Lassen Volcanic National Park: Butte Lake and the Fantastic Lava Beds

Butte Lake

Sean and I had wrapped up our auto tour of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway by about ten to three on Saturday, September 14. We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the area around Butte Lake in the northeast corner of the Park, an area that was once a separate National Monument before it was incorporated into the National Park.

We drove out of the Park at the northwest entrance and headed east/northeast. At a stop for roadwork, we noticed we were behind a Porsche. Just as at Redwood National Park, there were some very expensive cars here. By the end of the day, we’d have seen two Porsches, a smattering of Lexuses and BMWs, and a Tesla.

After ascending a ridge, we departed the highway and turned onto a Forest Service dirt road that led south into Lassen Volcanic National Park. At a simple sign, we reentered the Park and shortly were pulling into a broad parking area under Ponderosa Pines.

Down a gentle slope carpeted with pine needles was lovely Butte Lake. Maybe a dozen people were enjoying the lake in canoes or on floating mattresses.

California Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Ponderosa Pine

Sunrise Peak

But it was across the lake where things got interesting. The southwestern shore of the lake was comprised of the strange formation of the Fantastic Lava Beds, which flowed out of the earth some 350 years ago when nearby Cinder Cone was formed.

It was getting a bit too late in the day to do the full out and back hike to the top of the Cinder Cone. But we at least wanted to go and see the Fantastic Lava Beds a bit more closely. On the Trails Illustrated Map it looked like there was a little spur trail that went into them.

Ponderosa Pines

We headed south around the northwestern tip of the lake, past the road to the nearby campground and across the boat put-in area.

Shortly there was a little side trail leading over to the lava beds.

The massive flow of lava shattered into a jumble of boulders as it cooled making for an otherworldly landscape.

The trail seemed to lead into the lava beds, so we followed it.

Except that it didn’t really lead into the formation. So we decided to climb up toward a pine to see if we could get a good vantage to see the sprawl of the Fantastic Lava Beds.

It was a tricky scramble up the collection of loose boulders.

Ponderosa Pine

To the south, we could just glimpse the top of Cinder Cone.

We felt enveloped by the Fantastic Lava Beds, but we were just in one tiny edge of a flow that went on for miles.

We made our way carefully…carefully…back down.



Then we headed back toward the parking lot.

On the way, we spied a service road/trail that went around the shore of the lake opposite the parking area. This may have been the actual path indicated on the map. So we followed it.

The path led to the northern edge of the Fantastic Lava Beds.

Ponderosa Pine

Common Garter Snake

Then it led down to the lake and dead-ended where the lava bed boulders spilled out into (and beneath) the lake.

After remarking on how lovely a spot it was, we turned around and retraced our steps toward the parking area.

We drove back to the Manzanita Lake entrance, where we stopped again for overpriced firewood. In the campstore/giftshop, an off-duty Park Ranger was chatting with visitors while he waited in line to buy ice cream. I grabbed a couple of chocolate huckleberry cordials that we enjoyed later around Sean’s blazing campfire.

We reset the tent so that the slope was a bit more comfortable before preparing our dinner of mac & cheese and brats.

Later, I sat and caught up on notes as we enjoyed some wine by the fire. Sean observed, “This is a very aesthetically pleasing National Park. It could be the most picturesque National Park we’ve been to.”

In the tent I read a bit of Gary Snyder and a bit of Rebecca Solnit before falling asleep.

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