The power of sparkling water, romping bears, and endless trails.
By Patricia Ravasio / Photos courtesy Chad Banghart & the Ravasio family
I’m a real lake person. I grew up on a lake in Indiana. I love swimming in fresh water. And Summit Lake has the most beautiful, most swimmable water you can imagine.
Perched in the 7,000-foot sun, the shallow lake is warm by August. You can wade out and stand in the middle. Paddleboard across. Gaze at Mt. Lassen in the distance. Laze on the green grassy banks.
Even Disney couldn’t reproduce this natural magic.
As 2020 batters our psyche and depletes our energy, a week of nature can cure all. Crisp alpine air. Sparkling water to drink. And way more stars in the night sky than any five-star resort.
It’s no surprise that people are flocking to the outdoors as America faces an onslaught of crises. Whether you believe in the Japanese concept of “forest bathing”or the connection between environmental, societal and physical health, there’s no debating that raising kids in nature has innumerable benefits.
My husband Bob and I were very intentional about taking our girls to remote, natural places as they grew up. We swapped the endless summer bugs of the Midwest for the endless outdoors of Northern California and never looked back.
We spent vacations on ranches and camping, watching fish jump, picking blueberries, hiking… When, at 10, our eldest showed us how to lasso a lizard with a long piece of grass, we knew we were living the right life!
Lassoing three successful young adults for a summer vacation is more difficult. But we like to think that we made our summer jaunts to the wilderness so compelling that they love them as much as we do.
Though they are each very different, our three girls have grown to appreciate the opportunity to be outside together, relaxing and reconnecting. This year, our daughter who was once the least outdoorsy actually led her sisters on a sunrise expedition to the top of Lassen!
Our third family camping trip to Summit Lake was our best. COVID-19 deflated crowds at the campground on the shore. It felt like we had the whole lake to ourselves.
The area was so empty that the local bears were frolicking nearer than usual. One afternoon, we watched a mother bear drop off her cubs at the water’s edge. The kids played as the mom headed back into the forest for a while.
Watching my girls watch the bears, I realized how tuned in they were, how they’d learned to be such calm and quiet observers. Here they were, our three little girls who have been out here for 25 years and have fallen in love with nature.
There’s magic out there.
Tips for Camping at Lassen National Park
Camp at Summit Lake Lassen Volcanic National Park operates a north and a south campground; We prefer the south. Most day-use facilities are on the north side, which makes it a bit busier. The camp sites are wonderfully inexpensive but be aware they only deliver the minimum – pit toilets and other basics. Many Lassen visitors like Manzanita Lake campground but it is currently closed to swimming because of a protective mama otter living nearby.
Reserve in Advance Our 2020 trip saw many empty campsites, perhaps because attendance was capped due to the epidemic or perhaps because people reserved far in advance and decided not to go. Normally, these are super popular sites that require reservation six months in advance to get a coveted August spot. For the rest of 2020 and in the off-season, I’m sure it’s possible to drive up and get a lakefront site.
Go HipCamp! If you find the national park’s Summit Lake campgrounds are full, check HipCamp inventory for another unique spot in the region. The popular service facilitates campsite bookings on private and public land – and we’d love it even if our eldest wasn’t founder and CEO!
Bring Floats – Lake-top inflatables or paddleboards are a must. Our daughter and her boyfriend brought paddleboards. (We theorized it was their way to get away from us for a while 😉 )
Pack Everything There’s a camp store for the basics but if you’re like us and pride yourself on making phenomenal food when you camp, you’ll want to bring all your food, drinks, supplies and gear from home.
Hike the Peak The trek to the summit of Mt. Lassen starts at 8,500 feet and gains 2,000 feet along the way, so it’s not a stroll for the faint of heart. That said, it’s only 2.5 miles up and 4-5 miles roundrip so if you start in the cool weather before dawn like the Ravasio girls, you’ll see an unforgettable sunrise.
Visit the Volcano They don’t call Lassen the “Volcanic National Park” for nothin’. The mountain’s last eruption took place between 1914-1917 and a trip to the park’s Visitor’s Center will thrill geology fans of all ages.
Walk through Bumpass Hell The area’s geothermal activity is an incredible thing to witness. The not-to-be-missed Bumpus Hell trail wanders a three-mile loop past the largest bubbling fumaroles in the park. There are other hydrothermal sights to see, as well.
Get Pie in Chester The local Holiday Market in the town of Chester has incredible fruit pies and deli sandwiches if you need to stock up while you’re in the area.
Ski Lake Almanor – After five days of camping, we retreated to an Airbnb cabin in the country club area of Lake Almanor for a few days. Our budget camping stint enabled us to splurge on a boat rental from the Knotty Pine Marina. It was fun to wrap our trip with some water skiing and wakeboarding on what some call a “mini Tahoe” before returning to the rest of what 2020 has in store for us.
Patricia Ravasio – September 2020
Mom to three girls and one pup, San Francisco Bay Area journalist Patricia Ravasio literally wrote the book on why humanity needs to get outdoors in order to thrive: The Girl from Spaceship Earth explores R. Buckminster Fuller’s discoveries about nature’s design principles and his philosophies about individual integrity.
© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Locals' favorite family-friendly lakefront destinations
Same coast. More value. Fewer crowds.
25 unique & classic must-drive vacations for families
Incredible golds, oranges and reds of the coast, high desert and mountains.
Gotta get away? Check these ideas for COVID-19 trips
Armchair trips for active families.
Take the grandparents on a cross-state odyssey of Wild West vistas & outdoor majesty
Your one-stop-shop for 2020 family vacation ideas from all the top travel writers.
First-rate recreational activities to tackle in the Second City