One of the things I love most about photography is finding new and unexpected places to visit. When you think of parks to visit while in California, the places that come easily to mind are Yosemite, Sequoia and Death Valley. Those places are awesome for sure and are not to be missed when visiting the Golden State. But, there is another place that doesn’t get much press, at least I hadn’t heard about it. In planning my summer road trip, I discovered Lassen Volcanic National Park and within it a place known as Bumpass Hell. How can one go wrong in a place with “volcanic” in it’s name and a trail to “hell”?
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in North Eastern California, about an hour east of Redding. It is home to clear lakes, beautiful meadows, boiling mud pots and steaming femaroles as well as several areas of hydrothermal activity. More than 30 volcanic domes also make Lassen home, the May 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak was the most powerful to occur in the Cascades before the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. All four types of volcanoes can be found in Lassen and the effects of eruptions can be seen throughout the park.
As is par for the course with me, I had packed too much into my road trip. I’m always trying to see as much as I can in what time I have to spend so I had planned just an overnight stay in Lassen. I arrived right around noon and after setting up my campsite for the night, I headed toward my main attraction: Bumpass Hell.
The Bumpass Hell Trail is rated as a moderate hike, but at times feels more difficult. The 1.5 mile (3 miles round trip) trail starts out at an elevation of just under 8,200 feet and has an elevation gain of 300 feet before descending 200 feet into the Bumpass Hell Basin. The round trip time is estimated to be 2 hours, however it took me a little over 3 hours. The rocky trail leads you along the slope of Bumpass Mountain. The trail is quite narrow much of the way with shear drop offs to the valley below, so it’s not for those scared of heights. If you are willing to make the trek though, the views are amazing! You will feel like you’ve entered another world, the trail is more ground up rock and remnants of old eruptions than dirt and makes you feel at times like you are walking on the moon. I made the mistake of wearing hiking sandals rather than shoes, in the end my feet were covered in what looked like ash. In stark contrast, there are surrounding forests and large patches of beautiful lavender giving the air a sweet smell. As you get closer to Bumpass Hell, the smell of lavender gives way to the smell of sulfur from the basin below.
Decending into Bumpass Hell you are overwhelmed by the alien landscape of steaming pools, craters, and steaming fissures. The colors here from mineral deposits are amazing! I feel like I’ve just landed on Mars. The smell of sulfur fills my nose, some complain about the smell but I actually like it for some reason. It’s good that I like it, the smell is still in my nose the next day and serves as a reminder of my fabulous time at Bumpass Hell. Although the urge is strong here to wander off the wooden trail and explore, you’ll want to resist that urge. Those that wander off trail often find that they break through the fragile crust and find themselves in acidic boiling water. This is actually how Bumpass Hell got it’s name. In 1865 Kendall Vanhook Bumpass broke through the crust and landed his leg in the boiling mud beneath the surface.
Here in this basin, steam rises all around you. It starts to sink in that you are standing in a place where volcanoes are. This deep pit looks like a little volcano in the middle of a big volcano. I hope it waits to blow until I’m way far away. However, a brave little squirrel goes in for a closer look.
At the very end of the path through Bumpass Hell, you find a beautiful little turquoise pool surrounded by forest. This little spot sticks out like a sore thumb, it seems so out of place in comparison to what you have just witnessed.
With the sun setting, it’s time to make the long trek back to the car. I will certainly not forget the awesome sights and smells here in Bumpass Hell. As I start the climb out of the basin, the sun is starting to set behind the mountain. The lavender is glowing and I’m so grateful that I made the trip.
Exausted from the long day, I made my way back to my camp site. I start a fire and watch the stars twinkle.
There is so much to see here at Lassen Volcanic National Park that it definitely warrants a trip back. Next time, I’ll spend more time. Thanks Lassen for a perfect day!
Oh yea! I also made a short video 🙂
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What you need to know when you go:
Bumpass Hell sits at 8,200 feet, therefore it routinely gets up to 30 feet of snow each winter. Check their website for conditions, they often don’t open the trail until July and there might still be some snow.
Make sure to bring plenty of water and even a snack. I (like a dork) had dropped off my supplies at my campsite before heading up and didn’t think to bring water. I thought I was gonna die by the time I got back.
The air is thin up here. Take your time and take breaks as you need to. Also, make sure to head back while there is still daylight. You don’t want to be on this trail when it’s dark.
Wear good hiking shoes, the trail is rocky and uneven. Make sure to yield to uphill hikers.
The campground at Manzanita Lake in Lassen offers tent and RV camping as well as cabins. They also have a general store, gas station, shower facilities and even a laundry room!