behind the amphitheater), then is routed through forest with a few small stream crossings. In the past two weeks, there has been increased bear activity in the area, likely brought in by campers at Southwest Walk-In.

Two tougher hikes

• The park’s signature hike, the Lassen Peak Trail, is rapidly becoming accessible for hiking as the snowmelts off the south-facing switchbacks.

It’s a 5-mile round-trip with a 2,000-foot climb on the way up to the rim. Then it’s a short jaunt across the caldera to the plug dome summit crag. As you approach, the best route up to the pinnacle is on the far side on the left.