Castle Crags is a short and lightly trafficked out and back trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park. This short trail brings hikers to the base of a set of lava domes. The trail is popular for an alpine lake that forms along the northwest base of the domes.

Hiking Chaos Crags Trail

Close to the north entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park is a short hiking trail that leads up to a set of lava domes. These domes are known as Chaos Crags. They’re the youngest of group of lava domes in the park that formed approximately one thousand years ago. The trail wanders along a portion of Manzanita Creek to the base of Chaos Crags. Along the trail is a series of meadows and alpine forests. Eventually the trail terminates at the base of Chaos Crags where a small alpine lake resides. The lake is seasonal and lasts until late summer at best but can have beautiful reflections of the surrounding peaks with beautiful blue hues.

From some of the higher vantage points along the trail, views of the Hat Creek Valley and Thousand Lakes Wilderness can be seen. About three hundred years ago, a massive rock avalanche fell along the northwest corner of Chaos Crags. The rock avalanche traveled at one hundred miles an hour and destroyed everything in its path. The rock slide can be seen from the end portions of the trail. It’s this very rock slide that ended up damming Manzanita Creek. The blockade of the creek formed the beautiful Manzanita Lake and Reflection Lake from near where the trailhead originates.

On A Personal Note

For such a short trail, this hike has it all: mountain peaks, creeks, an alpine lake, meadows, and conifer forests. This trail is a gem in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I absolutely loved this trail and so did my wife who was about twenty weeks pregnant at the time. We did run into a family of bears in one of the meadows but they were non-threatening and quite beautiful to see. Although the lake dries up towards the end of the summer, the views of this trail will be enjoyable year round.

Do you have any updates to the hiking trail or want to share your hike/pictures? Please leave a comment below.

  • Overall Difficulty: 60% 60%
  • Overall Views: 100% 100%
Chaos Crags Trail Quick Facts:
  • Elevation: 6,671 feet.
  • Elevation Gain: 1000 feet.
  • Estimated Distance: 4 miles.
  • My Actual Distance: 4.43 miles.
  • Estimated Time: 90 minutes – 3 hours.
  • My Time:  2 hours 41 minutes; 2 hours 22 minutes moving.
Chaos Crags Trail Directions:
Open in maps. Cost is admission to Lassen Volcanic National Park. An America The Beautiful pass will also work. The trailhead is located off of the road that goes down to the Manzanita Lake Campground. There is a very small lot right where the trailhead starts. However, parking at the Loomis Ranger station near the North Entrance would be a better option.

During the winter, the Lassen Peak Highway is closed to through traffic to the south end of the park just past the Loomis Visitor Center. Because of the elevation and northerly location, this area gets an abundant amount of snowfall. Snow can start accumulating as soon as September and end as late as May. Please check with the National Park Service for current road conditions. During the busy season this area may fill up quickly after the morning hours. 


Chaos Crags Trail Pictures:
Who The Chaos Crags Trail Is For:
Novice Hikers: This trail has a little bit of everything. The short distance will make this trail a delight to novice hikers who haven’t experienced such a variety of views in such a short distance. 

Advanced Hikers: Although the distance is short, this is a beautiful trail. Include this trail with some smaller hikes or points of interest to have a full day of activities. 

Expert Hikers: Hikers used to doing longer trails will enjoy the views. I highly recommend it if you don’t have time for some longer trails. I’m sure there’s a route to the top of the Chaos Crags Domes for those that have the desire.  

It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.

Best Time Of Year To Chaos Crags Trail:
This is an area that experiences all four seasons. The best time to hike this trail is during the late spring. Annual rain and snowmelt fill the natural round basin where Chaos Crags Lake resides. The lake is usually dry by late summer until after the winter. There can be a significant amount of snowfall and ice along the ground during the winter. It’s best to check with the National Park Service for current road and trail conditions conditions. Winter hiking can usually require snowshoeing. Summer can bring wildflowers to the meadows along the trail and occasional thunderstorms.

It’s always a good idea to check the weather before heading out on a hike.

Chaos Crags Trail Conditions:
This trail is in excellent condition, maintained by the National Park Service, and very well marked. The trail is made up of mostly lose soil until the forest thins out as the trail nears Chaos Crags. From here the trail mostly turns into lose granite and shale. There is a minor amount of scrambling that is required to get down to the lake. My emphasis is on minor. There is no poison oak along the trail and no concern for rattlesnakes. Some larger wildlife like bears and deer could be encountered along the trail.