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Explore mud pots, cinder cones, mountain peaks and more

Story and photos by Lee Juillerat   June 1, 2012

    Mount Lassen from Highway 89    
Mount Lassen from Highway 89
  The uphill slog was frustrating and excruciating, like hiking through bottomless sand. But this wasn’t sand and it definitely wasn’t a beach. The trail to Mt. Lassens's Cinder Cone churns through a geological desert of coarse black cinders, gradually gaining about 300-feet in 1-1/2 miles while following the Nobles Emigrant Trail, a route taken by 1850s gold-seekers.  
    Mt. Lassen Slogging up the Cinder Cone    
Slogging up the Cinder Cone

That’s the easy part. After 1-1/2 miles, the trail reaches with a junction that veers towards Cinder Cone’s summit. It’s only another half-mile, but it seems longer, much longer, climbing 700 vertical feet on the seriously squishy cinder-strewn route.

It’s worth the slog. Once on top, the struggle is forgotten and forgiven.

    The Cinder Cone's fascinating world    
The Cinder Cone's fascinating world

Cinder Cone’s symmetrical top is actually a triple-rim volcano. Trails weave along the top and inside. From anywhere along the upper rim the views are inspiring — peaks like broad-shouldered Lassen Peak, Brokeoff Mountain and Prospect Peak, Snag and Butte lakes, the Painted Dunes and the Fantastic Lava Beds. Inside the cone, a trail leads to its innie-like navel and its bellybutton — a pile of rocks.

Visiting Lassen

Most Lassen Volcanic National Park visitors drive through the park on Highway 89, which wig-wags a north-south route past several of the park’s highlights, and takes a few hours.

Depending on how hurried they are, and from which direction they’re coming, day-trippers stop at either the north entrance’s Loomis Museum or the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center near the south entrance. Along the way they might stop at pullouts at the Chaos Crags or Kings Creek Meadow, take a quick stroll on the Devastated Area or the Sulphur Work trails and, if feeling really perky, take the slightly longer walk to and around Bumpass Hell. Everyone stops at the summit parking lot, where the trail to 10,457-foot Lassen Peak begins. The 2.5-mile trail to the top remains closed as part of an ongoing, multi-year restoration and rehabilitation project.

That's how most people "do" Lassen.

Over the years I’ve visited Lassen several times. Until recently, my best visit was with my then two pre-teen daughters and a passel of friends, including a mother who carried her young daughter in a backpack. The highpoint of our trip, mentally and physically, was reaching Lassen’s summit. More recently I learned there's much more to Lassen.

    Mt. Lassen, Reflections from Lake Manzanita    
Reflections from Manzanita

Lake Enticing are the offerings along Highway 89, including walks along the short and family-friendly trails around Manzanita Lake and through the Devastated Area. But, as I learned, there are even better reasons to make the less often-taken, more strenuous hike up Mount Brokeoff, which locals regard the park’s premiere trek, and venture onto roads that lead to remote, little-visited areas with drop-dead fascinating scenery and terrain.

Cinder Cone fits that category. Despite its challenge, the Cinder Cone is a popular hike that, with patience, can be done by people in moderately good shape. Once on top, admire the views of Lassen, and wander around the cone on trails that dip inside the triple-layered vent.

  Mt. Lassen from the Cinder Cone   The magical Painted Dunes  
Lassen from the Cinder Cone
The magical Painted Dunes

At the suggestion of an excellent park guidebook, “Hiking Trails of Lassen Volcanic National Park,” by George Perkins, I descended Cinder Cone's south south, which provides the best views of the multi-colored Painted Dunes and the Fantastic Lava Beds, massive sheets of black lava that gurgled from the volcano during a series of eruptions beginning about 425 years ago and ending only 265 years ago. A tough sludge but, just like the volcano, it’s a real blast.

* * *

Enjoying Drakesbad

I’m not sure who was more startled, the young buck or me.

After a quick breakfast, I was hiking from the Drakesbad Guest Ranch to Boiling Springs Lake, a massive bubbling cauldron of nose-twitching hydrogen sulfide where Macbeth’s witches would comfortably double, double toil and trouble. Focused on my thoughts, I nearly slammed head-on with the antlered deer. As I stopped less than 2 feet away, he raised his head and returned my dumbstruck stare.

Welcome to wildlife, and wild times, at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

  Mt. Lassen Drakesbad cabins   Drakesbad Guest Ranch lodge  
Drakesbad cabins
Drakesbad Guest Ranch lodge

It was the final day of a two-night, three-day visit at Drakesbad, a historic park ranch that’s open from mid-June to mid-October. Located in the park’s southern section, it’s away from the park's main roads and the seasonal crowds. Drakesbad hikers are more likely to bump into wildlife than people.

At Drakesbad, the people encounters came at meals in the resort's main lodge. During three days of hiking, including a trek up Brokeoff Mountain, encounters with other hikers were rare. That’s surprising considering the beauty and variety of hikes. The 7-mile roundtrip up and down Brokeoff gains 2,550 feet while following bubbling streams, paralleling flowering meadows and, at higher elevations, passes along weirdly contorted mountain hemlocks and whitebark pines. The reward at Brokeoff’s 9,235-foot summit is a sweeping panorama of the park, including Lassen Peak.

                        Drakesbad cabins        Drakesbad Guest Ranch lodge       
Lassen from Brokeoff's summit
  Sifford Lake   Sifford Lake  
Sifford Lake

Another day’s hike from Drakesbad to Kings Creek Falls included detours to Sifford Lake, with a side-trip by unmarked trails to a trio of other Sifford Lakes cleverly called 2, 3 and 4. From the main lake, viewpoints above the west side peer down on the Devils Kitchen, a frothy maze of steamy vents. It’s a steady 1,600 foot elevation gain to Kings Creek Meadows, where the trail — mostly used by people who park off a Highway 89 trailhead — ambles along often Kings Creek and a series of rapids until dramatically pouring 50 feet down stony rock cliffs.

  Mt. Lassen Kings Creek Falls   Kings Creek tumbles wildly  
Kings Creek Falls
Kings Creek tumbles wildly
  Various routes return to Drakesbad. Mine followed meadows blossoming with a florist’s fantasy of wildflowers — monkshood, paintbrush, Queen Anne’s lace, cow parsnip and, most dazzlingly, Leopard lily. But the surprise, reached following a series of river crossings on teetering logs, was the flower-luscious Corral Meadows. My Kings Creek circuit covered about 13 miles but other loops can slice the distance in half.  


  Boiling Springs Lake   Devils Kitchen  
Boiling Springs Lake
Devils Kitchen

My final hike took me about 6-plus miles to Boiling Springs Lake and the Devils Kitchen. With its gurgling hot pots, Boiling Springs might be better named Bellyache Lake. The Devils Kitchen brews up smells of rotten eggs as its trail weaves past fumaroles and steam vents.

At Drakesbad, it’s possible to let off a little steam hiking the trails, recharge with a soak in its hot springs-fed swimming pool, and savor gourmet dinners. Whether at a meal or on a trail, you never know who, or what, you’ll meet. When You Go

Lassen Volcanic National Park is located near the southern end of the Volcanic Legacy All-American Scenic Byway, which stretches north past Mount Shasta into Oregon and its northern terminus at Crater Lake National Park.

The entire byway, including spur routes that go into the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Lava Beds National Monument, is about 500 miles long, For more about the byway visit the website at

For information about Lassen Volcanic National Park visit the website at The site includes information about dates the trail to Lassen's summit is open for 2012 - June 30 to July 4, August 2 to 5, August 31 to September 3, and September 28 to 30. Most of the weekends coincide with full moons.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch is away from the main highways that access Lassen Volcanic National Park, but it's an ideal location for people wanting to hike backcountry trails and enjoy comfortable accommodations and great meals — they provide bag lunches for hikers. But its most alluring feature is a hot springs swimming pool, a great place for a soothing soak after a day’s outing. Massage services are also available as are guided horseback rides. For information about the Drakesbad Guest Ranch call toll-free 866-999-0914 or visit their website at

About the author

Lee Juillerat writes for a daily newspaper in Southern Oregon and is a freelance writer-photographer for several magazines. His work has appeared in Northwest Travel, Range, Oregon Coast, Sunset, the Capital Press and Alaska and Horizon Airlines in-flights magazines. He's also the author of two books about Crater Lake National Park and has had stories in various other books about the park, Lava Beds National Monument, Mount Shasta and other recreation areas. He can be reached at



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