Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Stop and smell the thermals at Lassen Volcanic National Park

October 12, 2009, 7:56 am
At about 9,000 feet, the persistently steep trail up Brokeoff Mountain levels off at the edge of an abyss. To the northeast, framed between jagged cliffs, sits hulking Lassen Peak, a dozing volcano more than 1,000 feet higher, still mostly bare of trees and cloaked in gray dust from its last big eruption, 94 years ago.

The sight could inspire an overcaffeinated Type-A tourist from the East Coast to renounce his BlackBerry and become a California mountain bum. Cellphones rarely work around here, anyway. When you’re in these mountains the office back home can’t tug your leash.
This remote volcanic landscape, 240 miles northeast of San Francisco, is among the least visited of the country’s big national parks. Just 377,000 people came here last year, according to the National Park Service. Three million went to Yellowstone. At 106,000 acres, Lassen is more than twice the size of Acadia National Park in Maine, but sees less than a fifth of Acadia’s 2 million tourists.

Lassen’s elbow room is a relief for anyone who has idled in Yellowstone’s “wildlife traffic,’’ or queued up for a parking space at a Grand Canyon scenic overlook.