Southwest Area Winter Routes

A man and a women on snowshoes in a mountain landscape.
Snowshoers on the park highway routes in the Southwest Area.

The Southwest Area offers steep slopes and sweeping vistas with increased danger of avalanches. Vehicle access in the park is limited to the Southwest and Manzanita Lake Areas in the snowy winter and spring seasons (usually December through April). Beginning at 6,700 feet in elevation, this area receives the most snow and offers steeper slopes than those found in the Manzanita Lake Area. The parking area is located in front of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, which offers the only visitor services in the winter season.

Play it Safe

Reduce your risk in winter conditions at high elevation in this remote area by:

  1. Plan for winter driving conditions including ice or snow hazards.
  2. Be prepared for winter conditions at high elevation in a remote area.
  3. Choose a route that is appropriate for your skill level and ability.
  4. Practice avalanche safety if traveling beyond established routes or in steep terrain.

Beginner Routes

Sulphur Works Hydrothermal Area

Distance: 2 miles round-trip
Elevation: 6,700 to 7,000 feet
Average Skiing Time: 1 hour
Marvel at boiling mudpots and steam vents at Sulphur Works hydrothermal area. Follow the park highway route from the southwest parking area. The left side of the route is bordered by steep side hills, a small avalanche prone slope exits along this route. For your safety, do not travel or camp in or near hydrothermal areas. The snow surrounding these areas may look solid, but may actually be a weak snow layer hiding pools of acidic boiling water. Maintain a safe distance from hydrothermal features. Visitors have been severely burned by hot mud and water.

McGowan Cross-Country Ski Area

Located in adjacent Lassen National Forest, not shown on map below
Distance: 5 miles to Nanny Creek one-way
Elevation: 5,110 to 6,080 feet
Average Skiing Time: 4 hours
The McGowan Cross-Country Ski Area is located in Lassen National Forest, 2.5 miles south of the Southwest Entrance. Marked routes travel across a flat and slightly descending landscape. Pets are welcome in this Lassen National Forest area south of the park.


Intermediate Routes

Ridge Lakes

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Elevation: 6,700 to 8,000 feet
Average Skiing Time: 4 hours
Follow the park highway route from the southwest parking area about ¾ mile and cross the bridge before Sulphur Works. The route begins at the north end of the flat area to the left at the end of the bridge. The route climbs rapidly along the east side of West Sulphur Creek to the Ridge Lakes basin. Several good camping spots can be found on the north shore of Ridge Lakes. If weather is severe, more protected camping can be found about ¼ mile below Ridge Lakes along its outlet creek. Avoid the area south of Ridge Lakes during periods of increased avalanche danger.

Diamond Peak

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Elevation: 6,700 to 8,000 feet
Average Skiing Time: 4 hours
Follow the park highway route from the southwest parking area 1.5 miles to Windy Point. Veer left at the marker for Ranger Cutoff, just beyond the point. The route climbs a gentle slope to a ridge with excellent views of Brokeoff Mountain and Sulphur Works. Stop here or continue along the ridge as it gradually narrows, providing views of Lassen Peak and eventually opening onto a steep slope at the western foot of Diamond Peak. Return using the same route; avoid descending the avalanche-prone slopes above the Sulphur Works area.


Advanced Routes

Travel outside of the highway corridor is recommended only for experienced winter travelers.

Brokeoff Mountain

Distance: 7 miles round-trip
Elevation: 6,650 to 9,250 feet
Average Skiing Time: 8 hours
Traditional routes use the Forest Lake route or the summer trail that begins near the park entrance. Numerous avalanche paths exist on all aspects of the mountain. Travelers should use extreme caution. Many skiers reserve travel to the summit for spring when snow conditions traditionally stabilize. Summit conditions during inclement weather often include high winds with little or no visibility. Be cautious of overhanging cornices at the summit.

Lassen Peak

Distance: 17 miles round-trip
Elevation: 6,700 to 10,457 feet
Average Skiing Time: 3 days
Most travelers allow three days to summit Lassen Peak in the winter. Be prepared for high winds in the Lassen Peak and Lake Helen areas. Conditions on the mountain are most stable in early morning hours; afternoon travel is not recommended. The safest route up the mountain follows the summer trail through the forested section and continues on the southeast ridge to the summit. Weather conditions on Lassen Peak can deteriorate rapidly, creating white out conditions and high winds.

It is advised to travel the Ranger Cutoff to avoid the road corridor skirting the base of Diamond Peak which is prone to avalanche. Travel beyond Ranger Cutoff may be impassable due to snow-drifted areas along the Emerald Sidehill.

A map shows winter routes in the southwest corner of the park. Lines denotes the park highway route an a number of other winter routes described in the text above.
Map of oversnow routes in the Southwest Area

Last updated: January 2, 2021

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