Living in California, you can’t ignore its magnificently beautiful nature (notice the hyperbole here, but it is indeed really pretty!). To be honest, before moving to California, I was more of a city person that outdoors when it comes to traveling. Browse my old travel blog posts, you’d see very few nature-related travel.
But I now live in such close proximity to nature. It is so easily accessible, so it triggers my curiosity. Slowly, my interest began to shift and I began to include a nature spot on my travels. When it comes to building an itinerary, I even found a formula that I really enjoy! That is, to visit a nature spot, but stay in the closest big city, so that I can also explore the city life.
Initially, we wanted to visit Yosemite National Park for R’s birthday trip. National parks and outdoor recreation sites have reopened, though some, like Yosemite, have restrictions. Long story short, we weren’t lucky enough to secure an entry pass for the dates that we wanted, so we had to find other destinations for this trip. This time, we decided to do a road trip, because we don’t feel safe enough to travel by airplane and we still want to limit our contact with other people.
R suggested that we go to Lassen Volcanic National Park, located in Northern California. It’s a long drive, about 9 hours from where we live in Southern California. I initially chose King’s Canyon National Park to substitute Yosemite since I’ve never heard about Lassen before, but since it’s his birthday, I let him make the decision.
So off we go. Here’s our itinerary, which I’ll detail in the following sections.
Day 01: Orange County – Sacramento – Redding (via I-5 North)
Day 02: Redding – Burney Falls – Lassen Volcanic National Park – Reno
Day 03: Reno – Orange County (via US 395 South with few stops)
We left our house before sunrise, and drove all the way to Sacramento. It was perfect timing because we arrived there right for lunch time. We had lunch at Fixins Soul Kitchen and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while! So glad my Yelp search led me to this restaurant.
After lunch we decided to walk around downtown Sacramento for a bit, stopping by California’s state capitol building. Didn’t spend too much time here, because we were still 2,5 hours away from Redding, where we were going to spend the night.
I didn’t do a lot of research about Redding because I thought we were only going to be there to sleep and eat, recharging ourselves before the Lassen trip. Turns out that our hotel was only 5 minutes away from a very interesting spot – The Turtle Bay Exploration Park. The park has a cool bridge, called The Sundial Bridge, a popular sunset spot for locals. I was quite surprised to see the amount of people that showed up to watch the sunset, but thankfully we were still able to properly social distancing and still enjoy our time at the park.
The big exploration day! we left Redding right after breakfast and headed to our first destination, Burney Falls, an hour away. Burney Falls itself can be a whole separate trip because it has a lot of interesting spots like a bicycle trail, a lake, and camping grounds. Since it’s not in our main agenda, we were only there for the waterfalls. Getting to the waterfall was very convenient, it took us only 5 minutes from our car to the falls. The waterfall was beautiful! It wasn’t big but quite majestic, something that I definitely haven’t seen in a while.
We didn’t spend much time at Burney Falls because it was almost noon and we still need to go to Lassen – the “main attraction” for this trip. It took us 45 minutes to get to the visitor center, and if you are new to National Parks like myself, I suggest making it your first stop during your visit. At the visitor center you’ll find all the information you need to plan your visit, updated timely. You can also meet the park rangers and ask any questions or receive suggestions about your trip. They’re really helpful! It’s unfortunate that some of the services were closed due to the coronavirus but we were still able to enjoy our visit, while carefully social distancing.
What does visiting a national park during a pandemic look like?, you might ask. Well, like I said, expect to see some attractions/point of interests closed, so always visit the visitor center to get full information. Always wear your mask, and just maintain your usual hygiene procedures. Maybe because the park is too big and I spent my time mostly outdoors, but I felt safe enough during my visit, I did see some groups of people (families mostly) but I was never close enough to them, and we were all minding our own businesses.
Now, about Lassen. I feel like this park is totally underrated! Lassen was really beautiful, it was easy to get around the park, there were lots of activities, with different levels of difficulties, to choose from! In the 5 hours that we spent there, we managed to do some easy hikes, saw a hydrothermal site, relax by the lake, drive a scenic route, and take a lot of pictures! We even wanted to summit the Lassen Peak but failed, as the hike was too advanced for us. But all in all, we truly enjoyed our time there at definitely would recommend, especially for those in close proximity. The only thing is, Lassen is far from Southern California, so we don’t know when can we be back again.
Like I mentioned before, the ideal formula for a nature trip to us is to stay in nearby city, so we can also explore the city life. Thus, we decided to spend the night in Reno, Nevada. Just because we’ve never been ;).
It normally would take us 2,5 hours to get to Reno, but because there was a road closure due to forest fire, we had to make a detour, adding another 1 hour to our drive. We arrived at Reno just after sunset, did a quick drive around downtown to see the city lights (I guess most casinos were closed? we stayed in the car but the city felt super empty), and grab to-go Chinese food before checking in to the hotel. What a long but satisfying day!
We allocated the day just to go home. We chose to take a scenic route by the Eastern Sierra Mountains where we knew that we would be able to visit a couple of attractions on the way. It took us 11 hours in total, including lunch and a couple of pitstops in between. Lucky that R loves to drive so he didn’t mind the long drive 😛
For reference, we stopped by Mono Lake, June Lake Loop, and the city of Bishop on our way home. Of all three, I really loved June Lake Loop area. It is located near Yosemite’s East entrance so those of you who are visiting Yosemite definitely can add this spot to your itinerary!
June Lake Loop are is really a hidden gem, imagine driving “in the middle of nowhere”, to suddenly find a couple of beautiful lakes and an actual town with resorts and small businesses. I think I’ll be back and stay in the area for a mountain getaway.
To answer my initial question, YES, Lassen Volcanic National Park is worth the long drive from Southern California. I hope this post can inspire you to visit, thanks for reading! 🙂