Lassen Volcanic National Park 2: Butte Lake

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Butte Lake is a section of Lassen Volcanic National Park in a remote corner of the park. It is reached via a dirt road running six miles south of Highway 44. Buttle Lake features a decent-sized campground (over 100 sites), a lake (the aforementioned Butte Lake), and a curious formation called Cinder Cone, a large 700 foot mound of made of loose scoria. It literally seems like a mound made of loose pebbles and dirt.

To reach Cinder Cone, you must take a trail from Buttle Lake about one mile along the Fantastic Lava Beds, a large field made of various rocks:

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Near the end of the Fantastic Lava Beds, Cinder Cone comes into view:

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You can either go straight up the cone or hike around it. The trail around it dips into a little canyon of sorts between colored heaps of ash and scoria:

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You can take the trail to the backside of the cone. Note the forbidding, almost moon-like landscape, with random rocks of various sizes just tossed about:

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In back of Cinder Cone is the Painted Dunes:

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And another trail leading to the top of the Cinder Cone:

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The front trail to the cone is a steep trudge through loose pebbles and dirt:


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The top of the cone features a massive hole of sorts, with a path that descend into its depths:

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The view from the top is nice, but on the morning I trudged up there, it was entirely cloudy:

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The clouds meant that I could get only very bland photos of the Painted Dunes below:

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An early morning or late evening shot of the Painted Dunes is best, as the early or late sunlight skimmed over the top of the dunes provides the best light for bringing out the color. But if there is no sun at all, the colors will look flat.

Cinder Cone is a challenging place to photograph. You are expected to stay on the trails, so finding good vantage points from which to photograph the scenery can be difficult. The Painted Dunes are best photographed from above, from the top or the sides of Cinder Cone. They can’t be photographed on the Dunes themselves, as you are not supposed to be traipsing out there where no trail leads.