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ADV News10 Must-See Sites On A Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

10 Must-See Sites On A Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

A volcanic paradise for two-wheeled explorers just waiting to be discovered.

Published on 01.18.2023
A Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Nestled in California’s northeastern corner lies Lassen Volcanic National Park and the surrounding National Forest —  a desolate volcanic paradise connected by an endless mesh of forest roads and trails. The landscape is teeming with volcanic cinder cones, inspiring vistas, unique wildlife, and high alpine lakes. With its burbling pits of sulfuric acid, fumaroles spewing noxious fumes, and dozens of active and inactive volcanoes, you wouldn’t be faulted for mistaking this incredible place for Yellowstone. 

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

As one of California’s less visited national parks, Lassen is a hidden gem just dying to be explored by motorcycle. No matter your experience level, the twisted stretches of pavement, high plains covered in volcanic gravel, and numerous passes carving in and around stunning forests give you a range of options to customize your adventure — no matter if you are looking for an adrenaline rush or just peace and tranquility.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

After exploring Lassen on several trips, we’ve come up with an epic adventure bike route that showcases some of the most unique points of interest. We also put together all the information you need to plan your own Adventure Ride in the region, including an interactive map, GPS tracks with top destinations, intriguing natural wonders, scenic camp spots, and more. It would be easy to babble on about the inspiration this area forces upon you, but why not see for yourself starting with this list of 10 must-see spots in and around California’s volcanic masterpiece.

1. Sulphur Works

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Billed as the most accessible of Lassen’s attractions, Sulphur Works is just past the Lassen Volcanic National Park’s southern entrance. If you miss the billowing steam on the edge of the road, you definitely won’t miss the distinct smell that comes with bubbling pools of sulfur and sulphuric acid. It is believed that Sulphur Works is what remains of the central vent of extinct Mount Tehama — an 11,500-foot-tall volcano that would have dominated the landscape some 360,000 years ago. Whether your interest is one from a geological perspective, or if it simply comes from wanting a first hand glimpse of the power harnessed within our planet’s core — Sulphur Works shouldn’t be missed on your visit.

2. Bumpass Hell

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Evidence of this now eroded stratovolcano make up the entirety of this region of the park. You’d have to be without most of your senses to miss the boiling pits of sulfur and acid that follow the road; their strong smell, the sound resembling that of a distant jet engine, and visual chaos that occur give a glimpse of what must be occurring inside the Earth’s crust. As the road carves deeper into the park, it becomes clear that this volcano is far from extinct. It would be a fool’s errand to come all this way and not take time to hike through Bumpass Hell. A few twists, turns, and stunning vistas of alpine lakes backed up against Tehama’s remnants practically drops you right on top of it.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Named for Kendall Bumpass who lost his leg after accidentally stepping through the top layer of crust, Bumpass Hell is an area where the Lassen’s volcanic activity is on concentrated display. After a short hike, visitors find themselves surrounded by numerous pools of acid, mud, and fumaroles venting noxious gas and steam from the magma chamber which feeds Lassen’s eruptive capability. Like the smaller pits leading to this portion of the park, the sensory overload must be experienced to be truly appreciated, though here it’s on a much larger scale. It’s as though the ground is angrily hissing as if to warn of an impending eruption, something the peak did as recently as 1915 when the mountain exploded sending ash nearly 300 miles East. Stay on the designated walking trail and follow park regulations. 

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

The hike to and from Bumpass Hell can be completed in little more than an hour and is absolutely worth setting time aside for, if for no other reason than to enjoy how greatly the park contrasts from hellacious resentment to the peaceful tranquility of adjacent Lake Helen. Though the hike is relatively short, water is a necessity as the altitude quickly reveals any weakness in your workout regiment. Beyond the turn for Bumpass Hell lies the trailhead for Lassen Peak as well as numerous day use areas, and a myriad of other places to explore the backcountry on foot. On the way through, there’s a couple of well cared for campgrounds if your adventure keeps you exploring within Lassen’s core for longer.

3. Subway Lava Tube Cave

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Formed when lava cools on the surface, these tubes serve as an underground conduit for lava to flow to its respective destination. When the source of that lava runs dry, what’s left is a hardened cave-like outer shell called a lava tube. Like most caves, temperatures tend to remain very consistent and during our visit, Subway Cave served as a refreshing way to escape the heat we found below Lassen Peak.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Once inside, it doesn’t take long to immerse yourself into total darkness. Having left our headlamps on the bikes, we resorted to using the light on our mobile phones to find the opposite end of the cave. While sufficient, a better source of light is recommended. The ⅓ mile trail through the lava tube loops from one side of the parking lot back to the other, so expect no more than a quarter of a mile worth of walking from start to finish. 

4. “SETI” Allen Telescope Array

In the vast wilderness that is Lassen National Forest, there is a site borne from our human desire to find intelligent life in outer space. In fact, the Allen Telescope Array (Berkeley SETI Institute) has been tasked with listening for extraterrestrial sounds since 2005. Cool as it sounds, SETI is simply an acronym that translates to “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park
Photo by brewbooks

This very Earthly site even gives off visuals that could just as soon be found in a Sci-Fi film. The 90-acre site is dotted with a few dozen radio telescopes whose primary tasks are measuring magnetic fields, determining quantities of intergalactic gas, and scanning more than a million stars to detect SETI related emissions.

If you plan to drop in, be sure to plan accordingly. They’re open to the public with limited hours, namely on Thursday & Friday – 9:00AM – 3:00PM.

5. Camp Harvey

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hard pressed to miss this one in your peripheral vision, Camp Harvey was a logging camp established by the Red River Logging Co. in 1943, though it was soon sold to Fruit Growers Supply Company in 1944. It remained in service for the next few years providing loggers a dry bed, and warm meals. The property was littered with cabins, a commissary, cookhouse, a water tower, and even its own narrow-gauge rail connecting to Hall’s Flat via. 40 miles of track. All of that came to a halt in 1949 though, when Fruit Growers leased the commissary and cookhouse responsibilities to another company, which soon thereafter saw its employees go on strike.

This left Camp Harvey loggers without meals, and without food, loggers rapidly vacated the site, signaling the end for the logging camp. All that stands today is the water storage and pumping system that once supported the workers who kept the logging camp bustling. Today the off-kilter remnants of the tower leer above while the wilderness slowly reclaims the camp. Across the road lie the remnants of the narrow gauge rail that also supported the camp. 

6. Harvey Mountain Fire Lookout

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Built in 1919, Harvey Mountain Lookout is one of California’s longest continually manned fire lookouts and is still staffed today during fire season. At 7,354 feet, the Lookout offers expansive 360° views of Lassen Volcanic National Park and beyond. While Lassen Peak is easily seen from the tower, on clear days you can also see Mount Shasta, and to the East clear into Nevada.

The tower still uses its original Osborne Fire Finder, a device developed in the early 1900s designed to precisely pinpoint the location of a flare up, helping ground crews to rapidly locate and extinguish wildland fires. In warmer weather, keep your eyes peeled as you explore the roads leading up and down the mountain, as there’s a good chance you’ll spot a bear or two.

7. Antelope Mountain Fire Lookout

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Surrounded by a mesh of roads, Antelope Mountain Fire Lookout is another fantastic place to soak up the scenery. With crystal clear views of Eagle Lake (California’s 2nd largest natural lake, located entirely within its borders), and an amazing network of forest service roads and trails leading to its Summit, this is a peak that shouldn’t be missed. At 7,687feet and built in 1931, Antelope Mountain’s lookout was the first fire lookout in the US to be solar powered when it was fitted with a solar array in 1978. The tower’s hexagonal shape makes the architecture all the more unique to this region.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

8. Silver Lake

During our most recent visit, Lassen National Forest’s Silver Lake popped up on our radar. If you’re out seeking spectacular lakeside vistas, flanked by dramatic jagged cliffs and stunning firs, there’s no better spot to set up shop for the evening. Silver Lake’s unmanaged campground, combined with the lake’s remote location, means you’ll be sure to get a good night’s rest perched on the shores of this absolutely breathtaking lake. For those not wanting to rough it, there are also numerous cabins dotting the shoreline that can be reserved for a relaxing night at one of Lassen’s many hidden gems.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

The lake is shallow enough that during the summer months, water temperatures are perfectly mild making it a fantastic place for a dip to refresh after a long day in the saddle. If fishing is more your speed, the lake is filled with trout trying to avoid being seen by the numerous Osprey and other raptors that make Lassen National Forest their home.

9. Cinder Cone

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park
Photo by Lassen NPS

With its last major eruption in 1666, Cinder Cone is a nearly perfect dome made up of unvegetated scoria (a type of dark, porous volcanic rock). This Volcano’s flanks dominate an already alien landscape and make the short, but steep hike worth it. Be sure to pack some shoes if you intend to take the trail all the way to the summit as the loose substrate and sand that makeup the path are not easily hiked in motorcycle boots. Other notable sights in the area are the Painted Dunes at the base of Cinder Cone, and Sunrise Peak on the opposite side of Butte Lake.

10. Butte Lake

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

We couldn’t recommend Cinder Cone without also mentioning Butte Lake. Originally Butte and Snag Lake were combined until the volcano’s last eruption spewed oozed lava over the original lake, splitting it in two. On the North end and with its very own National Park entrance, Butte Lake is found, with Snag Lake approximately three miles to the South. Butte Lake offers non-motorized boating, numerous hikes, and a visually stunning place to prop your feet up at their remote and beautifully managed campground. If it’s otherworldly views you’re seeking, hike the volcanic boulders surrounding the lake’s perimeter for a truly out-of-this-world panoramic vista of Lassen National Forest’s Northern border.

Planning Your Trip

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Riding Terrain: The provided tracks are near enough to 50% pavement and 50% dirt, though Lassen’s forest service and fire roads are mostly meticulously cared for. Even so, the tracks do contain a handful of short sections dotted with rocks and technical scrambles. The vast majority of the off-pavement tracks are decidedly sympathetic to less seasoned riders, though the less-traveled route to Antelope Mountain Lookout, and some of the tracks before and around Camp Harvey can get a bit loose and poorly maintained.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Everything on the provided track is manageable on even larger adventure bikes, so long as the rider brings along an intermediate skill level at navigating poorly maintained roads. While nothing particularly technical is required, there are a few spots that can easily be gone around with a bit of planning.

The region is largely without major services, and the longest stretch between fuel is between Old Station and Susanville — approximately 100-120 miles depending on how you decide to cut across the national forest. This is a place where riding with a buddy is advised due to the area’s remoteness, and make sure to bring ample food, fuel, water, tools, a first aid kit, and an emergency GPS messaging device.

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Weather: Winter makes the area inaccessible between November and April each year, give or take a month depending on snowfall. The area is best enjoyed in early Fall and Late Spring, as Summers can get hot despite the altitude. May through June, as well as August through September see temperatures ranging from night time lows of 39° F to day time highs of 85° F — the extremes of which occur toward the beginning or ending of the given season. On our last visit in August , we saw temperatures range from nearly triple digits during the day down to mid-40s at night. Since rideable portions of Lassen can exceed 8,000 feet, riding gear that can be layered, but also promotes good ventilation is advised. Temperatures can vary greatly in a relatively small area due the constantly changing altitude.

Camping/Lodging: The national forest provides countless options for dispersed, primitive, and established camping. Most unmanned USFS campgrounds in the area charge $10 a night and include fire rings, tables, pit toilets, and are reserved on a first-come first-serve basis. The National Park Service has a handful of campgrounds in Lassen National Park, both near Lassen Peak as well as near Butte Lake. These sites have running water but must be reserved online in advance at recreation.gov. Silver Lake offers numerous options to stay in a cabin, the rates of which vary greatly depending on the season and their availability..

A Motorcycle Ride Thru Lassen Volcanic National Park

Maps and GPS Tracks

We’ve put together a route through Lassen that will allow you to visit all the places mentioned in this Ride Guide and more during a 3-day trip. Detailed GPX tracks and a larger interactive map are available for download free.*

View Larger Map

* Terms of Use: Should you decide to explore a route that is published on ADV Pulse, you assume the risk of any resulting injury, loss or damage suffered as a result. The route descriptions, maps and GPS tracks provided are simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due diligence. It is your responsibility to evaluate the route accuracy as well as the current condition of trails and roads, your vehicle readiness, personal fitness and local weather when independently determining whether to use or adapt any of the information provided here.

Photos by Rob Dabney

Author: Ken Morse

While Ken’s two-wheeled exploits began only a few years ago, he’s no stranger to adventure. Since 2006, he’s been wandering all over the U.S. in various four-wheel drive toys, exploring as much hidden terrain in the backcountry as possible. Having straddled his first motorcycle in 2019, he quickly became obsessed and made the switch to two wheels. Now he spends most of his free time riding, wrenching and traveling on adventure motorcycles from his base in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Author: Ken Morse
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Gil Busick
Gil Busick
January 18, 2023 12:34 pm

I dont see any link to download the gpx tracks

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
January 18, 2023 12:41 pm
Reply to  Gil Busick

Hi Gil. Please check again. It should be there now in the Maps and GPS Tracks section.

chris Hoerenz
chris Hoerenz
January 18, 2023 4:16 pm

This was a very enjoyable read and I am excited to try this ride later this year. I appreciate the details on the sites and the roads (including you r take on rider skill level for the offroad sections). I’d love to read more articles like this and love that the GPS tracks are included

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
January 29, 2023 7:54 am
Reply to  chris Hoerenz

Hi Chris. Thanks for your comment. You can check out several stories like this one we’ve published in the past here:
https://www.advpulse.com/tag/ride-guide/
Enjoy!

Kirk Young
Kirk Young
January 18, 2023 9:33 pm

Good stuff, I visited both those lookout this past summer, Very friendly and helpful personal at both

Robert Godwin
Robert Godwin
January 19, 2023 8:38 am

Better wait awhile unless you have a snowmobile!

wfo75080
wfo75080
February 6, 2023 6:34 pm

You folks have outdone yourself on this one. Planning a trip from E Texas to San Fran in March and then down Hwy 1 on the 1250 RT. Seeing this I might throw the 790 in the back of the truck too! WOW!

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
February 15, 2023 9:48 pm
Reply to  wfo75080

It’s definitely well worth the trip. Just 4 hours from San Fran with some great roads leading up into the mountains. Thanks for the encouraging words!

Kellen
Kellen
February 15, 2023 9:42 pm

Going to have to check this out

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
February 15, 2023 9:49 pm
Reply to  Kellen

Let us know how it goes!

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