Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to smoking fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), mud pots, boiling pools, lush meadows, streams, crystal clear lakes, and towering volcanoes. It is also home to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, a 110-yr-old mountain hideaway, where a friend and I recently spent a couple rustic nights in a bungalow below the stars.
One of the many highlights of our visit was a memorable hike to Devils Kitchen, a steamy mountain patch surrounded by boiling mudpots, hydrothermal vents and natural springs. To get here we hiked about an hour through lovely Warner Valley meadows and forests. The journey took us over wooden bridges, past lonely creeks and through marsh and thick woodlands to an eerily beautiful area, encompassed by crackled yellow and red mounds of earth erupting with streams steam. As the steam swirls into the air it hisses and plops and sounds like the earth is cooking.
The volcanic park’s unique hydrothermal system is caused when rain and snow water fall and seep deep into the ground and is heated by hot molten rock beneath Lassen Peak. Rising hot water boils to form boiling pools and mud pots. Super-heated steam reaches the surface through fractures in the earth to form fumaroles like those at Devil’s Kitchen.
And speaking of kitchens, Drakesbad has got a pretty good one of its own. In fact, the ranch is a bit of a dichotomy: it offers rustic living on the one hand, but boasts top-shelf, gourmet cuisine on the other. This is great because breakfast, lunch and dinner are all included with the price of the room.
We enjoyed a prime (rib) example of the food on our second night at the lodge. This feast began with a lettuce wedge salad with blue cheese, vinaigrette, avocado and bacon. This was followed by succulent, oven roasted Angus prime rib with fingerling potatoes, broccoli, beef au jus sauce and beaver’s horseradish.
After dinner, we soaked in Drakesbad’s natural and therapeutic, hot springs pool. Back at the room, we lit the kerosene lanterns and I fell asleep reading a classic novel. In the morning we devoured a great county breakfast in the lodge and then walked over to the stables and saddled up for a horseback ride to Terminal Geyser.
Horses have been a part of Drakesbad since the early 1900’s. The ranch offers guided trail rides (check website for pricing) for beginners and experts. Ours 3-hour trek through the forest and meadows came with post card views of Lassen Peak, nearby Lake Almanor, and glorious fields of Mule Ears flowers.
After the ride, we enjoyed a tasty lunch with soup and sandwiches at the lodge and then tried our hand at archery. We concluded the afternoon on our balcony watching marmots and deer graze on the wild grass a few feet from us.
Other fun activities and Drakesbad include fishing expeditions, massage treatments, and numerous things for the kids such as treasure hunts, arts and crafts, “ice cream socials,” and star gazing nights.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch is located in Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. The ranch is open June 7 – October 14. All meals are included with price of room and kids stay free. For more information on visiting Drakesbad Guest Ranch, call (866) 999-0914 or visit www.drakesbad.com