Lassen Volcanic's Chaos Crags Trail is a well-maintained, single-track trail through open forest and manzanita brushland interspersed with boulders. The hike to the Chaos Crater consists of a moderate ascend up to its rim. Only from this open ridge, your final approach involves a downhill climb with uneven footing and possible rockfall. The crater bottom may seasonally turn into a crater pond referred to as “Crags Lake.”
Hikers often prefer to skip the final descend and, instead, rest on the rocks along the open rim, overviewing both the crater hole and the breathtaking scenery of the steep slopes and talus sites below the craggy mountaintops. Chaos Crags is prone to massive rock avalanches. The Chaos Jumbles area between today's Lassen Park Road and the Nobles Emigrants Trail have been estimated to be a result of an avalanche that happened about 300 years ago. That giant slide created Manzanita Lake by damming Manzanita Creek. In fact, all facilities at Manzanita Lake, including the Loomis Museum, were closed in the mid-1970s, when a recurrence of such an event was expected. Reopening began in the 1990s. [1-3].
The Chaos area is a potential hazard zone. Cold rock avalanches will be triggered by earthquakes. High-speed hot-rock avalanches can be expected during an eruption of Chaos Crags, which happened—so far for the last time—about 1,100 years ago [2,4].
Getting to the Chaos Crags trailhead
The trailhead is located next to the road leading to the Manzanita Lake Campground. You'll find the junction of this campground road with the Lassen Park Road just east of the Loomis Museum, less than a mile to the east of the northwest entrance station of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Follow the campground road for a short distance to where it curves back west. Find the small parking area to your left next to Manzanita Creek and in front of the trailhead sign. Do not confuse this trailhead with the one for the Manzanita Creek Trail, which is located at the beginning of the D loop within the campground. The Manzanita Creek Trail requires a two-mile hike to actually reach Manzanita Creek, while the Chaos Crags Trail starts out along roaring Manzanita Creek and then veers off northeast.
More about Lassen Volcanic, its trails and its history:
- Lassen Peak and trail to its summit,
- Bumpass Hell and its namesake,
- Kings Creek Cascades and Falls and the King family,
- Name dropping: Peter Lassen and Helen Brodt,
- Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, a sustainably designed building.
References and more to explore
 Lassen Volcanic National Park (5): Manzanita Lake [www.shannontech.com/ParkVision/Lassen/Lassen5.html].
 USGS Volcano Hazards Program: Chaos Crags and Chaos Jumbles [volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/lassen_volcanic_center/lassen_volcanic_center_geo_hist_22.html].
 Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; pp. 186-190.
 USGS Volcano Hazards Program: Hazards [volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/lassen_volcanic_center/lassen_volcanic_center_hazard_14.html].