While over 160 active volcanoes can be found in the States, a handful see daily activity or frequent eruptions; but many have sat quietly for thousands of years. If you are a budding geologist, or just an interested hiker, then it’s recommended to check out all the information provided by the United States Geological Survey, USGS, concerning volcanoes, and to go check out some of America’s active volcanoes yourself.
Mt. Hood, Oregon
According to the USGS, Mt. Hood has seen some explosive activity in the past 1,500 years, and labels Mt. Hood’s threat potential as very high. The 11,000-plus foot Mt. Hood can be climbed to the top year-round, with most ascents occurring in May and June. Other popular ways to explore the active volcano that is Mt. Hood include staying at the Historic Timberline Lodge and exploring the sprawling trail network of the surrounding Mt. Hood National Forest.
Lassen Peak, California
The last notable eruption of Lassen Peak occurred in 1915, sending debris of ash out in a 20-mile radius. Geologists put the chances of seeing a major eruption out of Lassen Peak as relatively low for our lifetimes, but it’s not just Lassen Peak itself that scientists are keeping an eye on. The entirety of Lassen Volcanic National Park has been active for over three million years, and evidence of this can easily be found today with the many fumaroles, hot springs and bubbling mud pits found throughout the area.
Mt. Rainier, Washington
It might not be news to some that Mt. Rainier is a large stratovolcano, but some might be surprised to know that it is also considered the most threatening volcano in the Cascades. Some of the threat of Mt. Rainier comes from its proximity to major population areas like Seattle and Tacoma, but based on its geology and surrounding landscapes, the real danger of Rainier comes from its possible quick melting of snow upon eruption, creating volcanic mudslides that could reach as far as the Puget Sound. While there is no current forecast for the next Mt. Rainier eruption, scientists and the USGS are fairly certain that warning signs such as earthquakes and increases in the volcano’s temperature will provide ample time for residents and visitors to prepare.
Yellowstone Caldera, Wyoming
Volcanic activity from years ago is very much present today and on display in Yellowstone, and a large portion of the park contains the Yellowstone Caldera, widely considered to be the largest volcanic system in North America. Created by massive eruptions that took place more than 600,000 years ago, the Yellowstone Caldera has also been referred to as a supervolcano, meaning it could be capable of a massive eruption resulting in more than 240 cubic miles of spreading magma.
The science is still out for when the next major eruption will happen in Yellowstone, but the NPS doesn’t think it will happen within the next 10,000 years. Containing roughly 10,000 geothermic features, including fumaroles, hot springs and boiling rivers, all of Yellowstone’s unique features can thank the volcanic activity for their uprising, including half of North America’s known geyser basins.
The Three Sisters, Oregon
As the USGS likes to refer to them, the Three Sisters are really a cluster of glaciated stratovolcanoes. Located within close distance to the town of Sisters, Oregon, together the Three Sisters make up a compound volcano and represent the third, fourth and fifth highest peaks in Oregon. Each sister has a different geological makeup, but all three provide exciting adventure opportunities year-round. Of particular note, the South Sister is commonly referred to as a great introduction into mountaineering, as it can be done without any technical equipment. Climbing season for South Sister is typically into late summer and early fall, with ideal weather needed to summit safely.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i
Both Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes have seen activity in recent years, including current eruption activity from Kīlauea, and both continue to shape the landscape they inhabit. Visitors to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park can see this volcanic action in person and from a safe distance, with park guides and resources to cue them in on the earth-shaping science taking place. For a unique Hawai’i and volcano experience, backcountry campsites and cabins are available at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and officials advise that if the unlikely event of a lava outbreak occurs on the trail, hikers need to move uphill and upwind of any volcanic activity.
Mt. Shasta, California
Mt. Shasta is a towering stratovolcano that the USGS believes incurs an eruption every 600 to 800 years. While no documented evidence supports the claims, scientists believe that Mt. Shasta last had an eruption between 200 and 300 years ago. Add it up all you like, but any impending eruptions don’t seem to slow down the many recreationists who use this active volcano for fun. Standing at over 14,000 feet, you can find climbers trying to make their way up to the top of Shasta, with the most favorable conditions occurring in May and June before all the snow coverage melts. All ascents of Mt. Shasta include an approach through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, which makes the attempt well worth your time.
Mount Redoubt, Alaska
Home to more than three-quarters of U.S. eruptions over the last 200 years, Alaska has 130 volcanoes within its boundaries, of which, 90 have been active in the last 10,000 years and can be expected to erupt again. A good way to get a glance at this underground activity is by visiting Lake Clark National Park and Preserve located about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. In 1989-1990, Mount Redoubt had several major eruptions, which significantly affected the surrounding aviation and commercial transportation industries.
Mt. Baker, Washington
Dominating the skyline of Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia, Mt. Baker isn’t just a source of year-round recreation, it is also the northernmost volcano in the contiguous United States. The most recent and visible activity on Mt. Baker came in 1975, when the area known as Sherman Crater began steaming and showing signs of eruption. Currently, Sherman Crater has remained intact, but the new steam did signify changes in the volcano’s interior, perking up the ears and interest of scientific community members. This volcanic activity doesn’t seem to slow the popularity of this 10,000-plus foot peak though, or the surrounding Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which hosts everything from downhill skiing in the winter to backpacking throughout the rest of the seasons.
San Francisco Peaks, Arizona
Located just north of Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks is part of the larger San Francisco Volcanic Field that covers 1,800 square miles and encompasses more than 600 volcanoes. This volcanic activity that has been going on for over six million years has given life to adventure-rich areas like Coconino and Kaibab National Forests, as well as Arizona’s highest point, Humphrey’s Peak, which stands as the defining feature of the former San Francisco Mountain. More eruptions in the San Francisco Volcanic Field are expected to happen, though it could be thousands of years from now. But with such varied topography and recreational opportunities this volcanic field already offers, no one is in a big hurry to see any changes.