Some national parks have a day or weekend at the beginning or end of the regular season when roads that are covered in snow during the winter are cleared and ready for cars. But before cars are allowed to enter, hikers and cyclists can use the road without the presence of cars. Crater Lake has a weekend before the rim road is closed during the season where bicyclists can ride the road without any cars on the road, before the road is closed to everyone, in September. Lassen Volcanic National Park has such a day at the beginning of the season, just after the roads are cleared of snow in the spring. This day is called the Walk and Bike Event. In 2016, it was held on June 11 and we made a day trip from Sacramento to participate.
We start at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center at the southern end of the park. We could see that the path into the park was closed after the entrance station and there was a line of hikers on the path leading to the geothermal area further into the park, Sulfur Works. After a brief stop at the visitor center to ask questions and change out of our cycling gear, we unloaded the bikes from the back of our vehicle.
We started biking up a long incline to the Sulfur Works and after crossing a bridge, we stopped to look at a bubbling clay pot. The path then continues up again to a lookout overlooking the visitor center. It then curves around Diamond Peak to point north and offers 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, in addition to our point of view footage using our GoPro cameras.
Mount Lassen dominates the view to the north and is a very distinct peak. Since it’s a volcano, it’s that cone-shaped you’d expect, but on its southern slope are huge blocks of cooled lava that form a distinct wall down the ridge. It gives the southern face of Lassen a look that really stands out.
After climbing a big switchback, the most winding part of the path south of the peak, we continued on the path that led to Emerald Lake. It was still full of snow with some melt water around the edge. A little further on we come to Lake Helen, a large body of water south of Lassen Peak. South of Lake Helen there are some steep slopes.
We have skied Lassen Park Road before and this part of the road always gives us cause for concern. The winding road that leads to Lake Helen often has snowpack on the slope, so a slip on 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 ledges that could break off and fall down the slope to the road we are skiing on.
After turning along the south side of Lake Helen in an easterly direction, the road turns north again and climbs to the Lassen Peak parking area, which is near the highest point of the road. We biked up this slope that had snow on both sides of the road and a snowplow parked in the middle. We were riding mountain bikes, but we still felt a bit embarrassed when a guy riding a road bike passed us. We consoled ourselves with the thought that his bike was lighter than ours, so it was easier for him.
When we got to the Lassen Peak parking area, we stopped and looked at it for a bit and read the sign at the trailhead. The snow bank 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 top even in such deep snow.
A short distance from the parking area is the highest point along Lassen Park Road. We reached it in no time, then had a long descent in an easterly direction away from the peak. There were switchbacks further down that slope as well, but these aren’t as tight as the switchback up the slope from the south entrance. Either way, reaching the highest point on the road involves changing direction.
We had hoped to go further down the trail to the Devastated Area or even Manzanita Lake, but we didn’t get to the park as early as we wanted, so we turned around at the Kings Creek Trailhead turnoff and headed back up towards the highest point of the road to return to the car before sunset.
Since then, we’ve found that Lassen gets more snow than almost anywhere else in California. The trail east of the trail high point had a lot of snow even though we were doing this trip in June. As we made our way back up the switchbacks to the highest point, there was just enough snow that we couldn’t see over the banks. At this point, we weren’t that interested in taking too many photos and wanted to get video footage from GoPro’s point of view, so we didn’t stop as often. Also, the sun was getting closer to the western horizon, so still photography was not a priority.
After the high point we did not stop at the Lassen Peak trailhead parking area and expected a few quick downhill sections to get back to the car. We discussed the next shots we wanted to get with the GoPros before we started catching up. We obtained images looking back at the cyclist, following the cyclist from behind, and following the cyclist from the side, left and right.
Before continuing past Helen Lake, we stopped to take pictures of the snow-filled lake 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 got into the turns after Emerald Lake but had to use the brakes to keep from picking up speed too much because there was water on the road from melting snow from the snowbanks that we were worried about slipping. When we got back to the Sulfur Works we were in deepening shadows as the sun went down and there were lots of hikers hurrying up the driveway back to their cars.
We got to our car when it was still light enough to see what we were doing as we loaded the bikes back onto the rack. We then changed out of our biking clothes in the visitor center bathroom before heading back to Sacramento.