Frozen Lake Helen
While late Spring is a bit early in the year to fully experience everything Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California has to offer, there is a peacefulness and a quiet that settles over the Park that I find very enjoyable. As the cold mountain air makes camping unpalatable to most casual travelers, and the freshly plowed roads make crossing the summit an adventure, it’s easy to find yourself alone when driving through one of the criminally underrated parks in the National Parks system.
Located beneath the summit, along the main park road that winds up and over the saddle beneath Lassen Peak, Lake Helen makes for a great roadside stop to gaze upon the snowmelt-fed blue waters of this mountain lake. When I passed through the park in June of 2012, The majority of the snow had thawed on the mountain and the lake was just starting to make an appearance through the melting ice flows on top of it.
I remember wandering the shoreline across the hard packed snow in shorts and a t-shirt, being careful not to slip and fall into the frigid blue waters, enjoying the serenity of the moment. Lassen feels so isolated, so removed from the bustle of so many places in California, and in the U.S. in general. There, along a main road through a National Park, I was entirely alone, able to breathe in the cool mountain air and listen to the newly returned birds as they chirped from mountain pines.
I would love to return to Lassen later in the season, when the Bumpass Hell is open and I can truly appreciate all the cool hidden things this “Yellowstone of California” has to offer, but for now, I hold onto the memory of that day in early June, when it was nice to just be alone next to a lake on a volcano.