Staying healthy requires periodically refreshing the mind-body-soul connection. This is best achieved by getting outside and communing with nature. 

Our country’s national parks offer many opportunities to explore awe-inspiring environments with peace and serenity. However, at the most popular national parks, getting away from the crowds can be a challenge. You need to make a concerted effort to see the highlights early in the day. Or better yet—go during the off-season. 

Another alternative is to visit less-trafficked parks like Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeast California. 

Lassen is one of the oldest national parks in the country. But it doesn’t receive the same star-studded recognition as its well-known Californian sister, Yosemite. 

Located only 50 miles east of Redding, this off-the-beaten-path volcanic wonderland allows visitors to witness the earth’s forces of creation and destruction. The park boasts majestic mountain scenery reminiscent of Yosemite as well as fascinating thermal features akin to Yellowstone—yet with a fraction of the visitors. 

Whereas Yosemite welcomed over 4 million people in the past year, Lassen only counted about 500,000. And with over 106,000 acres to explore, there is plenty of space for everyone to enjoy solitude and contemplate some of Mother Nature’s finest work. 

As its name suggests, the park’s turbulent volcanic past played a major role in its formation. Lassen Peak, its signature volcano, began a seven-year cycle of sporadic outbursts after first erupting in 1914. From 1914-15, there were over 150 eruptions alone. 

On May 19, 1915, the mountain reawakened with a vengeance, blowing a massive mushroom cloud 7 miles into the atmosphere. Steam, ash, rock fragments and gas spewed forth, sweeping down the side of the volcano at warp speed and leaving a 3-square-mile area of devastation in its wake.

The eruptions were some of the first to be extensively photographed, mainly by local businessman and amateur photographer Benjamin Franklin Loomis. They attracted nationwide attention and helped step up efforts for President Woodrow Wilson to establish Lassen as a national park in 1916. 

Lassen contains all four types of volcanoes in the world: shield, plug dome, cinder cone and composite. Lassen Peak is an excellent example of a plug dome volcano. Though a sleeping dog right now, seismologists consider it to be the most likely volcano in the Cascade Range to erupt within the next hundred years. They point to continuous thermal activity as evidence that the volcanic center still smolders. 

Lassen also boasts three of the four different kinds of geothermal features: fumaroles, mud pots and hot springs. You’ll be able to smell the distinct rotten egg odor of the sulphur, hear the hissing of the steam as it leaks through the vents and watch the mud pots and pools bubble and boil. This cauldron of subterranean ingredients is nature’s witch’s brew. 

The park’s two main entrances are located at the northwest and southwest corners of the park, and connected by the 34-mile-long Park Road. Make sure to pick up a road guide at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center or the Loomis Museum. Both places have interpretive displays with information on the park’s history, geology and wildlife. 

The road offers access to numerous highlights including geothermal hot spots, sparkling lakes, thundering waterfalls, mountain vistas, painted dunes and lush forests. And with over 150 trails, the park is a hiker’s paradise in the summer months. Come winter, cross country skiers head out on the terrain to explore miles of fresh powder. 

With so many trail options, there is a high-altitude hike for everyone. If you’re a peak bagger, Lassen Peak is the highest point to climb within the park at 10,457 feet.

The trail can be steep and rocky at times, but the reward at the summit is one of the most spectacular views of the Devastated Area. It offers the best vantage point to contemplate the power of the major eruptions. 

The Devastated Area is located about 10 miles from the northwest entrance. It’s an easy, short loop trail that presents the aftermath of the volcanic eruptions in 1915. You’ll wind through a field of pink and gray lava rocks that were blasted out of the volcano, landing more than 2 miles from the peak. Some of the boulders are so massive they would dwarf anyone standing next to them. 

 Descriptive panels describe the event and detail the geologic phenomena that occurred. Photos taken by Loomis show the route taken by the largest blast, which cleared a wide path through the forests, knocking down an estimated 5 million board feet of timber. 

Kings Creek Falls is a relatively easy and scenic trail, which leads to a roaring waterfall draped in ferns and other plants. 

Another personal favorite is Manzanita Lake. As you meander around this picturesque lake, take time to stop and soak up the unparalleled views of iconic Lassen Peak. In summer, take a dip or paddle in the lake. 

Stop by Sulphur Works, which is located right off the main road, to check out some geothermal features. There is also a mud pot that bubbles next to the pathway. You might be surprised to learn this area is actually the middle of an ancient volcano called Mt. Tehama. 

A giant pool of magma that helped create Tehama lies about 5 miles underground. It’s still responsible for heating the geothermal features today. 

Across the road, columns of steam from fumaroles rise. The landscape is a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange and red hues due to the chemically altered clay minerals in the rocks.

The largest volatile area in the park is Bumpass Hell, so named for the unfortunate settler and explorer who fell into one of the hot pools back in the 1860s. It’s a fair warning to hikers to stay on established trails and boardwalks. Although the ground can look solid, it may actually be a thin crust hiding pools of acidic boiling water.

Bumpass Hell is easily found by the strong smell of sulphur and the loud noise of belching mud pots. Like Sulphur Works, the colors of Bumpass Hell are also striking as a result of the minerals in the water. 

Devils Kitchen is the second largest display of geothermal features in the park. It’s located about 5 miles southeast of Lassen Peak at the upper end of Warner Valley. The hot springs in this area are so acidic that they have eaten pits and holes in the bedrock.

Boiling Springs Lake is located off the same trail in the eastern portion of the park. You might be enticed to swim in this lovely lake because of its beautiful sea green color and calm surface, but this is not the spot for a dip. Look at the steam rising from the fumaroles and hear the gurgle of the mud pots. This water is a toasty 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wherever you go in Lassen, you’ll be able to leave the world behind. It’s the perfect place to retreat from civilization for a little respite.  

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