What a Helicopter Rescue Tells Us About Hiking in the Burnt Areas of Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park officials encourage visitors to walk off trail and explore. With Lassen’s centerpiece being a giant volcano that can always be seen in virtually every region of the park, it’s nearly impossible to get lost there.
National Park Service officials are sticking with that ideology this year, although it became much more complicated after the Dixie Fire burned 69 percent of the park in 2021. Following a recent helicopter rescue in what was assumed to be a closed area of Lassen, we now have more clarity on the park’s views of hiking off trail.
In late June, a hiker slipped on a steep social trail to the base of Kings Creek Falls and was hoisted out by helicopter with a possible femur fracture. The rescue raised questions, since that area was burned from the Dixie Fire and supposed to be closed to the public. It turns out that even though the trail and overlook to the beautiful waterfall are closed, people can still walk off trail to see it.
A “social” trail is one made by hikers and not maintained by NPS workers. According to some recent visitors of the waterfall, the area is full of loose dirt, making it dangerous for the public. That being said, it’s still okay to visit the waterfall, even though it doesn’t have an overlook and viewing is limited.
“The hiker did not enter a closed area,” wrote Lassen officials on Instagram. “It is permissible to use the social trail to the base of the falls, it’s just not recommended.”
So there you have it. You can still walk “off-trail” to see some of the burned areas of the park. Of course, this isn’t for every region burned by the Dixie Fire. Many areas in the southern section of the park were extremely impacted and are likely dangerous to the public.
Even if you choose to use social trails, please use extreme caution. Search and rescue operations are costly, and you should try to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations at all times.