You may not have time to see the mountainous Shasta/Cascade region on your first visit to Northern California, and even repeat visitors may find it a little difficult to work into their itineraries. But this area of majestic beauty and plentiful outdoor recreation is so unlike the rest of the state that we urge you to consider driving through it.
The Shasta region offers outdoor enthusiasts pristine mountain lakes and rivers, majestic forests and miles/kilometers of backcountry to explore, including exceptional skiing, snowboarding, fishing, golfing, mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, hiking and mountaineering experiences. The Shasta/Cascade region is 210 mi/340 km northeast of San Francisco on Interstate 5.
Redding is the region's major city and serves as the usual debarkation point for the Shasta/Cascade area, including nearby Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Caldwell/Lake Redding Park, on the banks of the Sacramento River, is where you'll find the Carter House Natural Science Museum and the Redding Museum of Art and History. The family-friendly Turtle Bay Park and Museum, also on the river, includes an arboretum and Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp. Toll-free 800-874-7562. http://www.visitredding.com.
Shasta State Historic Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=456), just west of town, showcases artifacts and a general store from the 1840s gold rush. In spring, Redding is host to the Shasta Dixieland Jazz Festival and in summer to the Redding Air Show, one of the largest in the country.
West of Redding are Whiskeytown Lake and Trinity Lake, both popular for fishing, boating and other water recreation. Weaverville, a charming mountain town, is also found in that direction: It's home to the fascinating Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park, a restored Chinese temple built by Asians who migrated to the area in the 1800s and worked as miners. If you have extra time, drive the 145-mi/235-km stretch of Highway 299 that's been designated as the Trinity Scenic Byway—it will take you past Trinity Lake and the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is east of Redding on Highway 44. There, you'll find Lassen Peak itself (the volcano last exploded in 1915), hot springs, mudpots, boiling lakes and numerous other attractions. The sights are similar to those of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Yellowstone, only in this case the hot-water thrills come in a spectacular alpine setting.
Because of the park's high elevation, extreme physical geography and impressive annual snowpack, the road through Lassen is open only in summer and early fall (it is first plowed in June or early July), though you can usually reach outer areas in winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoe hikes. There are five separate entrances to the park and one main road that runs north-south through the park. Check road conditions before setting out in the winter. On a clear summer day, a hike to the top of Lassen Peak offers spectacular views of what looks like all of Northern California. One thing you won't see is lots of people: Lassen is one of the least-visited national parks in the U.S. Like all national parks, there is a fee for entry. http://www.nps.gov/lavo.
From Lassen, drive north on Highway 89 past Burney Falls, a beautiful cataract that former U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt considered one of the true wonders of the world. Then continue on Highway 89 northwest to Mount Shasta, famous for the delicious purity of its waters (sample it yourself from the free-flowing tap downtown). Phone 530-926-4865, ext. 203. http://visitmtshasta.com.
But the sight of the majestic snow-capped volcano itself—a favorite of naturalist John Muir—is what impresses most people, as it towers some 14,179 ft/4,395 m above the surrounding mountain landscape. The forests, lakes and recreation areas around Mount Shasta are exceptionally nice. Also enjoyable is the one-time company town of McCloud, which offers excursion-train tours near Mount Shasta's base.
If you have time, head northeast to Lava Beds National Monument, an absolutely stunning primordial landscape of cinder cones, lava tubes and rugged chasms. This topography was created over the last half -million years and has created more than 700 caves, 20 of which have been developed for visitors. Almost more fascinating than the area's topography is its history. This is the site of the Modoc Indian War of 1852, in which the Modoc leader Kentipoos (also known as Captain Jack) and his small band of warriors successfully held 1,000 Army soldiers at bay for months. You can visit the historic battlefields and campsites, and Native American rock sites. http://www.nps.gov/labe.
The Lower Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, north of Lava Beds (straddling the border with Oregon), is part of the larger Klamath Basin Refuge Complex under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge has the highest concentration of bald eagles in the contiguous U.S., and there's salmon fishing and white-water rafting in the Klamath River. Phone 530-667-2231. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/lower_klamath.
Heading south from Mount Shasta on Interstate 5, you'll reach Castle Crags State Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=454). Burnished by glaciers hundreds of millions of years ago, crags tower as high as 6,000 ft/1,830 m. A half-hour farther south on I-5 you'll reach Shasta Lake and Shasta Dam. Shasta Dam is particularly impressive, with a spillway three times the height of Niagara Falls. Try to get out on the lake, preferably in one of the houseboats available for rent. The nearby Lake Shasta Caverns were formed of limestone and marble and are filled with dazzling crystals. Tours of the caverns include a catamaran ride across the lake. Phone 530-275-7497. http://www.shastalakechamber.org.
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