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Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park

The striking colours of volcanic ash dunes are especially spectacular during glow hour


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Lassen National Park in Northern California is one of the least visited due to its remoteness. The park features snow-covered volcano peaks, colorful geothermal areas, wildflower meadows, and clear mountains lakes. One of the most beloved and popular areas is located on the northeastern corner of the park—the Cinder Cone surrounded by Fantastic Lava Beds and striking Painted Dunes. The last ones are multicolored pumice fields, which formed by oxidation of volcanic ash that fell out of volcanic eruptions. As the ash fell on the lava flows when they were still hot, it influenced the colour and brightness of the area. A great hiking trail that leads to the top of the 200 meters high Cinder Cone volcano opens an amazing landscape to marvel at.

Though climbing the Cone is a real challenge, it's really worth it. Due to loose rocks the hike looks like one step forward and a half step back. The Painted Dunes can be found down the southeastern face of the Cider Cone, beyond the Fantastic Lava Beds. The view from the top of the Cone over colorful ash dunes is truly fascinating. For the most part of the year you can't access the area very easily.

The best time to visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park is late spring, summer, and autumn, namely May through October, as during the other months, the visitor centre is closed and some areas have limited accessibility due to road closures. During the summer season, the afternoons feature complete shade over the dunes, so try to arrive earlier. The most magical time to see the Painted Dunes occurs during "glow hour." It starts about 15 minutes after sunset and sends soft light over the dunes creating jaw-dropping scenery. Fall is probably the best season to catch that evening color magic.

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