About the Site
Lassen Volcanic National Park  


Park History

Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak Summit

Chaos Crags

Manzanita Lake



Park Mountains

Sulphur Works

Volcanic Remnants

Southwest Area

Park Road


Plants & Animals


Although less well known than many other national parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park, located in north central California at the southern end of the Cascade mountain range, is one of the most beautiful and interesting of America's parks. It is the only national park in the contiguous 48 states containing a volcano which has erupted in the twentieth century (as Mt. St. Helens is a "Volcanic National Monument").

The park's 160,000 acres--150 square miles--contain spectacular mountain lakes, creeks, elevations ranging from 5,300 to over 10,000 feet, and many trails. The park contains a wide variety of nearly every volcanic known feature. The centerpiece of the park is the 10,457 foot volcano, known as Lassen Peak, and seen from Manzanita Lake above. The stone entrance sign in the southwest area of the park is known as the Raker Memorial, which was built in 1931.

The park is a living museum of vulcanism. It contains all four of the world's known types of volcanoes--stratovolcanoes, volcanic domes, shield volcanoes, and cinder cones. There are various types of hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, vents, and other geothermal features. Areas which bear the scars of past volcanic activity are also numerous, such as Chaos Crags and Chaos Jumbles (shown below).

Lassen Peak came to the attention of the nation during the second decade of the twentieth century. From 1914 through 1917 Lassen erupted on a number of occasions, expelling at various times steam, gas, lava, and hot rocks. The northeast flank of the mountain, which is shown below, was scoured clean by two of the eruptions in 1915 and resulting mudflows and a pyroclastic flow. Much of the area in the picture was completely barren following these two eruptions.

Park History

Before the arrival of the white man, the Lassen area was frequented by people from 4 Indian tribes--the Maidu (in the area south and east of the park), Atsugewi (who used park lands north and northeast of the peak as summer hunting, camping, and fishing ground), the Yana and the Yahi (in the foothills to the west). Indians ate acorns, fish, deer, edible insects, nuts, berries, roots, seeds, and leafy plants. Some caught 18 inch trout in Manzanita Lake. Lassen Peak was known by a number of names to native Americans, including Fire Mountain, Water Mountain, Little Shasta, and "The Long High Mountain That Was Broken."

However, the discovery of gold in California, where some gold was discovered near Lassen in 1848, drew many white inhabitants to the area and exerted a great deal of pressure on native inhabitants. Fur trappers unintentionally carried malaria to the peoples of the area. The Yani and Yahi largely disappeared by the late 1800s, although there are still Atsugewi in the area in the present day, who participate in public programs during summer months.

The peak itself was a landmark to early white inhabitants of California. It was called San Jose by Captain Don Luis Arguello who sighted the mountain in 1821. The famous explorer Jedediah Smith called it Mt. Joseph, when he passed by it in 1827, and later inhabitants knew it as Snow Butte. In 1841 a government exploring party named it Mt. St. Joseph. The name Lassen Peak came from area rancher and emigrant guide Peter Lassen, a Danish immigrant born in Copenhagen who explored and lived in the area in the early 1840's.

The first geological survey team, the California State Geological Survey, led by William H. Brewer, arrived in the Lassen area in 1863 and reached the summit. The area remained relatively isolated, however, although it was used for camping, recreation, and resort-oriented business ventures. Also, from the early 1860's there was grazing of cattle and sheep in future park lands, and this continued until the establishment of the park in the early 20th century.

Initially, the Lassen area escaped logging operations because of the lack of a mining industry, the area's relative inaccessibility, as well as poor quality of timber in local forests. By 1900, however, some timber operations threatened many of the forests in the Lassen area and generated considerable local sentiment for protecting it. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Lassen Peak Forest Reserve. Louis Barrett and other local citizens at that time asked the president to consider makaing the Lassen area as a national park. Ongoing preservation efforts resulted in the declaration by President Theodore Roosevelt of Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone as national monuments on May 6, 1907.

Lassen Peak was thought to be extinct by early pioneers, but it began a series of volcanic eruptions in 1914. An eruption which took place in 1915 ejected a column of smoke which climbed 5 miles and was visible for 50 miles in northern California. The eruptions, which were photographed by local businessman and photographer B.F. Loomis, made Lassen a national sensation--the U.S.'s only active volcano, and the subsequent attention spurred enthusiasm for the area as a national park. Three men were in particular responsible for promotion of the idea for the national park--John E. Raker, the local congressman and a conservationist, who introduced and reintroduced the bill to create the park; Michael E. Dittmar, a Redding journalist and investor, who promoted the idea to Raker after the eruptions; and Arthur L. Conard, a Red Bluff businessman, who served as spokesperson for the Lassen Volcanic National Park Comittee. The idea for a national park was supported by many locally , especially businesses that supported tourism, while opposition was derived principally stockmen and a few sportsmen.

Support for the idea eventually won out. Raker reintroduced his park bill 1915, and bill to create the park was passed by Congress and signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 9, 1916. The original size of the park was 79,561 acres (125 square miles). The original bill created a kind of hybrid national park/national forest, but this situation was cleared up when in 1931 uniform administration of the national park system was established.

In its early years the park was somewhat neglected by the government and little money was set aside for its administration. In 1919 stockmen attempted to have the park abolished, but their efforts did not succeed. Appropriations for the park were increased in 1925, and serious road building began in 1924-25, thanks in large part to the Lassen Volcanic National Park Association. Also in 1925, the National Park Service accepted full responsibility for administration of the park.

In 1929 the borders of the parkwere enlarged. The new land included the Manzanita Lake (shown below) and Reflection Lake areas as well as the Loomis Museum. Much of the land in this area was donated by Benjamin Loomis. Manzanita Lake itself was donated to the park in 1931 by Pacific Gas & Electric. Throughout the rest of the century the park continued to grow, adding features such as Terminal Geyser and Juniper Lake. The Sulphur Works area was acquired in 1952.

As with a number of other national parks, during the Depression Civilian Conservation Center personnel contributed a great deal to the park. In Lassen Volcanic National Park CCC workers installed power, water, and sewer systems. They built fire trails, worked on the construction of buildings, and graded banks. Their work continues to benefit users to this day.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2012

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