From the main highway through Northern California, it’s easy to underestimate Mount Lassen’s character as it sits quietly in the distance. In truth however, the mountain is quite impressive and certainly the couple hours it will take to hike up the peak!
Rising to a height of 10,457′, Lassen is makes a formidable appearance within the southern part of the Cascades Mountain Range. The volcano is still considered an active having last erupted from 1915 -1917 and gets a crazy amount of snow most winters (the average is 660 inches.) Growing up in California, Lassen was one of the first mountains I visited and though I didn’t actually hike it until shortly before this post, I’ve had several great trips to the park as it’s only a couple hour detour passing through Northern California.
What You’ll Experience Hiking Mt. Lassen
While Mount Lassen’s height and size is impressive, reaching the top is far more more less of a climb than you may thinking. Winding roads take you much of the way up the mountain until you crest out at the trailhead parking lot at just around 8,500′. That leaves only 2,000′ reached by a 2.5 mile (each way) trail to get to the top of the peak across a trail that was recently rebuilt and is simply well done.
That’s not to say Lassen should be approached lightly: with hundreds upon hundreds of inches of annual snowfall, high altitude conditions and regular storms, the route up can be quite treacherous even well into summer (winter climbs are a whole other discussion.) Throw in the elevation, the likely cold temps, and remoteness of the mountain and it’s certainly an adventure to prepare for but a moderate hike too.
For several years the trail was closed after a young hiker was tragically killed by a rock slide but has since reopened after being considerably upgraded. What you’ll find now is a steep but not overly aggressive path to the top with many switchbacks and other features in place to kindly snake you up the mountain in a way that most other peaks sure don’t do.
It’s not just the top that’s worth the visit either: wandering up on my hike, I probably spent as much time stopping to take in the view as I did moving. The perspective gets better and better as you head on up of course but the landscape of Lassen and the entire region is pretty incredible even if all you can manage to drive on through the park. For the hikers, expect to see everything from rolling mountains to alpine lakes, glacial snow (season dependent), and possibly some other massive peaks from the top including Mount Shasta if you get a nice enough day.
Getting to the trailhead: Directions, lodging, trail facilities
Reaching the Lassen Peak trailhead (here’s the park map) means driving into the heart of the National Park which is about 90 minutes off highway 5 and well into Northern California. While the park is open year round, the main road through is closed much of the year due to snow and while winter / snow ascents are entirely possible, they are another level of adventure all together (see http://www.summitpost.org/lassen-peak/150414)
When the road is open, it’s an easy though windy drive up to the trailhead which is located right along the park’s main road. Just be sure to stock up in advance as facilities around the peak are limited to just restrooms. There however are several campgrounds in the park, as well as small stores at the north and south entrances Overall, the park is quite well developed but the long winter closures keep it a quiet place save for a few busy months.
Making the Hike to Lassen Peak
There’s really not a ton that needs to be said about this hike thanks to its fairly moderate profile and the great condition of the rebuilt trail. Still, I urge you not to underestimate the hike or more so the reality of being on an isolated peak.
On a day that may start as sunny and warm, it can be freezing by the time you reach 10,000′. Cold conditions also mean that the effects of winter (that’s snow and ice) can linger around for a long time so be sure to check conditions and bring the appropriate footwear / traction and tools.
As for the rest, you’ll find a large, paved parking lot and a couple vault toilets at the trailhead. Several info boards guard the start of the trail with additional info displays along points on the trail. From start to the top has no unmarked turns or forks and, provided that the snow is mostly gone, it should be easy to follow the path up until you reach the crater near the top. Along the way, you’ll find a fairly wide trail with a few fairly obvious break points but really it’s such a wide trail that it’s fairly easy to handle the crowds that come with a summer day on the peak at just about any point.
Once you’ve ascended to the crater’s plateau, you’ll find several more info signs and break areas below the true summit. Getting to the true summit involves crossing over the top of the mountain and scaling up a short section of crumbly, loose rock rising maybe 100′ or so. It’s nothing technical but it’s also not developed (or stable) like the trail below so be cautious as you head up (and down) and considerate of those below you so you don’t kick rocks down! The return is the same trail you took up.
Quick facts about the trail:
- Route: Out and Back
- Official Rating: Moderate
- Start point: Lassen Peak Trailhead
- Distance: 5 miles roundtrip
- Duration: 3-5 hours (or trail run it)
- Climb: 2,000′
- Facilities: Restrooms only
- Water: None on the trail!
- Crowds: Moderate to Heavy in Summer
- Cost: $20 to enter the park or an NPS annual pass
- Permits: None in smmer