How to Plan a Lassen Volcanic National Park Stargazing Trip (2023)
When planning your stargazing trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, remember that it’s not just the park’s geothermal features that are “out of this world.” With minimal light pollution and a diverse range of accessible viewing locations, the park provides the perfect backdrop for you to embark on a journey through the stars.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the best national parks for stargazing; it’s also a fascinating reminder of our place in the cosmic dance. This geothermal gem, with its bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles, offers not only a glimpse into the Earth’s fiery core but also an unparalleled stage for a cosmic spectacle that will leave you starstruck and eager to explore the heavens above.
Whether you’re an experienced stargazer or new to the cosmic scene, planning a Lassen Volcanic National Park stargazing trip promises to captivate your imagination and fuel your passion for uncovering the mysteries of the universe.
In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla and Mountain Maidu peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
How to Get to Lassen Volcanic National Park
There’s a reason why Lassen Volcanic National Park is a stargazer’s paradise: it’s right in the middle of nowhere. Or, at least, it feels like that. But that remoteness can be tricky when you want to get there.
So, the first item we’ll tackle on this Lassen Volcanic stargazing guide is how to get to the park. The only way you can get to Lassen Volcanic National Park is by car as there is no public transportation into or within the park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in northern California. It is approximately three hours northeast of Sacramento, and has a northwest and southwest entrance, which are connected on the 30-mile park highway.
If you’re going to use GPS, here are a few addresses within the park:
- Loomis Museum (Northwest Entrance): 29489 Lassen National Park Hwy, Shingletown, CA 96088
- Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (Southwest Entrance): 21820 Lassen National Park Hwy, Mineral, CA 96063
Where to Go Stargazing in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Our next item is one of the most important for your Lassen Volcanic stargazing: where are the best places to see the stars!
As described in the park’s website, Lassen is one of the last sanctuaries of natural darkness. Naturally, there are tons of great places where you can set up your telescope and look at the beauty of the night sky.
Bumpass Hell Trailhead
Bumpass Hell is a stunning geothermal area – some may say it’s a mini Yellowstone! This is a great easy-moderate hike through beautiful paths full of interesting geological beauties you can rarely find. Located on the western side of the park, the trail’s parking areas are one of the best places for stargazing in Lassen. Also, the trail’s summit offers a 360-degree view of the park. Just be aware that the area is open mostly during early summer.
While the name isn’t exactly very inviting, the Devastated Area is actually a wonderful place to visit and see the stars in Lassen. This gentle, flat , half mile loop features descriptive panels with photos from the 1915 eruption to current days and ends at a gorgeous lake. Now, for stargazers, the large paved parking area is where you want to set up your telescope.
Emerald Lake is one of the lakes that sit on the park road. It offers spectacular views of Lassen Peak, but the best bit is that the lake sits at the highest point in the park (roughly 8000 ft). This means that you’ll see snow most of the year. Needless to say, the whole place creates a gorgeous background from which to admire the night sky.
Kings Creek Meadow
One of the most photogenic spots in the park, Kings Creek Meadow is a stunning place to see the stars. In all honesty, it looks like taken out of an old fairytale, with the meandering stream going through the grassland and towering trees framing the landscape. For stargazing though, stay on the roadside pullouts along the highway.
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center is located at the Southern Entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The parking areas offer great opportunities for stargazing. Also, the best part is that you can park overnight and the restrooms are accessible 24/7.
Lassen Peak Trail
Lassen Peak or Mount Lassen is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range and the center-point to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Hiking to Lassen Peak is a challenge. But, as cliché as it may sound, it offers unparalleled views day and night. Anyway, stargazers don’t have to go that far to find stunning views of the night sky. The trailhead parking areas grant excellent views of the cosmos.
Lake Helen is a tiny but gorgeous lake just off the main highway through the National Park, a bit north of the trailhead to Bumpass Hell. On a clear day, you might be able to see Mount Lassen reflected in it. You can stargaze from the small parking lot just past the lake on the left as you go north or on the roadside lakeshores.
Little Hot Springs Valley
Little Hot Springs Valley overlook is the largest of two pullouts on the park highway. From here, you’ll enjoy unbeatable views of the stars with a backdrop of the north end of the valley and the winding creeks that flow into it.
Manzanita Lake is another place where you can go stargazing in Lassen Volcanic National Park. If you’re into astrophotography, this lake offers by far one of the most beautiful backgrounds. To find the best spot, you have to drive all the way to the North Entrance gate, then hike along the west end of Manzanita Lake for about 100 yards on a little trail. At this point, you will see the most amazing view.
Summit Lake further north up the same road you take to see Lake Helen. While the water is supposedly a little warmer, Summit Lake enjoys the same gorgeous views of the night sky that Lake Helen. The lake is perched at 6700 feet, meaning the roadside lakeshore have views of the night sky to die for.
Where to Stay Near Lassen Volcanic National Park
Now let’s move on to a key point when organizing your Lassen Volcanic Stargazing adventure: where can you stay during your trip.
Hotels near Lassen Volcanic National Park
There are several hotels and lodges located near Lassen Volcanic National Park that will provide you with a roof to sleep at night and convenient access to the park.
- Drakesbad Guest Ranch: Located just inside the park’s boundary, this resort has comfortable cabins and rooms. The experience is very rustic, but the meals are great and the staff most helpful. Lassen Volcanic Park is an hour’s drive away.
- St. Bernard Lodge: I doubt you’ll ever see so much pine interior in your life. St. Bernard Lodge is a charming mountain lodge located just 10 miles from the park’s Southwest entrance. It offers comfortable rooms, a restaurant serving locally sourced cuisine, and stunning views of the surrounding forests and mountains.
- Best Western Rose Quartz Inn: This modern hotel is located in the nearby town of Chester, just 15 miles from the park’s entrance. It offers comfortable rooms, a complimentary breakfast, and it’s pet-friendly!
- Highlands Ranch Resort: This upscale resort is located 25 miles from the park’s entrance. The building alone is as lavish as it gets, with a mix of both modern and rustic interiors. You’ll find luxurious rooms, a spa, and an on-site restaurant serving farm-to-table cuisine.
- Mill Creek Resort: If you want to drive as little as possible, Mill Creek Resort sits just outside the park’s Southwest entrance. This family-owned resort offers comfortable cabins, an outdoor pool, and a restaurant serving homestyle cooking. Oh, and they have craft beer and wine!
Camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park
For the complete outdoor experience, you can spend the night in one of the park’s campgrounds. Below I’ve listed the ones that will be open throughout 2023.
- Manzanita Lake Campground: This campground is located near the park entrance and offers stunning views of Lassen Peak. It has 179 sites, including RV sites, tent sites, and cabins. The campground also features a camp store, showers, and a boat launch.
- Butte Lake Campground: This campground is more remote and sits in the northern part of the park. It offers 101 sites for tent and RV camping. The campground is near Butte Lake, which is great for fishing, swimming, and boating.
- Summit Lake Campground: This campground is located at 7,000 feet and offers 94 sites for tent and RV camping. The campground is near Summit Lake, which is a popular spot for stargazing.
- Southwest Walk-in Campground: This campground is located near the Sulphur Works hydrothermal area and offers 21 walk-in tent sites. The campground is accessible via a short walk from the parking area.
What to See & Do During the Day in Lassen Volcanic National Park
You already know how to get to the park, where to stay, and where to see the stars. The only thing missing is what you can do to fill your days. Below you’ll find a list with the best activities to do during your Lassen Volcanic stargazing trip during the day.
- Visit the Loomis Museum: The Loomis Museum offers exhibits and information about the park’s natural and cultural history. It’s a great place to start your visit to the park to get more context of the nature that surrounds you.
- Explore the volcanic features: Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to a number of volcanic features, including hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. Visit the Sulphur Works or Bumpass Hell to experience these natural wonders up close.
- Take a scenic drive: Lassen Volcanic National Park has several scenic drives that offer stunning views of the park’s natural features. The Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway is a 30-mile drive that takes you past several of the park’s most famous features.
- See the lava beds & fumaroles: The lava beds are impressive and, for most of us, a rare sight. They are on the far northeastern corner of the park, away from (almost) everything else, so plan accordingly. They also are along the trail that leads to Cinder Cone, so you can plan to do both.
- Visit Manzanita Lake: Manzanita Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located near the north entrance of the park. It’s a great spot for swimming, fishing, and kayaking. (You’ll visit here anyway for stargazing, but plan some daytime time here too.)
- Hike to the summit of Lassen Peak: The summit of Lassen Peak offers incredible views of the surrounding landscape. The hike to the summit is strenuous but rewarding, with switchbacks and steep inclines that take you through forests and across rocky terrain.
- Go on a Ranger-led Program: The park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, stargazing, and campfire programs. Check the park’s schedule for upcoming events.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Lassen Volcanic National Park
We’ve covered practically everything you need to know to plan a successful Lassen Volcanic national park stargazing adventure. But, in case you have more doubts, here’s a section with the most frequently asked questions.
When is the best time to go stargazing in Lassen?
The best time to go stargazing in Lassen is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is clear and dry. However, stargazing can be enjoyed year-round in Lassen.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Lassen? When?
Absolutely! You can see the Milky Way while stargazing in Lassen. The best time to see it is during the summer months when the Milky Way is visible from late evening until early morning. If you can be even pickier with the date, try to go stargazing during a new moon, when the sky is darkest and the stars are most visible.
Can you see the northern lights in Lassen?
While it is possible to see the Northern Lights in Lassen, it is not very common. In 2012, a massive solar storm that struck the Earth early Monday morning and triggered bursts of the Northern Lights over much of the United States, including Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, I don’t think this will happen again anytime soon.
Is Lassen National Park open at night?
Yes, Lassen Volcanic National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. So you don’t have to plan to arrive at a certain time to access the park.
Are there guided night tours in Lassen?
While there are many ranger-led programs, the park doesn’t offer a stargazing-oriented tour. However, in 2022, they offered Astrobiology Programs with NASA. It still hasn’t been announced if there will be another one in 2023.
Is there a dark sky festival in Lassen?
For my fellow astronomers’ delight, yes! There’s a dark sky festival in Lassen. The park hasn’t announced the date and program for 2023 yet, so make sure you check the website for the latest news.