The Bumpass Hell Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most popular, family-friendly trails in the park. Traversing alongside a mountain before heading into the forest, the trail enters a fantastic area of geothermal features that is so colorful and active that you simply won’t believe your eyes. It is also the largest hydrothermal area in the park.
First discovered in 1864 by Kendall Vanhook Bumpass while looking for lost cattle, Kendall broke through the crust and burnt his foot. After telling about his experience (to “Hell”), a local newspaper writer asked him to take him back to the area. This time, Kendall as not so “lucky,” as he broke through the crust and sustained enough of a burn that it caused him to have his leg amputated.
We hiked the Bumpass Hell Trail as a family several years ago. The trail has undergone renovations, which started in 2018 and are scheduled to be completed in the summertime of 2019. This top-rated trail promises to be one of the most memorable events of your entire visit to this lightly-visited park in northern California.
If you plan on visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park, make sure you put this phenomenal experience on your agenda. It is one of our most memorable hikes of all time (even without breaking through the crust, which we strongly recommend avoiding!), and we are sure you’ll enjoy it too!
BUMPASS HELL TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Distance: 2.7 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Out-and-back
- Elevation gain: 439 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 8,385 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Early summer to fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 8:30 am or after 4:00 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed:5 hours
The Bumpass Hell Trail is one of many great day-hikes covered in our downloadable itinerary for Lassen Volcanic National Park. Not only do we rank the best hikes to do in the park, we cover all sections of the park and discuss what to pack, where to stay, what to do while you are in the area and the best things to do inside the park.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE BUMPASS HELL TRAIL
Bumpass Hell Parking Area, Courtesy of the National Park Service
The Bumpass Hell Trailhead starts at the Bumpass Hell parking area, which is located on Lassen Park Road approximately 5.9 miles northeast of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. From outside the park, the shortest way of getting to the trail is from southern entrance station. Even though it isn’t far from the main entrance, you should allow about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the trail due to the slow speeds on Lassen Park Road, traffic and any other quick stops you may want to make along the way.
- Directions from the southwest entrance to the Bumpass Hell Trail (this will take about 15 minutes)
- Directions from the Manzanita entrance station to the Bumpass Hell Trail (this will take about 45-50 minutes)
The Bumpass Trail parking lot has about 65 parking spots. While this is quite a bit for a hiking trail, the spots fill up very quickly, particularly in the morning. We recommend getting to the parking area by around 8:30 in the morning if you want to hike without waiting (or even earlier). Once 10:00 comes, there should be a spot opening up about every 3-5 minutes, so if you are patient then you will likely be able to find a spot.
There are restrooms (clean pit toilets) at the trailhead but no restrooms once you get on the trail.
HIKING ON THE BUMPASS HELL TRAIL
Bumpass Hell Trail Map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Before starting off, make sure you are prepared. The trail is mostly exposed, meaning that you’ll need to make sure you have sunblock if you are going in the summertime. The sun is particularly strong at the end destination, as it reflects across the crusty earth and will give you quite the burn. Also, make sure you have proper hiking shoes. While the trail is well-groomed, it does require good footwear. Hiking shoes or sneakers are fine, but open-toed shoes are not recommended.
The trail starts right from the parking lot and heads along Lassen Park Road for the first 0.2 miles. On the left are views of Lassen Peak and Lake Helen. Lake Helen is a dark blue glacial lake named for the first woman to summit Lassen Peak (which occurred in 1864).
After heading south and away from the main park road, the trail starts to head uphill alongside Bumpass Mountain. The incline is slow and the trail only gains about 200 feet as it gets to nearly 8,900 feet in elevation.
About 0.7 miles into the hike is the overlook. This is a great place to stop if you are in need of a break (on the way out or back) and has great views of the Diller and Brokeoff Mountains.
After the overlook, you’ll climb for another 0.3 miles. At this point, the destination becomes visible as the trail descends nearly 200 feet down to the boardwalk. You’ll know your getting close to the summit of the hike when the smell gets more intense! This is a great spot for photos-make sure you take them on the way in and on the way out as the colors can change as the sun moves in the sky.
After arriving at Bumpass Hell, you’ll arrive at a boardwalk that directs hikers throughout the area. You’ll pass over running water (don’t touch it, though-it’s hot!), walk near very active mudpots, steam vents and fumaroles. The smell is pretty rancid, so just be prepared!
I’d like to say that you’ll get used to it after a while, but it doesn’t get much easier with time. However, just make sure you enjoy the beautiful view that looks to be from another world.
RETURNING FROM BUMPASS HELL
When hiking, what comes down must go back up. The trail from Bumpass Hell heads up fairly quickly after leaving the boardwalk. However, after the initial climb, most of the rest of the trail is downhill on the way back.
ALTERNATE ROUTES TO BUMPASS HELL
There are a couple of other ways of getting to Bumpass Hell, with the most convenient being hiking in from the Kings Creek Parking area. This is about 6 miles east on Lassen Park Road. This hike is 5.2 miles round-trip and also passes by Cold Boiling Lake, which occasionally has bubbles coming up on the side of the lake. This trail can also be busy, so just be prepared.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a gem that few people visit. We highly recommend visiting, and if you do, the Bumpass Hell Trail is an absolute must as it is simply one of the best hikes in Lassen! Make sure you take your camera as you will be able to get unbelievable photos.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- We have a complete guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park the we recommend checking out. It includes what to pack, ideas on where to stay, the most popular day-hikes (in ranked order and what to see while in the area.
- In addition to custom posters, we also have an extensive collection of WPA-style National Park posters, including one of Bumpass Hell.
- Once you return from your trip, contact us and we’ll work with you to create a vintage-style travel poster from your photo. We know you’ll love this one-of-a-kind memory!