Lassen Park – Plug Domes, Boiling Mud Pots and Stinking Fumaroles
In June, we traveled to Lassen Volcanic Park in northern California to experience and hike one of the most under-appreciated National Park treasures in the United States. It is perfectly located on what we call the western National Park route that includes Crater Lake in Oregon, Redwood National and State Forest on the California coast and Yosemite National Park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is commonly referred to as Lassen Peak which is home to an active volcano that had its last major eruption in 1915. It boasts one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world. A plug dome, or lava dome, is a circular mound of thick lava that can’t travel far from its vented extrusion. Due to constant extrusions, sticky lava domes are formed that basically cool in place and “plug” the cinder dome.
Lassen Peak is still, to this day, considered an active volcano and traces of such are apparent with close and open views of boiling mud pots (see image), stinking fumaroles (open holes from which sulphur dioxide pushes upward and outward), and bubbling hot springs heated from the crust of the Earth.
Lassen Peak erupted in May, 1914 and continued for 7 years until 1921 with additional major and minor volcanic activity in between. The major eruption took place in 1915 when Lassen Peak blew its lid sending a mushroom cloud of volcanic ash 7 miles into the air.
However, while our Lassen Peak experience was magnificent, it is not Lassen that we want to talk about. We want to talk about our lodging accommodations while visiting Lassen.
St. Bernard Lodge – One-of-a-Kind Bed and Breakfast Hotel Experience
St. Bernard Lodge is just minutes from the gates of Lassen Volcanic Park. Although its address is Mill Creek, CA, the center of Mill Creek is a few miles away. Chester is a few miles in the other direction so the most obvious address for purposes of visitor/traveler convenience is to say it is located in Lassen.
As we all know, a hotel experience can make or break a vacation.
Before we headed to Lassen, we googled the term “Lassen hotel” and found St. Bernard Lodge on the front page of the main listings. The site was attractive, warm and inviting. A lot of effort seemed to go into the site’s design which was reminiscent of what the area looked like 100 years ago: rustic, old west- and country-like. The website was definitely more inviting than the vanilla websites alongside it. You got the feeling that the Lodge was owned by one or two people, not by a hotel chain or corporate-backed investors. So, we called, talked to Sharon, the owner, and immediately felt at home. She was accommodating and friendly. We booked a room night.
All we expected was a decent night’s sleep and a decent breakfast since all we knew about St. Bernard Lodge was that it was a bed and breakfast and was located on a divided highway a few minutes from Lassen.
An Unassuming Lassen B&B? Boy, Were We Wrong
When we first pulled up to the St. Bernard Lodge, it appeared to be an unassuming inn. It didn’t seem to be too big at first. Actually, the low hanging roof above the front portion of the Lodge made it appear small. We didn’t drive up a long and winding driveway to be met by valets. There weren’t any large signs displaying the Lodge’s name, just a modest one over the front door.
When we entered, we were greeted by Sharon and Jim, the innkeepers, who were cheerful, warm and hospitable. Sharon showed us to our room, called Evergreen, a quaint rustic room that overlooked a 10 acre “backyard” that has a stream, trout pond, horse stall, a forest of majestic trees upon which eagles perch and a magnificent view of snow-capped mountains. Oh yes, I even spotted a new hot tub out there overlooking the stream and the mountains.
Jim, meanwhile, went to the kitchen and fixed us dinner.
After we washed up, Sharon took us on a tour of the Lodge. The second floor has 7 rooms total, each with descriptive country names like Sunrise, Wildflower, Autumn and Bluebird. Each room has a sink and towels. There are two common bathrooms, each spic-and-span clean, beautifully appointed and with white walls that glisten in the daylight sun.
On the first floor to the left of the center stairway is a bar that turns your head. They call it a tavern and it reminded us of the Wild Wild West era. The bar is made of thick Cherry wood and extends about 20 feet wide. A new Olhausen pool table adorns the middle of the bar while small cocktail tables for two cling to the walls. The bar itself is long and wide, the seats plush and padded. We could envision many strangers coming through here in days, months and years past and leaving as friends. It had that kind of feel.
To the right of the stairway is the restaurant. It is not a little dining room typical of most bed and breakfasts. It is a modestly large dining room with tables large and small and rustic wooden walls. Lace table cloths and candles adorn each table. Were we in a B&B or in a hotel?
All of a sudden, this unassuming bed and breakfast had become an impressive and inviting place to live in for a few days, not just a place to sleep in on our way to other adventures. We began to think of extending our stay in Lassen.
Lassen’s 5-star Restaurant
When we were served our dinners, our eyes widened and our mouths fell agape. We were definitely not in just any bed and breakfast. We were in an inn with 5 star hotel-like amenities which included one of the best dinners we’ve had in a long time and definitely the best one experienced at a B&B or hotel. We were first served with homemade bread and a fresh salad. Then came the clam chowder which Jim normally prepares each Friday. This clam chowder was reminiscent of the way East Coasters make their own. We’ve traveled all over the United States and no restaurant has ever prepared clam chowder like St. Bernard Lodge’s clam chowder. To top it off, the pork chops and steaks were high quality, thick, juicy and perfectly seasoned.
After dinner, we retired to the bar, enjoyed cocktails and many games of pool, darts and card games as we got to know Sharon, Jim and the other guests. Jim also doubled as our bartender.
Before we retired to bed, we asked Sharon and Jim if we could extend our stay by 3 more days. We would not only hike Lassen but we would enjoy Lake Almanor just down the road, as well.
We were really onto something here. Why hadn’t we heard about this place before? The Lassen experience was turning into the St. Bernard Lodge experience.
The St. Bernard Lodge is not just a bed and breakfast, hotel, inn, bar and 5 star restaurant. It resides on 10 acres of forest, streams and marshlands. We shared our time with couples, a mother and her daughter, and larger families and they all enjoyed watching and following the families of ducks in the stream, feeding trout in the trout pond and feeding the Lodge-owned horses in the horse corral. We don’t own horses but Sharon tells us they will board horses in their stalls. Apparently, Lassen has a lot of trails for horseback riding.
It’s rare that we write about a hotel or B&B experience. For the most part, they are enjoyable experiences. It’s rare, though, when the hotel or B&B experience is better than the actual attraction. These two B&B owners are gems. Sharon and Jim truly care about people, work their tails off, maintain extra comfortable beds, prepare sumptuous meals (order the waffles for breakfast), always have a smile for you and go out of their way to accommodate your needs.
I’m sure there are other areas of Lassen that we didn’t hike. And even if we’d hiked all of the trails, we’d go back anyway if only just to experience St. Bernard Lodge another time.