Quite simply, it's one of California's unique geological formations.
From many viewpoints in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Cinder Cone looks like an anthill. But get closer. You'll see it's really a fully formed volcano rising some 800 feet above the surrounding area.
The first 1½ miles from Butte Lake are sandy, forested and relatively flat. You'll pass the Fantastic Lava Beds, a 30-foot tall wall of black rocks that serves as a reminder of this area's explosive history.
The closer you get to Cinder Cone, the more the surrounding forest recedes. Now things get difficult. The trail up is not only steep and exposed, it's also extremely loose. Every step uphill results in a slide back.
It takes about 20 minutes of heart-pumping effort to reach the rim. But once there, the views are so spectacular that fatigue simply vanishes. Besides Lassen Peak, the most eye-catching feature is the Painted Dunes, piles of volcanic ash and cinder that over time have oxidized into colorful patterns.
The feeling of standing on the lip of a volcano can be described only as surreal.
There are trails around the rim and another that leads down to the bottom of the crater, where it feels as if you're at the bottom of a giant wooden salad bowl.
To return, either retrace your steps or take another trail off the eastern edge that follows Cinder Cone's base through the Painted Dunes before intersecting with the main trail.