Hike and Bike Event at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Some national parks have a day or weekend at the beginning or end of the regular season when the roads that are covered in snow over the winter are cleared and ready for cars. But before the cars are allowed in, hikers and bikers get to use the road without the presence of cars. Crater Lake has a weekend before the rim road is closed for the season where bikers can ride the road without any cars along the way, before the road is closed to everyone, in September. Lassen Volcanic National Park has such a day at the beginning of the season, right after the roads are cleared of snow in the spring. This day is called the Hike and Bike Event. In the year 2016, it took place on June 11, and we made a day trip out of driving there from Sacramento to participate.
We started at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center at the south end of the park. We could see that the road into the park was gated after the entrance station and there was a string of hikers on the road leading up to the geothermal area further inside the park, the Sulphur Works. After a brief stop in the visitor center to ask questions and to change to our biking clothes, we unloaded the bikes from the back of our vehicle.
We started biking up a long slope to the Sulphur Works and after crossing a bridge, stopped to look at a bubbling mud pot. Then the road continues climbing again to an overlook with a view back to the visitor center. It then curves around Diamond Peak to point north and provide a view of Mount Lassen. We stopped along the way to take pictures and make adjustments to the bikes. We also got video footage of other bikes coming down the slope, besides our point-of-view footage using our GoPro cameras.
Mount Lassen dominates the view to the north and it’s a very distinct peak. Since it’s a volcano, it has that cone-like shape you’d expect, but on its southern slope are huge blocks of cooled lava that form a distinct wall downslope of the ridgeline. It gives Lassen’s southern face a look that really stands out.
After climbing up a great switchback, the most curvy part of the road south of the peak, we continued on the road reaching Emerald Lake. It was still filled in with snow with some melt water around the shore. A little farther along, we reached Lake Helen, a large body of water south of the Lassen peak. South of Lake Helen are some steep slopes.
We’ve skied the Lassen Park Road before and this part of the road always gives us some reason for concern. The winding road that leads up to Lake Helen often has snow piled up on the slope such that a slip with your skis could result in a very long slide down the slope below the road. Also, at Lake Helen, the slopes to the south often have overhanging cornices that could break off and tumble down the slope to the road that we’re skiing along.
After curling along the southern side of Lake Helen in an eastward direction, the road again curls northward and climbs to the Lassen Peak parking area, which is close to the highest point of the road. We biked up this slope that had snow on either side of the road and a plow parked partway up. We were on mountain bikes, but still felt a little embarrassed when a guy riding on a road bike passed us by. We consoled ourselves in thinking that his bike was lighter than ours were so it was easier for him.
When we reached the Lassen Peak parking area, we pulled in and looked it over a little bit and read the sign at the trailhead. The snowbank around the parking area was higher than the top of the sign. We could see from the tracks in the snow, that some were trying to climb to the peak even with the snow so deep.
Just a little distance past the parking area is the highest point along the Lassen Park Road. We reached it in short order, then had a long downhill in an eastward direction away from the peak. There were switchbacks farther down that slope as well, but these aren’t as tight as the switchback coming up the slope from the south entrance. Either way, reaching the high point of the road involves switchbacking.
We hoped to go farther along the road to the Devastated Area or even Manzanita Lake, but we didn’t arrive at the park as early as we wanted, so we turned around at the Kings Creek Trailhead turnout and climbed back toward the high point of the road in order to get back to the car before sunset.
We’ve since found out that Lassen gets more snow than almost any other location in California. The road east of the road’s high point had lots of snow even though we were doing this ride in June. As we rode back up the switchbacks to the high point, there was enough snow that we couldn’t see over the banks. By this point, we weren’t so interested in taking too many photos and wanted to get GoPro point-of-view video footage, so we didn’t stop as often. Plus, the sun was getting closer to the western horizon so still photography wasn’t such a priority.
After the high point, we didn’t stop at the Lassen Peak trail parking area and looked forward to some fast downhill stretches getting back to the car. We discussed any upcoming shots we wanted to get with the GoPros before we started getting up to speed. We got footage looking back at the rider, trailing the rider from behind, and following the rider from the side, right and left.
Before continuing past Lake Helen, we stopped to get pictures of the lake filled in with snow and a blue ring of melt water around it. The white snow with a light blue ring looked very interesting, especially with Lassen Peak looming over it.
We hit the switchbacks after Emerald Lake, but had to use brakes to prevent building up too much speed because there was water on the road from snow melting off of the snow banks that caused us concern about slipping. When we got back to the Sulphur Works, we were in deepening shadows as the sun got lower and there were lots of hikers hurrying down the road back to their cars.
We arrived at our car while it was still bright enough to see what we were doing as we loaded the bikes back onto the car rack. Then we changed out of our biking clothes at the visitor center’s bathroom before making the drive back to Sacramento.