Ditch Yosemite’s Reservation System for Uncrowded Lassen Volcanic National Park

Posted by
Emily Pennington
April 28, 2024
Updated April 29, 2024

Emily on Lassen Peak Summit
Emily on Lassen Peak Summit - Photo: Emily Pennington

Yosemite National Park is notoriously crowded and it’s bringing back its hard-to-nab reservation system. Skip the valley crowds in favor of the serene, mountainous Lassen Volcanic National Park instead.

Whether you grit your teeth while watching Free Solo or have quietly dreamed of hiking any of the awe-inspiring trails, chances are you’ve seen images of Yosemite’s star attraction: a wooded, seven-mile-long valley bookended by towering cliffs of granite, with the shimmering Merced River thundering through its center.

Last year, 3.9 million visitors clambered to feast their eyes on the park’s breathtaking views, swim in high-altitude lakes, backpack across alpine meadows, and rock climb the Valley’s famous granite big walls. The thing that social media doesn’t show you? Those visitors were likely subject to wild traffic jams at top valley sights, a shortage of in-park campsites, and parking snafus at popular Glacier Point.

In 2024, Yosemite has decided to renew its mandatory permit system between April 13 and October 27, meaning that last-minute trips for locals are practically a no-go, and entrance reservations for summer weekends will be in short supply. 

The good news? We have a great alternative that’s also in Northern California…just a bit farther north: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Cinder Cone in Lassen Volcanic
Cinder Cone in Lassen Volcanic – Photo: Emily Pennington

How to Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park

Situated 47 miles from humble Redding and three hours north of Sacramento, Lassen Volcanic National Park  is revered for its sapphire lakes, volcanic peaks, lush forests of pine and hemlock, and excellent rock climbing. But, perhaps most surprising of all is the area’s plethora of geothermal features, which would look more at home in Yellowstone’s Geyser Basin than in the Golden State.

Not only does Lassen boast many of the same treasures you’d hope to find at Yosemite—summit treks, rock climbing, wooded trails, and dips in alpine lakes—it also receives a fraction of the tourists. In a typical year, the park gets roughly 500,000 visitors.

In 2021, the Dixie Fire ravaged much of the forest land in and surrounding Lassen Volcanic, resulting in far fewer visitors during the years following the blaze. However, there are relatively few closures within the park this year, and most of its iconic features (like Cinder Cone, Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, and Lassen Peak) were unaffected by the fire. That makes this the perfect year to strike out and explore this less-traveled sleeper park.

Emily in Lake Helen
Emily in Lake Helen – Photo: Emily Pennington

Where to Stay in  Lassen National Park

A seven-day vehicle entrance pass for Lassen Volcanic will run you $30 (or invest in an $80 annual America the Beautiful Pass if you know you’ll be park-hopping). With it, you’ll have a week’s worth of access to wildflower-studded alpine meadows, steaming fumaroles, pristine wild lakes, and more than 150 miles of hiking trails. Due to the high elevation of the park—its lowest point is at 5,275 feet—most trails open in June and remain passable until November. 

The national park service operates several campgrounds within Lassen’s boundaries, the most popular being Manzanita Lake ($26), Summit Lake ($22-24), and Butte Lake ($22). All of these campgrounds offer potable water, toilets, fire rings, and food storage lockers, but if you’re seeking a few more creature comforts, make a beeline for Manzanita. There, you can enjoy coin-operated showers, a seasonal dump station, laundry, and a small camp store. Manzanita also boasts a smattering of camping cabins, for those who’d prefer a four-walled glamping experience. Lassen also has a full-service, family-friendly lodge at the southwest end of the park: Drakesbad Guest Ranch.

Emily and Ave on Lassen Peak Summit
Emily and Ave on Lassen Peak Summit – Photo: Emily Pennington

What to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park

After pitching your tent or checking into your lodging, get the lay of the land on a scenic drive along Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, pulling over for epic photo ops at the volcanic rock formations of Chaos Crags, the eerily sparse pines at Devastated Area, and the imposing views of toothy Lassen Peak. Stop for a picnic and a cool-down at Lake Helen, then stroll along the easily accessed sidewalk at Sulphur Works for a glimpse at the area’s colorful, pungent hydrothermal features.

If you’ve got time for a longer hike, don’t miss the lupine-freckled jaunt out to the bubbling hydrothermal features of Bumpass Hell and the 2.3-mile round-trip to marvel at Kings Creek Falls. Into backpacking? 24 miles of the notorious Pacific Crest Trail runs through Lassen Volcanic.

Want to bag a summit while you’re in the park? Start early and feel the burn on the steep, five-mile trek up 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, which rewards the intrepid hiker with panoramic views of Chaos Crags, Cinder Cone, and the myriad lakes and valleys of this dynamic and awe-inspiring volcanic landscape.


Lassen Volcanic National Park at a glance:

  • Nearest cities: Redding (47 miles), Reno (130 miles), Sacramento (157 miles)
  • Acreage: 106,372 acres
  • Use fees: $30 for a 7-day vehicle pass, $25 per 7-day motorcycle pass, $80 for an annual America the Beautiful pass
  • Lodging: In 2024, Butte Lake, Lost Creek Group, Manzanita Lake, and Summit Lake (North and South) will be open, beginning in May or June, depending on the snow. Manzanita Lake will have its camping cabins available, and Drakesbad Guest Ranch is planning to re-open its doors this summer, following the Dixie Fire.
  • Best for: Scenic drives, hiking, backpacking, fishing, stargazing, rock climbing

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