Journal entry for August 17-19, 2017
It’s about a 250-mile drive from Redwood National Park to Lassen Volcanic National Park, the last NP we would visit in California. We drove through tree-filled Shasta-Trinity National Forest, stopping at a picnic area for lunch. The temperature was steaming (around 100°F/38°C). Before Lassen we stopped at Redding to stock up on groceries. This last section of the road is very straight, surrounded by beautiful farms and forests.
We entered Lassen Volcanic National Park through the northwest entrance shortly after 5pm. Lassen is a relatively small National Park, with only one road traversing it from north to south. The road is beautiful, with views of a huge burnt down forest and Lassen Peak from many angles.
We tried our luck at Manzanita Lake Campground, but the car in front of us got the last available site. We then drove to Summit Lake North & South Campgrounds, but they were also full. Our last hope was the tiny Southwest Campground at the southern entrance of the park. As expected, there was no space available. It was late and the visitor center was closed. Outside of it we found a notice saying that it was OK to sleep in the car in the parking lot, provided we pay for a night’s camping fee ($16). Having no other choice, that’s what we ended up doing. Jenni enjoyed the sleeping in the car experience, but I found it a bit uncomfortable as I kept sliding towards the back of the car.
We got up early to hike up to Lassen Peak (10,457 ft), the highlight of our trip to this park. It’s a 4.6 mile hike with an elevation change of almost 2,000 feet. There were about ten cars in the trailhead parking lot when we arrived. I wondered how difficult the hike would be for me since I hadn’t done any proper hiking in a long while. It ended up being easier than I expected. The trail is never strenuous or too steep, although there are a couple of short snow-covered sections. It was a clear day, and from the top we could see distant Mount Shasta.
With our tight schedule, our plan was to leave Lassen after the hike and stay a night in Redding to stock up. The full solar eclipse was three days away. Since we didn’t have a hotel or campground reservation inside the path of totality, we wanted to get to Oregon early to find a proper place to camp or sleep in the car. We didn’t have cell phone signal at all inside Lassen, so as soon we got signal after leaving the park we tried to book a hotel in Redding for that night. To our surprise everything was full (hotels and airbnb). The same for all the surrounding towns and everything up to the Oregon border. Realizing how many tourists were going to the eclipse, and remembering all the armageddon scenarios we had read (gridlock traffic for hundreds of miles, gas stations running out of gas, etc), we made the agonizing decision of not going.
We drove back to Lassen since we had the best chance of finding a place to sleep there. We also welcomed the chance to explore it some more. It’s a beautiful park without the crazy crowds of Sequoia or Yosemite. We got the last campsite left at Manzanita Lake Campground ($24) and relaxed for the rest of the day. The campground was a bit too crowded and loud. Lots of kids running around and yelling, and a man who made everybody listen to him play the guitar past 10pm. Our site was next to a tall big tree, and there was a squirrel chewing off pine cones that sounded like bullets when they hit the ground. A couple of them almost hit our car. On the positive side, this is the only campground in the park that has showers.
Next morning we packed up and drove to the southern entrance to hike Brokeoff Mountain (9,235 ft). It’s a 6.8 mile out and back hike with a 2,600 ft elevation change. It’s longer than Lassen Peak hike but you do see more variety in scenery, including flower-filled meadows and small rivers. Speaking of rivers, we got lost for a bit when we missed the fork to cross it. Luckily some hikers on the other side of the bank were able to direct us. At the top of the mountain there are nice views of Lassen Peak.
After the hike, we drove back into the park and were able to get one of three remaining sites at Southwest Campground ($16, walk-in only). It was very hot that afternoon, so we spent a lot of time inside the very nice air-conditioned Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitors Center. It has interesting displays and there’s a small auditorium showing movies. I also made a loose itinerary for the rest of our road trip. The list of National Parks we wanted to visit fit nicely into the remaining time we had.
We did a short hike to Mill Creek Falls before packing up and leaving the park the next morning. We were glad we had an extra two days to explore Lassen, which we both liked very much.