July 17, 2010
In mid-July, Cristin and I went and tried her first backpacking trip. My goal was to find a route that would be both relatively easy, but also fairly epic. I wanted to show her that backpacking gave you access to areas that you wouldn't necessarily otherwise get a chance to see, but I didn't want to make the trip terribly difficult.
I had backpacked in this area once before and knew roughly what to expect, so my selected route was to hike in from the separate northern Butte Lake entrance to Lassen Park, down past the Cinder Cone Volcano, over the Fantastic Lava Beds, camp and swim alongside the crystal clear Snag Lake, and then back again alongside Butte Lake the whole way.
The trip went very well. The Cinder Cone was the only real elevation, and while it's quite steep and difficult (loose scree), it's only about 800 ft of climbing and it's optional. You can walk around the base of it instead very easily. The route is ~6 miles the first day and I think around 8 or so the second. Below is a quick map of the trail we took. The blue line cut out just a little before returning to the start point because my phone ran out of juice, but the trail follows along Butte Lake all the way around.
I'd recommend clicking through to the map and viewing a larger version. The most interesting features are around the halfway point on Day 1 (red line): namely the Cinder Cone and Fantastic Lava Beds. Cristin was also particularly excited about being able to take a swim in Snag Lake at the end of the day.
Note that most of Day 1 is fairly exposed terrain. The elevation is about 6,000 ft, so it's not necessarily hot, but it can be. The western edge of snag lake has lots of available shade to camp within however.
The eastern side of this hike is more shaded, but does not have any particularly interesting features, other than a pretty lake view. If you want a shorter hike back out, repeat your route in along the western path. When we went, the eastern side was a bit wet. We did run into some mosquitos in a few spots, whereas the rest of the trip seemed to be mosquito free.
Anyway, if you are looking for a good easy backpacking trip that is certainly Epic, I'd definitely recommend this one.