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Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California 2024

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

Best time: May–October

Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park

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.

Practical info

What is the best time to visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park?

Late spring, summer and autumn, particularly May through October, are the best months to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park when the weather is mild and all park facilities are open. During winter, the park is snowbound, and the visitor center is closed. Other seasonal restrictions and road closures make the park less accessible during other months. Show more

What makes the view of Painted Dunes so special?

The Painted Dunes display multicolored pumice fields with vibrant hues such as yellow, pink, and red due to the oxidation of volcanic ash. The volcanic eruptions caused the ash, and the area's variety of colors remain unchanged throughout the years. The view from the Cinder Cone volcano's top over the colorful ash dunes is unique, breathtaking, and otherworldly. Show more

How difficult is the hike to the top of the Cinder Cone volcano?

Reaching the top of the Cinder Cone volcano is a challenging but worthwhile hike. The trail covers four kilometers upward by 200 meters. As the hike is steep and with loose rocks, footing can be challenging, especially in the last sections that are steeper, which may cause dizziness or shortness of breath. Show more

When is the visitor center of the park closed?

Due to snowbound roads, the visitor center of Lassen Volcanic National Park is closed throughout winter from late October to about May. The visitor facilities like the trails, campgrounds, and roads are either wholly or partially closed, depending on the overall accessibility during this period. Visitors are encouraged to check the park website for updated details before planning their visit. Show more

What is the best season to witness the evening color magic in the park?

Fall offers the best season to experience the most magical time in Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is the' glow hour,' occurring about 15 minutes after sunset. During this period, the sun is below the horizon, creating soft light over the Painted Dunes, resulting in a jaw-dropping backdrop. However, during the summer season, complete shading emerges over the dunes in the afternoon, making it better to arrive before noon. Show more

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