Nestled under Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Chaos Crags, Crags Lake is reached by a moderate hiking trail that sees relatively few visitors, but is located near Manzanita Lake Campground. But the hike is worth the effort to enjoy the stark scenery.
Chaos Crags Trail to Crags Lake Key Data
Distance: 4.0 miles roundtrip
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: 1000 feet
High point: 6750 feet
Season: Late June through mid-October
Contact: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Maps: park brochure, USGS Manzanita Lake
Chaos Crags Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 40° 32.154′ W 121° 33.560′
Notes: Dogs prohibited. Toilets near trailhead. Fee.
Note: this post is based on Hike 112 in my new book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions, which covers a total of 16 hikes in Lassen Volcanic National Park. There are several other good trails nearby, including the Manzanita Creek Trail and the Manzanita Lake Trail.
Crags Lake/Chaos Crags Trailhead Directions
To start the journey, reach the road to Manzanita Lake Campground, which is on the park highway’s south side, 32.8 miles north of the junction of CA Highways 36 and 89, and 1.2 miles southeast of the junctions of CA Highways 44 and 89. Go 150 yards to find the trailhead parking lot on the left.
Hiking the Chaos Crags Trail to Crags Lake
The path begins its ascent in an open forest featuring stately white fir and vanilla-scented Jeffrey pine. Look to the left at 0.1 mile for an impressive sugar pine (identifiable by its trademark foot-long cones). The forest soon deepens with the addition of red fir; note that several side trails will take you to the clear and tumbling waters of nearby Manzanita Creek.
Leave the proximity of the creek and descend to cross a small stream at 0.6 mile that’s thickly shaded by white firs. The way runs level and then climbs. The tree cover thins at 1.0 mile as western white pines appear. Begin a steep climb past tobacco brush, greenleaf manzanita, pinemat manzanita, and bush chinquapin that doesn’t relent until a relatively level stretch at 1.5 miles.
Chaos Crags and Chaos Jumbles
Climb some more, then reach at 1.9 miles the highlight of the hike: the ridge just above Crags Lake. Looming 1700 feet above you, imposing and inhospitable Chaos Crags dominates the terrain. Nearly 2 miles in diameter, this impressive volcanic feature formed a little over a thousand years ago when thick, viscous lava welled up over 1500 feet from a vent. You’ll see very little in the way of green vegetation on the Crags, but there is a subtle display of purple-gray, rust, and orange-brown colors in the rock.
A glance down to the northwest reveals Chaos Jumbles, a massive avalanche that began at Chaos Crags around 300 years ago and extended nearly 3 miles to Manzanita Lake and beyond. Looking farther to the north, you’ll see Hat Creek Valley and the high peaks of Thousand Lakes Wilderness; to the west, the peaks and hills of the Cascades eventually give way to the mighty Klamath Mountains.
Hiking Down to Crags Lake
Pick your way down to the shore of the lake by first leaving the main trail and heading for a flat area just to the north. Crags Lake can be gorgeous and inviting in years of high precipitation, but most years it loses much or all of its water by late summer. Return the way you came.
See my full description of the Manzanita Creek Trail.
Done the hike? What did you think?