My Relaxing Adventure In Lassen Volcanic National Park – Lassen NF Recreation Area
Sierra Rec Magazine Destination Review – 2017 – | It happened almost immediately, as I appeared over the last ridge before Lake Almanor off HWY 36. That evident slowing of the pulse and calm relaxation that soothes the soul when it knows it is time to relax and enjoy. It was last light on Lake Almanor and my destination for the evening was only 14 miles ahead at St. Bernards Lodge, my base camp to adventure for the next 48 hours, the shadowy shores of Lake Almanor beckoned me to pull over and get out of the car. A deep breath in and complete joy and relaxation spread across my face, I was back in the forest and it didn’t matter what the weather would have in store, my time in Lassen National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park, was exactly what the doctor ordered. A Relaxing adventure in Lassen and a stay at St. Bernards Lodge.
I have traveled to Lassen Volcanic National Park for a couple day trip adventures in the past and have also made it a quick stop location on my travels back from Oregon, but I had never come up to Lassen area to stay for the evening or two and enjoy multiple day recreation opportunities in Lassen Volcanic National Park or Lassen Nation Forest. As I pulled into St. Bernard Lodge, located 10 miles West of Chester and Lake Almanor off HWY 36 and 15 miles East of Lassen Volcanic National Park, my mind was suddenly engaged with the abundant sounds of nature. The Frogs, enjoying the wet and soggy grounds of the National Forest surrounding St. Bernards Lodge, seemed to know that the storm was approaching and they were enjoying a moonlit evening. What a crazy/beautiful sound to hear in the evening. As I relaxed at the bar with a couple from Stevens Point Ca which had been snowshoeing in Lassen that afternoon, we chuckled at the fact the frogs seemed to be singing to us as if they were the nightly entertainment.
St. Bernards Lodge will become a new favorite of mine when traveling this region. Not only is it centrally located in a great recreation area near Lassen Volcanic National Park, but the comfortable rooms, fully stocked bar and home cooked meals are a delight for any adventurer or traveler.
An Explores Spirit
My adventures on this trip to Lassen area were not set in stone. I came to explore and see new places. I really hoped to discover some local favorites to share with our readers as they prepare for summer recreation, camping, and new hiking adventures. The reality was, the tremendous snowpack we have received in the California mountain ranges this year, would prevent me from getting too far off road and into some of the unique areas of this region. However, speaking with Sharon & Jim, the owners at St. Bernard Lodge, I was able to get more than a few tips on recreation ideas for this trip and my next visit later this summer. Lassen National forest like so many of the regions in the Sierra are four season playgrounds for recreation, you just need to bring the right gear. Record levels of snowfall this winter combined with the winter storm that would hit Lassen the next morning meant snowshoes, winter layers and 4 wheel drive where the tools I would need on my first day in Lassen Recreational areas.
We awoke on Thursday morning to the start of a full-on blizzard, snow started falling about 5 am so as we ate a large “Hikers Breakfast”, Jims specialty is making sure his guests get a great breakfast before they go explore and play for the day in Lassen, the plans for distance trekking on my snowshoes adapted to a plan for shorter but multiple snowshoe adventure plans for the day. We had hoped to get back into Juniper Lake and Hike up Harkness Mountain on this trip but 7 miles on snowshoes in a blizzard, are not recommended. I headed instead to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center on the Southwest Entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park with plans of snowshoeing up past Sulpher works and possibly onto one of the high mountain Lakes on the rim of Brokeoff Moutain.
Lassen Volcanic National Park in a Blizzard
Arriving at Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center it was evident again my plans would change, the blizzard was now dumping snow in the park and I found myself as one of only four people in the entire park that morning. You heard me right, Lassen Volcanic National Park is unlike most National Parks where you are always greeted by crowds of people at every turn, Lassen Volcanic National Park allows you to often enjoy a wilderness experience with nearly little interruption of others. Winter visits to Lassen Volcanic National Park are especially quite and my visit today it was myself and three backcountry skiers from the San Loius Obispo Ca area. The Park rangers, almost shocked to see us, gave us stiff warning regarding avalanche danger for the day and recommended shorter snowshoe and ski adventure plans for this day. After a short distance from the Visitors Center, we would agree and decided that sulphur works would do today as a destination.
Sulphur Works And Lassen’s Hydrothermal Experience
Boiling Mud Pots
Have a safe hydrothermal experience at a roadside fumarole (steam vent) or surround yourself in the gurgling symphony of boiling mud pots at the park’s most easily accessible hydrothermal area. Sulphur Works is the easiest hydrothermal event to see in the park.
Auto Touring Blurb – Lassen Volcanic National Park Auto Touring Highlights
The 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway offers and an excellent introduction to the park. For a more in-depth auto-tour, pick up the Road Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park at the Loomis Museum or Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.
After a visit to Sulphur Works, I stopped into the Visitors Center once again to warm by a fire and to watch a short 20 minute video about the Lassen Volcanic National Park. This is a great video and highly recommended on your visit. Learn about the four different types of Volcanoes found inside Lassen Volcanic National Park and some of the theory and science that makes Lassen Volcanic Area so unique. Knowing I had a warm place to stay for the evening that was close by and that dinner plans were already taken care of with my quick order before I left St. Bernard Lodge that morning, freed me up to explore the region more on my afternoon.
McGowan Cross-Country Ski Area
As I left Lassen Volcanic Park, I spotted the McGowan Cross Country Skiing Trail System a couple miles outside of the park. Based on the South West side of Brokeoff Mountain region this looked like a great place to pull over and try a second snowshoe adventure for the afternoon.
The McGowan Lake Cross-Country Ski Area has been in existence since 1982 and offers 10 miles of trails, 5 miles of which are periodically groomed. Access is on Highway 89, 2 miles north of Highway 36 and near the southern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Literally, in the shadow of Lassen Peak, McGowan area trails wander through mixed conifer forest and are popular with beginning to advanced skiers. Elevations range from 5,020 to 6,200 feet. McGowan cross-country ski trails are closed to all motorized vehicles There is nothing like snowshoeing or cross country skiing in fresh powder in the national forest. The trees plumb full of snow showcase great snow cones, the occasional sounds of heavy snow falling from the trees into the powder below makes the forest echo as if a heard of elephants approaches. I really enjoyed the couple miles of trail I followed at Mcgowan Trails. If You have never followed a trail system like these in winter, just follow the tree markers and enjoy.
Base Camp Relaxation ~ St. Bernards Lodge
Back at St. Bernard Lodge for the evening, I enjoyed a great evening of shooting billiards, a refreshing cold beer and telling stories of my adventures with Sharon and Jim. Jim had prepared my dinner request of Fish and Chips for the evening and the evening rains outside reminded me of how great it is to have a cozy cabin style bed and breakfast to stay in for the evening.
St. Bernard Lodge has been owned by Jim & Sharon for the past 17 years. It once was an open restaurant along route 36 but Jim & Sharon decided several years back to close the full-time restaurant and focus on providing their guests an exclusive bed and breakfast where they could enjoy a great meal and stay with family and friends. Jim cooks up a full menu of hiker breakfasts options and then for dinner guests choose from Filets, Chops, Burgers etc… Each meal prepared that day from the guests morning orders or their reservation requests.
The Stay at St. Bernard Lodge is very charming. Set in a European bed and breakfast design the cabin has 7 comfortable rooms upstairs. Each room is spacious and has its own unique decor as well as vanity sink and mirror. The Floor shares two full bathrooms with A Tub/Shower on one end and a traditional walk-in Shower on the other end.
The guests are welcomed with a full coffee bar on the floor allowing for an early morning coffee before heading downstairs for breakfast. The layout of the rooms provides four rooms with roadside views of the forest and three rooms which face the back of the property and the pond behind the lodge plus views of Carter Mountain.
The lodge reminded me of an old Hunting lodge you might see in the movies. Wood floors, Wood siding, and wooden doors added to the charm and ambiance of the space. The history of the original owner and his St. Bernard pups still decorate many areas of the downstairs area. Downstairs is comfortable and casual and half of the floor is designated as the dining area and the other half is where the full bar, game room, and lounge area reside.
The Bar is decorated by an old cash register and Slot machine as well as more traditional bar nicknacks. Play a game of billiards, Darts, Chess or Cribbage as you enjoy an evening cocktail with guests or lounge by the big scenic windows in front.
Besides the great accommodations and food found at St Bernard Lodge, maybe one of the best secrets for adventure explores that you find here is Sharon herself. She is a wealth of knowledge on all the recreational tips and destinations in the Lassen Region. She has maps, brochures, and local experience in helping her guests get the most out of their visit. Even as an experienced explorer I was thrilled to have Sharon as a resource for discovering my next adventures.
Guests that stay at St. Bernards lodge enjoy the proximity to Lake Almanor, without the crowds, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Spencer Meadow Trailhead, Mt. Harkness, Juniper Lake, and the PCT. They accommodate party’s with RV’s and with Horses on their 10-acre property & in the Summer month’s can allow guest to park RV’s in a secluded back side of the property for an exclusive National Forest Camping experience.
Exploring HWY 89 and Scenic Byways in Plumas County
On day two of my adventures, I decided to be a bit more of a tourist in the region and asked Sharon for recommendations which would not require long treks in my snowshoes for the day. After discussing trips north to Subway Caves and Burney Falls North of Lassen Volcanic National Park, I settled in on a trip down Hwy 89 towards Quincy about an hour south of Lake Almanor.
I had never driven this stretch and Sharon shared with me that Indian Falls was exploding with activity because of the recent storms, plus there was a scenic route many people miss through the Indian Valley for the Quilt Barn Tour as well as seeing many of the old train tracks along the Feather River Area.
The snow from the previous day gave way to rain and the lush green of Lassen National Forest glistened along the drive. As I pulled off on to the scenic route in downtown Greenville to view the Quilt Barn Tour, I really didn’t know what to expect. As a matter of fact, I passed two or three quilt barns before I clued in on what I was looking for of the route. Distracted by the lush green meadow and just a pleasant two-lane country drive in the mountains, it was easy to miss the quilt barns, I would see glimpses as I passed, then I started to understand that the Barns were all along the route and features a unique Quilt design framed in on the eve of a barn or structure along the route. The route takes you through Taylorsville and then back to HWY 89 again after about 20 minutes. Well worth a 20-30 minute drive as it is very scenic and if you like history and unique things people do, this tour is for you.
Indian Falls was just a few miles down the road, knowing the river was going to muddy today was a little bit of a downer, but I never miss an opportunity to see a waterfall, especially if it is this close to the road. Indian Falls is a short 1/4 mile hike down from the parking area, which is right off the Highway. Trail markers discuss the plant life in the region including Poise oak, so say on the trail. The viewing area at the falls includes free access to the river and rocks. I took a bit of a risk and climbed a slick rock out into the edge of the river to capture a photo of the falls. A great roadside waterfall cascades between the granite valley walls and plunges into a wide area which I assume in summer months invites visitors to watch the waterfall while splashing around a bit.
After the Waterfall, I enjoyed the remainder of my drive into Quincy where the must stop location was a little candy store in downtown. I love small town candy stores that make their own treats. Carey Candy Store is an excellent stop if going to or through Quincy. Freshly made pastries, great coffee, and homemade chocolates await your visit.
Just off the beaten Path… more Adventure
After leaving Quincy I decided to run up to Davis Lake for a peak of the conditions. Still, snow covered of course but I’m sure within a month Lake Davis and Fishermans Lake will be packed with weekend explorers and fisherman. Fishing season is another great to visit Plumas County and Lassen National Forest. Many great and popular areas to fish including lakes, rivers, and streams.
What was great about this road trip today is that I saw it all in about three hours after leaving St.Bernards Lodge. I quick drive around to HWY 395 and I could loop back through Susanville or I could make a u-turn and back up the river and HWY 89 for another evening of great food & drink.
Lassen National Forest, Plumas County, and the Lassen Volcanic National Park have so many places I can explore in a couple days visit. I guess I will just need to book another stay soon to see another set of adventures. Until my next Visit Lassen, can’t wait to see what you look like with the water flowing this spring. A visit where a pair of hiking boots, a nicely filled day pack and my desire for wilderness experience will lead me to a secluded treasure I am certain.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Hiking Guide
There are over 150 miles of trails in Lassen and each one offers its own reward. Click here for a small selection of some of the day hikes in the park provided by Lassen Volcanic National Park
Located about 45 minutes north of Lassen Volcanic National Park North entrance Burney Falls is a must see adventure for travelers.
The 129-foot scenic falls is ranked among the best in California and the park is situated within easy driving distance of some of the most spectacular natural settings to be found anywhere in the United States.
Subway Caves Lassen National Forest
Take a journey through 1/3 mile of a winding lava tube. You will need to furnish your own flashlight in order to find your way and to read the reflective interpretive signs (rentals available nearby).
The floor is rough and jagged so wear sturdy shoes. A light jacket will ward off the chill as the cave remains a cool 46 degrees F. Neither hardhats nor crawling is required!
McGowan trail System- Cross country Skiing
10 miles of trails, 5 miles of which are periodically groomed. Access is on Highway 89, 2 miles north of Highway 36 and near the southern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Literally in the shadow of Lassen Peak, McGowan area trails wander through mixed conifer forest and are popular with beginning to advanced skiers. Elevations range from 5,020 to 6,200 feet. McGowan cross-country ski trails are closed to all motorized vehicles.
Heart Lake route 17 recreation area
Feeling adventurous, you might try heading down near the Battle Creek recreational Area and take old route 17. This will wind you through the backside of Lassen Peak and Brokeoff Mountain, provide hiking to the Heart Lake Recreational Trail. Only open for Summer Season, but a great place to discover.
This National Scenic Trail climbs 3 miles along South Digger Creek to a beautiful mountain lake. Enjoy peaceful birdsong and a stunning view of Brokeoff Mountain.
Spencer Meadow Trail
Alpine meadows, tall timber, and flowing creeks await on the Spencer Meadow Trail. Stretching six miles, Spencer Meadow is registered as a National Recreation Trail. See www.americantrails.org for more information on National Recreation Trail designation.
Snowshoeing Lassen Volcanic National Park Guide