If you have read our previous posts (Warner Valley, Confessions) about Lassen Volcanic National Park, then you know we are participating in the Reach Higher Trail Challenge. To learn more about the challenge, visit the NPS website.
Our 3rd challenge was to visit a water source. Lassen Volcanic is home to 4 watersheds so the park is littered with lakes, springs, and creeks.
We brought a friend, a 2nd-time backpacker, along for the trek so the pressure was on to organize a memorable trip. The 22.6-mile loop is only slightly challenging but crosses gorgeous terrain, passes many lakes, climbs the Cinder Cone, and passes through the Reading Burn Area of 2012.
Day 1: Summit Lake to Rainbow Lake Camp to Cinder Cone
We started a two day trek at the Summit Lake Trailhead. Hint: Long-term parking is at the Ranger Station a quarter mile north of the Summit Lake North Campground. Parking in the day-use area can get you a ticket.
The first day totals 15.6 miles and involves a tough climb up Cinder Cone. Hoping to find a bit of solitude we avoided camping at the more popular Echo Lake and Twin Lakes. Instead, we headed right for Rainbow Lake. Just 4 miles from the trailhead, we pitched camp off the Southern shore and took a long rest. Doing so allowed us to still cover the distance and see the sights, but without the burden of heavier packs on our backs.
The trail continues around the Western shore and heads Northeast towards Cinder Cone. Most of this 4-mile section has mild elevation gain. However, once the ash begins to dominate the landscape, the hike becomes more challenging. Circling around the Southern end of the cone, we began to climb with the Painted Dunes and Fantastic Lava Beds to our right.
Reaching the top, we were not disappointed by the sight. There are trails that follow the outer and inner rims as well as one that descends to the bottom. We chose not to hike to the very bottom because there is no elevator back to the top. If you choose to hike down the Cinder Cone on the Northern side, there is an Interpretive trail. We missed it but are sure it is worth the hike.
The area surrounding Cinder Cone is very sensitive and is home to many delicate plants. The majesty of the dunes is easily ruined by wayward hikers. Please be considerate and take extra care to stay on trail in this area.
After taking in all the glory of the lava beds, we turned left at the junction to follow the trail 4 miles to Snag Lake (North end, the lake is approximately 1 mile long). A large beach makes this lake a great rest stop (or camp). Towards the end of Snag Lake, we turned West to return the 2.7 miles back to Rainbow Lake.
Day 2: Rainbow Lake to Summit Lake
Day 2 was only 7.2 miles (shorter if you return the way you came) and has only one major, 700-foot climb. From Rainbow Lake, we head toward Cluster Lakes. At the junction by Cluster Lakes, we turned South to head past Big Bear and Little Bear Lakes (the climb is just after Little Bear Lake) and finally back to Summit Lake.
A trail leads you around Summit Lake and connects the 2 lakeside campgrounds.
While we encountered few hikers on the trail, there were groups camped out by most lakes. Overall it was a quiet hike and Shankar, the newbie, really enjoyed it. We made sure to plan for lots of scenery and while the first day was on the longer side, we made sure to have plenty of outs. Until we committed to the Snag Lake route there were plenty of options to cut the trip short. If you’re taking a beginner out, make sure they enjoy the trip. You want them to want to do it again!
Other Hikes in Lassen Volcanic National Park:
- Bumpass Hell – via Mill Creek Falls, 13 miles, strenuous
- Warner Valley – Mt. Harkness, Devils Kitchen, Terminal Geyser – 10 miles, moderate
- The Butte Lake Area – Prospect Peak – 8 miles, moderate, Jakey Lake – 19 miles, strenuous
- Manzanita Lake Area – hikes of various lengths and difficulties
- Brokeoff Mountain and Lassen Peak – 4 hikes in the Southern end, various difficulties
Visit our National Park Service Guide for more hikes in our national parks.