We do occasional hiking and backpacking trips with our California friends Wayne and Diane and this year we decided to spend some time with them in Lassen Volcanic National Park – seemingly one of America’s lesser appreciated national parks. Our previous trips had focused on climbing Lassen Peak but this time we also made an effort to see a bit more of the park, in addition to climbing the peak. Today we hiked to a feature in the northeast corner of the Park who’s name – Fantastic Lava Beds – just called out to us. Who would not want to hike to see fantastic lava beds? Not just Big Lava Beds but fantastic ones? Makes your blood boil! So off we went…
Cinder Cone was formed during two eruptions that occurred in the 1650s. The cone grew to a height of 750 feet above the surrounding area and spread ash over 30 square miles. It’s growth was snuffed out when several basalt lava flows erupted from its base to form the Fantastic Lava Beds. These flows also dammed creeks, creating first Snag Lake and then Butte Lake. The trailhead for Cinder Cone is at Butte Lake and starts off level past some amazingly huge Ponderosa pines,
through an area that almost looks landscaped,
before opening on our goal – Cinder Cone and its promised overlook of those extra special lava beds.
The 750-foot climb up this pile of cinders was easier than it looked from a distance but was still best done with a steady, plodding pace to minimize slippage. It also helped to have gotten an early start since those unshaded cinders were rapidly on their way to hot and toasty.
But the view from the top of the cone was well worth the plodding, with Lassen Peak on the horizon,
the interior of the cone itself,
Prospect Peak (an old shield volcano) to the northwest,
and the Fantastic Lava Beds encroaching on Butte Lake below.
All of the huge piles (50+ feet high in places) of black lava came out of the sides of the Cinder Cone and then parts of it were covered by ash from the Cone to form – after oxidation – the colorful Painted Dunes.
Going down the south side of the Cone was more fun if you remembered to wear gaiters,
but well worth it for more views of Lassen Peak and a closer look at the Painted Dunes.
A short (4 mile round-trip; 850 foot elevation gain) hike to a neat summit with views of what are truly fantastic lava beds!
On our last night, a few clouds crept in over Manzanita Lake (where we camped) to give us a colorful conclusion to what had been three wonderful, perfect weather days for our explorations of the Park.