A day trip from Lassen Volcanic National Park from Lake Helen to Bumpass Hell
Lassen Volcanic National Park is such a unique and special place in Northern California. The Volcanic landscapes created by the five different types of Volcanos in the park bring awe and wonder to visitors. On my visits to the park, I often find myself pausing and contemplating the mass destruction that this park has faced. From ravaging wildfires, Volcanic eruptions to annual snow events that bury the park and then the ensuing rush of the spring thaw as water rips at its vulnerable soils and mountain slopes.
How is it that such a place can create such beauty? On my last visit to the park, I spent the day hiking waterfalls and several small trails but, like many, found myself at mid-day at the shores of Lake Helen. Never one to shy away from a mountain lake swim on a hot summer day, I took the opportunity for the first time to take a dip in the sapphire lake while imagining I could see hikers climb up Lassen peak in the distance. I have swum in hundreds of mountain lakes, and I can tell you there is no water in the Sierra with the color blue. Lake Helen is remarkable and very cold, but as I swam around, it was hard not to just keep my head underwater, staring at the brilliant sapphire blue colors that danced just below the surface on this hot summer day. Swimming in lake helen holds a special place in my memories, and I highly recommend a dip on your next visit.
Hiking to Bumpass Hell
After a refreshing dip and a little lunch of the busy shores of Lake Helen, it was time to make my first-ever visit to Bumpas Hell. Yeah, how did it take me so long? Just to the south of where we were swimming, we noticed trails of people heading up the mountain to our East so we got in line and started the easy/moderate trek into Bumpass hell. What I refer to as the heart of the volcano.
Bumpass Hell is the largest of the eight hydrothermal areas in the park. The Bumpass Hell Trail provides access to the 16-acre basin of plopping mud pots, bubbling pools, and roaring steam vents. Besides the explosions, this is the most activity normal humans can experience from a Volcano region.
The hike into Bumpass is a pleasant ascent that provides 360-degree panoramic sections that give you the perspective of what a rugged land you are experiencing. Unfortunately, some of the views today have the scars of the most recent disaster in the park, “The Dixie Fire”. The Dixie fire which burnt nearly 80% of the entire park will go down in history for Lassen Volcanic National Park as one of the events that shapes the future for visitors in the next several generations.
The hike to Bumpass Hell is about a 3-mile round trip. On the trail, you will reach a peak several hundred feet above the steaming pots and vents below. Many people stop here because of the heat and some of the sulfur smells that can be prevalent in the region. However, I encourage you that the climb out is worth the trip when you go to the bottom and walk the boardwalk through the steaming volcanic landscape.
Visitors are mere inches away from bubbling mud pots and feet away from steam/water vents spraying into the afternoon sun when walking the boardwalk. The color palette of Bumpass Hell reminds me of the Artist Palette in Death Valley. Blues, golds, greens and purples are streaming throughout the landscape. It is a rather stunning site to experience.
Even as a grown adult, I found myself mesmerized like a child looking at some things my eyes have never seen up close.
Once we filled our allotment of wonder at Bumpass Hell we trekked back to Lake Helen for one last dip before moving on in our adventures for the day in Lassen. At 8200 feet, the crystal clear sapphire waters of Lake Helen felt cooler after a nice hike, but that blue color frankly just added a sense of calm that lasted all day long. We spent about a half day in this section of the park and still found time for multiple lake stops and a hike down to Kings Falls.
Back to the Lodge
On this trip, we would stay just east of the south entrance at our favorite roadside Bed and Breakfast. St. Bernard Lodge offers a great night’s rest after a day of play in the park, and the owner is a local expert on the region and provided us with a great road trip itinerary for our travels each time we visit. The full-service bar and lounge make for a great evening, and the frogs outside are simply delightful as enjoy our stay in Northern California.