Hiking to Ridge Lakes at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Published: June 23rd 2020
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It's mid-June at Lassen Volcanic National Park, and most of the trails are open. Unfortunately, Bumpass Hell Trail hasn't opened yet due to snow cover. That trail leads to Bumpass Hell, which, as I understand it, is an area with steam vents, hot springs, and mud pots. There is a boardwalk for people to walk over and see the features. To get there, you need to hike for about a mile on Bumpass Hell Trail. During our drive through the park yesterday, we stopped and checked out the trail head. It was still covered under a thick blanket of snow, so I think it will be a while before it opens. I believe there is another way there, through the Kings Creek Trail, but that route is much longer.

We stopped and visited the rangers outside of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center this morning. As part of their phased opening from COVID19, I'd read that the rangers would be available outside of the visitor centers between 10am and 2pm, Fridays through Sundays for the Junior Ranger program. The kids showed off their completed Junior Ranger books and were sworn is as Junior Rangers at Lassen Volcanic National Park. They each received a nice wooden Junior Ranger badge (the ranger held out a bucket, and the kids each selected one). After their swearing in, I asked the ranger for a recommendation on what to see with Bumpass Hell Trail closed off. She recommended Sulfur Works. We visited Sulfur Works yesterday, but I thanked her for her recommendation.

Afterwards, I was checking out the map, and I saw a trail that leads from Sulfur Works to Ridge Lakes. All I knew of the trail was from the map. I saw that the trail was 1.1 miles, and half of it was highlighted in red, which means you need to be careful to stay on the trail due to hydrothermal activity. I thought this meant we'd see more features like steam vents on the trail, so we decided to check it out. The trail head starts by the bathrooms at the parking lot for Sulfur Works.

Immediately, we started on a steep incline up. After we climbed for a bit, the trail turned northeast. We were well above the road, but we followed the road for a short while (maybe 1/8 of a mile). This allowed us to see Sulfur Works from above. We were at a greater distance, but we could see everything at a new angle. It was neat! Sulfur Works was the only hydrothermal activity we saw. So, don't expect to hike this trail and see more steam vents or anything.

Before the trail turned west, away from the road below, there was a brief period we hiked where there was a a drop-off to the left. It wasn't a total drop off, but it was an extremely steep slope. As a parent, it's a little nerve-wracking having your kids hike where they can't really make mistakes. I continually reminded them to focus on where they were walking. It was a brief part of the trail, but I was glad when it was over!

Once the trail turned, it essentially did switchbacks up the mountain. I had no idea our climb would be so steep, and the steepness of the climb reminded me of the hike to Hanging Lake in Colorado. Joanna started to really struggle, and we had to stop every 1/10 of a mile for a rest. I was OK with that rest, as my thighs were on fire from the steep climb. We enjoyed some views of the trees and rocks. Andrew thought he spotted an igneous extrusion.

When we were about 2/3 of the way to the lakes, Joanna had a brief cry on the trail. She said she couldn't do it, and it was too hard. We then let her set the pace. We rested frequently, sometimes only walking from one shady patch to the next.

We passed a German couple who were hiking down the trail. I asked if the trail continued to be this steep. They said yes, it did, and they actually turned back because the trail turned to snow and they didn't have the correct shoes for it. I had our generic Yak Tracks in my hiking backpack, so we pressed on.

It was a warm, sunny day at Lassen. When we reached the snowy parts of the path, the parts in the shade were hard and iced over. Most of the snow on the path, however, was actually in the sun. We quickly realized that the top few inches were starting to melt and turn to slick mush on top of frozen snow. We could see where people had slipped and coasted down part of the mountain on their behinds. It wasn't a drop-off, but more like a 30 foot sledding hill before it leveled out a bit below. This meant we probably wouldn't get injured if we slipped, but it would be difficult to climb back up from a slip in the slick snow. We attached our Yak Tracks (excuse me, our OuterStar Ice & Snow Grips) and proceeded across the snowy trail. There were stretches of this section without snow, but the recently melted snow had left gravel (scree) all over the trail, making it easy to lose your footing.

It was slow moving, but we finally reached Ridge Lakes. Honestly, even though the hike wasn't long, I think it was the most challenging hike I've ever done. We later learned that we climbed over 1,000 feet over those 1.1 miles. It wasn't just the steepness of the trail that was challenging, but the environment we hiked in. The scree, icy snow, melting snow, heat, and incline added up. When we made it to the lakes, I think we felt both relief and triumph. The kids were so proud of themselves, and Oliver decided the lakes were some of the most beautiful he'd ever seen.

We had the lake area to ourselves while we were there. The kids dipped their feet in the lakes for a while. They said it was very cold, and I took their word for it. We relaxed, took in the beauty of the area, ate a few snacks, and got hydrated for the hike down.

The hike down went so fast, even though we tried to take it slow. Even though we passed through much faster without stops, I was no longer struggling and noticed more of the trees and rock formations on the way down than I did on the way up. The forested part of the trail is really lovely. Near the end of the trail, just before it bends back to the decline to the parking lot, we noticed a large mammal blocking our path! Thankfully, it was a deer we took by surprise. We were about 25 feet away from it when we noticed it, which is actually quite close. We wouldn't have gone that close to it on purpose, and we stopped as soon as we saw it. The doe was surprised for a moment, but when we stopped, it immediately went back to eating. We watched it for a few minutes, and then it left down the side, away from the road.

When we made it back to the trail head, I checked the time. It had taken us 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete the hike. We estimated it was about 1 hour and 45 minutes to the top for us (with all of our breaks), about 20 minutes at the lake, and about 40 minutes back down.

We stopped back at the visitor's center on our way out. We each got an ice cream from a freezer case there. I stopped to read the billboard about the trails, and I saw that the Ridge Lakes Trail was one of two trails at the park rated a level 4 difficulty (the other being Brokeoff Mountain). Online, the National Parks has the trails listed on a 3 point scale, and it's one of four hikes at the park that is rated a 3 (the others being Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Peak, and Prospect Peak). So, while it's a short hike, it's certainly a challenging one, especially with the snow!

When we got back, we went to say hi to Paul and Colleen. We showed them some photos of our hike and had a quick lunch (grilled cheese and soup, yum!). Then we showered, and I napped in the AC. We had a quiet rest of our day. Later, Andrew and Colleen went to pick up a pizza. She got some cookies to do a little bit of an early birthday celebration as well (Andrew's birthday is tomorrow!). By the next morning, we felt fully recovered. The hike to Ridge Falls was challenging but absolutely worth it.

There are more photos of our Ridge Lakes Trail hike below.

Additional photos below
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Joanna on the Ridge Lakes TrailJoanna on the Ridge Lakes Trail
Joanna on the Ridge Lakes Trail

She wanted her picture with this rock.

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