The Manzanita Lake Area is probably the busiest area of the park that we have visited thus far. Camping cabins, a store, showers, laundry, and easy lakefront access make this area attractive to families and others on a relaxing weekend.
While the area is great for families, rugged adventurers can also find enjoyment.
While good accommodations are available at the Manzanita Lake Campground, Lassen National Forest offers great options as well. Turn off Hwy 44 one mile West of the park road onto Forest Road 17; then make an immediate right to find 2-wheel drive accessible camping. It’s not ideal, but it’s cheap!
Easy and Educational: Loomis Museum, Reflection Lake, Manzanita Lake
The interpretive trail around Lily Pond is an easy, .5-mile loop. Inquire at the Loomis Museum and Bookstore for a brochure. Shade can be found easily along this trail and there is little elevation change. Children will enjoy learning about the geology and animals on the 31-stop hike.
You can also tack on a stroll around Reflection Lake. However, if you are looking for a nice spot to picnic, Manzanita Lake is a much better option.
There are several picnic tables placed near the shore but you can also find spot to lay out a blanket for a lazy afternoon (this seems to be a popular activity). The walk around is 1.5 miles. If paddling is your thing, bring a canoe, kayak, or inflatable craft and head out onto the lake.
Whether on shore, or on the water, you’re bound to catch great views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags. Watch the near-shore areas for the comically named Bufflehead duck, America’s smallest diving duck. If you’re lucky, you may also spot the muskrat. “Muskrat Susie, Muskrat Sam. Do the jitterbug out in muskrat land.” Try to get that out of your head.
Tough and Rewarding: Chaos Crags and Manzanita Creek Trails
Manzanita Creek Trail is located past the camp store, near the end of the campground. Most of the trail is an old road and climbs 1,000 feet over 3.5 miles. The trail terminates at a meadow that we hope to revisit in the spring. While the trail ends, it might should be possible, with the aid of a good map, to go cross-country to Soda Lake, Loomis Peak, or Mount Diller. Remember that cross-country travel requires excellent navigation skills and is much more time consuming that following a trail.
A pull-out closer to the main road serves as the trailhead to Crags Lake. The trail climbs 900 feet over 1.8 miles. The lake has been running dry early for at least 2 years but that should not discourage you from the hike. We stopped at the lake bed and got an excellent view of the group of five volcanoes. We had an excellent time exploring the area and watching as 2 people slowly – very slowly – made their way up the steep Northwestern ridge into the Chaos Crags. Their route is on cinder, a loose, sand-like material which requires a lot of concentration when choosing your footing. If you plan on doing this long hike, as we hope to in the future, water, snacks, and all ten essential will be needed. Research is also a good idea. After a bit of time exploring the web, I did not find a decent source on the climb. If we ever get around to hiking up the crags, we will post as many details as we can.
Create Your Own Adventure: Hat Lake (site) Trailhead
This trailhead is located a few miles South of the Manzanita Lake Entrance Station, near Emigrant Pass.
We did a 20-mile hike there are many options for splitting this into smaller chunks.
Our route: Hat Lake Trailhead to Paradise Meadow to Terrace, Shadow, and Cliff Lakes then a road walk to the Nobles Emigrant Trial trailhead just 500 feet South of our car. Hike out to Badger Flat along Nobles Emigrant Trail and the PCT, marveling at the fire ravaged areas, crossing Hat Creek, and making a stop at Badger Flat Springs (which were a bit stagnant at our time of visit). Along the PCT you can easily see the difference between the USFS and NPS land management policies. To the North, a new, replanted pine forest is growing in uniform rows, one day to be harvested by logging companies. To the South, in the National Park, nature takes it’s toll. The land still clearly shows the scars of fire and aspens are filling in the areas between the charred snags. Young pines of different ages are also sprouting sporadically through the landscape. Return to the car the way you came. This adds up to a strenuous 20 miles.
Suggested long route: Hat Lake Trailhead to Paradise Meadow to Terrace, Shadow, and Cliff Lakes to Summit Lake to Cluster Lakes to Badge Flat to car. It’s a strenuous 18 miles, but less climbing than our route. This is a much better alternative to our impromptu path (we simply weren’t planning on hiking out to Badger Flat when we started). It will afford you more lakes and avoid the 2 miles of walking on the precariously narrow shoulder of the road. Water is available at many sources along the way including Terrace, Shadow, Clif, Summit and Cluster Lakes. It may be available again at the Badger Flat Spring and in Hat Creek, but unless you know for sure, carry at least 2 liters from Cluster Lakes. It’s a long, hot, hike from there back to the car. You can obtain a free backcountry permit at any ranger station if you would like to do this hike over 2 days.
Suggested short route: If you are short on time, the hike to Cliff Lake is worth it, this was our favorite lake of the weekend. Start at the Terrace Lake trailhead (approximately 20 miles South of Manzanita Lake) and hike to Cliff Lake. Reverse to the car car for 4 moderate miles.
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
- Summit Lake to Cinder Cone – 22.6-mile overnight, strenuous
- The Butte Lake Area – Prospect Peak – 8 miles, moderate, Jakey Lake – 19 miles, strenuous
- 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.