Can You Drive To The Top Of Mount Lassen? +What To Do While There

In Northern California, there is a prominent peak called Mount Lassen that reaches 10,457 feet at its tallest point. This well-known mountain reaches into the clouds. One way to appreciate the mountain is by driving on the road that is carved into the side, but does this road go all the way to the top?

The Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway is a 30-mile road that traverses the east and south sides of Mount Lassen. The road climbs to 8,512 feet, at its highest point, about 1,945 feet below the summit, where it begins to descend as it winds around the other side of the mountain.

To get the most out of this drive, read on and find the must-see places and valuable information about this scenic mountain road.

Driving On Mount Lassen

The road up Mount Lassen is unique because it reaches a high point, and drivers don’t have to turn around at the top and go back down the mountain the same way. Instead, they descend as they continue down the road and end at a different side of the peak.

Lassen Peak is 55 miles east of Redding, California. The mountain rises from the middle of Lassen National Forest, which is a dense forest of evergreen trees dotted with bare rock formations and mountain lakes. Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway links the northwest and southwest entrances to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway is accessible from CA 89, which can be taken to enter either the southwest entrance or the northwest entrance to the park. Visitors can take CA 36 or CA 44 to get to CA 89. CA 44 connects to the park’s north end, while CA 36 connects to the south.

Once drivers get onto Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, they wind up the mountain, passing through forested land and past clear mountain lakes. The incredible views from the side of the mountain give visitors a bird’s eye view of the national park.

Along the 30 miles of road, visitors won’t see the same view twice. Instead, around each turn, you will get a unique view of the mountain and the surrounding evergreen landscape.

There is a fee to enter Lassen Volcanic National Park, where the highway lies. For a vehicle, the entrance fee is $30, and it is good for seven consecutive days. Drivers pay in-person at the entrance to the park or self-pay if there is no staff on the scene. A motorcycle entrance fee is $25 per motorcycle and is paid the same way as the vehicle pass.

Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: Mount Lassen gets more snow than any other national park in California. Around the mountain top, it’s been known to get as much as 1,000 inches of snow some years!

For visitors looking to make frequent visits to the park, or at least visit more than once a year, an annual pass is available for $55. Additionally, a winter vehicle pass is only $10 for seven consecutive days.

Lassen National Park has anywhere between 470,000 and 510,000 visitors per year. Most of these visitors will visit sometime in the summer.

There are a variety of activities to do along the highway:

  • The Hike to Lassen Peak – Once the scenic highway reaches 8,512 feet, there is a parking lot with a trailhead for the Hike to Lassen Peak. This trail is a 5-mile hike (2.5 miles each way). It is a strenuous hike with plenty of loose rock and switchbacks, but the view at the top is unmatched and uninterrupted because of the lack of trees at the top.
  • Devastated Area – The summit trail continues to this area, which is flatter with loose rock that covers most of the ground. Trees are beginning to grow, but this area is mostly rocks.
  • King’s Creek Falls – Hike to a 40-foot cascading waterfall on an easy 1.5-mile trail. The trailhead is accessible from the east section of the highway.
  • Manzanita Lake – A pristine mountain lake accessible beside the north entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
  • Sulphur Works – Mounds of bare sulfur formations along the side of the highway.

Is Lassen Highway Open Year-Round?

Lassen Highway is open year-round, but vehicle access is limited from the winter to the spring (from October to May). There are also limited services at this time. If you plan on visiting this area in the winter, be prepared for snow and ice. If the park gets heavy snowfall, the road may temporarily close before it is cleared and reopened.

Areas like Manzanita Lake, Sulphur Works, and the southwest area of the park are open throughout the winter. Drivers should be prepared by having snow chains and a full tank of gas. The southwest area gets the most snow while Manzanita Lake gets less and has more gentle slopes.

Winter park activities include:

  • Sledding
  • Snowshoeing
  • Snowboarding
  • Backcountry skiing
  • Cross-country skiing

Is the Drive up Mount Lassen Dangerous?

The Lassen Volcanic National Highway is a beautiful drive that slowly switches back and forth up the mountain until it reaches its highest point, then it descends, winding down the other side of the mountain.

It is a typical mountain road with lots of sharp turns. The higher you go on the road, the more views of the surrounding valley and mountains you have. You also get a good glimpse of the bare peak from the highway.

The drive up Mount Lassen is safe if vehicles take it slow. It was developed with visitors in mind, so it is a two-way road that’s paved. However, one thing that sets this road apart is that it doesn’t have any guard rails.

The lack of guard rails is for snow removal. Guard rails make snow removal more difficult in the winter and cause snow to build up on the road. Without guard rails, snow plows can move more snow off the road and keep the highway clearer in the wintertime.

But during the summer, when there is no snow, that means there is only a narrow shoulder keeping cars from a steep drop-off in the lane closest to the edge.

The lack of guard rails can be nerve-racking to many drivers, but going slow, especially around curves, and focusing on the road will help drivers have a safe and accident-free drive.

What is the Best Time to Visit Lassen National Park?

The ideal time to visit Lassen National Park is in the late spring, summer, or fall. This period is when the mountain will be in full bloom with wildflowers, and it’s easy for the whole family to enjoy the nice weather and crisp, mountain air. For most people, it’s best to visit before the snow comes because it gets cold, wet, and slippery once the snow begins around October.

The warmer months are a much easier time to visit the park because there are more activities to do, and you can appreciate the beauty and colors of the park before everything is covered in snow.

Is There Snow on Lassen Peak Year-Round?

The snowpack usually lasts until around June at the peak of Mount Lassen.

This heavy snowfall for much of the year makes this one of California’s least visited national parks since it doesn’t have warm weather as long as others.

While the snowpack lasts until June, there are a few isolated places that will have snow year-round because they stay in the shade for most of the day, but the majority of the peak’s snow will melt by the middle of the summer.

Is Mount Lassen a Volcano?

Mount Lassen is considered an active volcano and is regarded as a very high threat by the USGS. In 1915, Mount Lassen erupted and sent lava and ash into the surrounding area. This eruption shaped much of the landscape around the mountain.

Towns like Susanville that are close to Lassen Peak are known for having large volcanic rocks from the blast scattered around the land.

There is still evidence of volcanic activity with features like steam vents, mud baths, hot springs, and sulfur deposits.

While an eruption is always possible with a volcano like Mount Lassen, scientists are constantly monitoring the seismic activity around the park. If an eruption were imminent, earthquakes would be one of the surest signs.

A Hidden Gem of a National Park

Though Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the least visited national parks, it has many worthwhile sights to see. Visitors may have to more carefully plan a visit that falls within the summer months, but it is worth it to see the natural beauty and geological history of the area.

Lassen Volcanic National Highway is a unique way to see Mount Lassen because it goes up one side of the mountain and down the other, unlike many mountain roads that only go up and down one side.

A variety of activities to do along the road makes for a memorable trip to this rugged park of Northern California.

Photo of author

Don

There are numerous natural and man-made wonders I'm ready to find and explore, from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.