Popular Summit in Lassen Volcanic National Park
The Lassen Peak Trail is one of the most popular trails in Lassen Volcanic National Park for good reason. Think of the bastard stepchild of Squaw Peak and Humphrey's Peak in a national park. The views are outstanding, and there's serious satisfaction from getting to the top. Don't worry about the altitude and just do it because dozens of children reach the summit every weekend. Flatlanders like me struggle a bit at high altitude so I was a little intimidated by starting at 8,454 ' above sea level, but it wasn't too bad.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is the southernmost extension of the Cascade Mountains. Its volcanic nature is found by having all 4 types of volcanoes: composite (sometimes referred to as "stratovolcanoes"), cinder cone, shield and plug dome. Lassen Peak is a plug dome volcano that last erupted in 1914-1917. A plug dome volcano is formed when molten rock flows upward, cools, and is then pushed upward by more rising and molten rock below. The eruption back then laid waste to thousands of acres on the northeast side of the mountain that are only now recovering.
The hike starts at the north side of the large parking lot, and is not difficult to find. The first 2 sections around the first switchback are longer than most of the other sections on the rest of the hike, and give a taste of the uphill climbing that awaits. This is the south side of Lassen Peak, and the vegetation consists of medium-sized white bark pine, mountain hemlock and sparse groups of flowers in this dry year.
The trail ascends over 40 switchbacks in total from the trailhead to the top, and one quickly ascends past the treeline after passing the krumholz white bark pines. The views are nonstop from beginning to end as the workout truly begins. You may notice tourists heading to the summit in casual footwear with children in tow because this is a very popular attraction in a national park. You will probably hear several languages on this hike.
Lake Helen and Vulcan's Eye are eye candy from near the bottom while much of northern California is visible from higher up. Lake Almanor and the northern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are to the south, and Mount Shasta, the Warner Mountains and the Modoc Plateau lie to the north. The Trinity Alps, Yolla Bolly mountains and even Snow Mountain are visible across the low Sacramento River valley to the west.
The final ascent to the summit may seem anticlimactic because the views are old hat by now, and all traces of vegetation have succumbed to loose rocks. There was a small field of snow at the top that wraps from the west side which consists of a series of depressions surrounded by 30-50' volcanic crags up over the top of the peak down the northeast slope. There was an interpretive ranger here on July 4, 2014, and numerous people went down to the blue algae-stained pool for selfies, but the highest point lies a few hundred yards to the north. There is a trail through the snow field that is very apparent before heading up a vague route to the true summit. It's only about 300 yards from the common summit to the true summit.
The true summit has two small concrete pads, and I'm not sure if they were used for surveying or a lookout. Anyways, they were good for the tripod I carried up there. There is also a summit register inside a conduit coupling dangling from a chain on the north side of the very top. Enjoy the summit and return the way you came.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.