We’re staying in the mountains in Northern California, and when we checked out the fun things to do nearby, we realized we’re near a place called Lassen Volcanic National Park. The name alone was very intriguing to us – I mean, anything with volcanoes sounds interesting! – so we decided to go see what there was to do.
We packed a lunch and headed out, hoping to have a picnic and to do some hiking! After a short drive, we made it to the Kohm Yah-man-nee Visitor Center and ate our lunch at one of the picnic tables. The kids had fun looking at all the rock formation exhibits outside. Have I mentioned how much we, i.e., our kids, LOVE rocks? We pretty much have to stop them from collecting rock samples at every place we stop…I finally told them we don’t need to collect rocks from gravel bags used to line the RV sites at some of the parks where we’ve stayed.
After lunch, we headed inside to check out the exhibits and to ask about trails that made sense for our family’s hiking ability and for the time left in the afternoon. We especially enjoyed the rainwater runoff exhibit that projected a water flow map onto a sand bed that you could shape to represent different terrains. The kids had a lot of fun re-shaping the landscape and then seeing how the rainwater runoff changed.
The afternoon was getting away from us, so I asked a ranger about good hikes for our family, and he directed us to the hike to Devil’s Kitchen as several of the other thermal areas were closed. He said it was a fairly easy hike with some pretty scenery and thermals as the payoff. The only issue was that it was about an hour and a half drive to the trailhead, and sunset was only a few hours away. We didn’t understand how it could take ninety minutes to go roughly forty-five miles.
Once we turned off the main road in Chester, CA, we found out why the drive would take so long: the speed limit was low, the road was narrow and winding with cabins along it, and much of it was a pretty rough, dirt road. After the drive, we made a quick pitstop at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch and learned that you can make reservations to eat dinner there after your hike. You do need to make reservations before the day of your hike, though, and you should plan your hike so you’re done in time for dinner. In our case, we were racing the sun the whole time, so dinner wouldn’t have been an option for us anyway. We did learn that you can use the pool which becomes a giant hot tub at night due to the naturally hot water even if you’re not an overnight guest – all you have to do is make dinner reservations.
The hike in was beautiful with lots of trees, streams, and wildlife to see, including a snake, dragonflies, other insects, and even some horses on the trail. Everyone enjoyed the hike, although we had a lot of incidents with sticks because all four kids kept finding and using sticks to help them walk – at one point early on, Kinsey somehow managed to hit herself in the face with her own stick!
It took us about an hour and a half to make it to Devil’s Kitchen. It was really funny as we approached it because Kinsey asked where the food place was – she thought we were hiking to an ACTUAL kitchen 😂! We spent about an hour checking out the thermal features before heading back to the car. We had hoped we could hike out faster than we hiked in, but it still took us almost an hour and a half to get back to the trailhead, finishing the last twenty minutes or so of the trail by moonlight.
All in all, we had a great time at Devil’s Kitchen and look forward to exploring other parts of Lassen Volcanic National Park next time.