This strenuous lollipop loop is a hiker’s Geology 101. Start studying up at the Butte Lake Trailhead, following the Nobles Emigrant Trail past Cinder Cone, a perfectly symmetrical 6,907-foot volcano, and the Fantastic Lava Beds, 200-foot piles of black basalt. Veer left at mile 2.7 and climb across open benches to ideal camping at wooded Rainbow Lake, 4.8 miles in.
The next day, the trail drops 500 feet to the east en route to Snag Lake—a pool rimmed with silvered snags that jut from the earth like the grizzled stubble on an old man’s chin. Head north along the lakeshore, skirting the lava beds once again and passing Panther Spring before rejoining the Noble Emigrant Trail near Cinder Cone’s base. Retrace your steps back to Butte Lake.
Info: Free backcountry camping permit required. (530) 595-4444; nps.gov/lavo
-Hike provided by Tracy Salcedo-Chourre, author of Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park (Falcon)