Brownsville • Mount Shasta • San Francisco
Updated January 6, 2021
The Shasta Mountains and Lake region does everything on a large scale. Snow-capped mountains tower above mile after mile of green forest. In the heart of it all, the coves and bays of Shasta Lake run from robins-egg blue to teal and turquoise. With a number of national forests and parks in the area, you’ll find plenty to explore in this unique wilderness.
The major sights of the Shasta Lake area form a ring around the town of Redding, which is set right on Interstate 5 in Northern California. Once there, you’ll have Whiskeytown Lake and the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to the west and northwest, Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta to the north; and the famous Lassen Volcanic National Park to the east.
You can take a scenic loop through the area by heading west out of Redding on Highway 299, also known as Eureka Way. You’ll travel first through the two sections of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, set at the juncture of the Klamath Mountains and the Sacramento Valley. The southern section of the recreation area includes Whiskeytown Lake; north of that is Trinity Lake. Boaters will certainly want to stop at Whiskeytown Lake, a 3,200-acre lake that’s perfect for swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, rowing, and fishing. Only rental watercraft are allowed on Whiskeytown Lake (just visit the concession operator at Oak Bottom for boat rentals and slip rentals). If you’d like to put your own craft in the water, you’re welcome to do so on Shasta Lake or Trinity Lake.
Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are also popular pursuits in Whiskeytown. Take a serious hike up Kanaka Peak for spectacular views or tackle the more moderate Brandy Creek Falls trail or the Clear Creek Vista. Even the kids will enjoy tromping to Buck Hollow. You can take a 4-wheeling drive to the top of stunning Shasta Bally, a 6,209-foot peak, or hike through old growth forests and fields of wildflowers to one of the area’s many gorgeous waterfalls.
For history buffs, the displays at the Camden House Historic District explain the role this area played in the great California Gold Rush era. Kids and grown ups can try their hands at panning for gold at the Tower House Historic District (pans and shovels are provided). If you like, take part in a ranger-led kayak trip around the quiet coves of Whiskeytown Lake, or take the kids to join the Junior Ranger program. Temperatures can top 100 degrees in the summer, so be sure to pack plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen and take precautions against heat stroke.
From Highway 299, follow Highway 3 north into the second section of the Whiskeytown NRA, driving along crystal-blue Trinity Lake. Follow the Trinity Heritage Scenic Byway north and then east to I-5, then head south at the small town of Gazelle. You’ll join I-5 near Weed, just north of Mount Shasta. This breathtaking mountain is the second highest peak in the Cascade Range, soaring overhead at 14,179 feet. Because it isn’t part of a mountain range, Mount Shasta seems to bolt up out of nowhere. About this great mountain, Theodore Roosevelt once said, "I consider the evening twilight on Mt. Shasta one of the grandest sights I have ever witnessed." The poet the poet Joaquin Miller put it this way: "Lonely as God, and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests of Northern California." You may enjoy a day trip to Horse Camp at elevation 7,900 feet, where the John Muir summit route begins.
South of Mount Shasta, take Highway 89 east toward McCloud. From here, you can take a fun side trip to see the lava floes at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. You can also pay a visit to the McArthur-Burney Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. Centered around the incredible 129-foot Burney Falls, this state park is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. Teddy Roosevelt once called the falls "the eighth wonder of the world." Tour this amazing site by hiking the 1.3 mile loop around the falls, then exploring the other 910 acres of forest and stream-land. These gorgeous falls move more than 100 million gallons of water every day from springs and Burney Creek. The park also includes a section of Lake Britton, and boat rentals are available for a day of fishing or boating on the lake.
Continuing south on Highway 89, you’ll pass through Lassen Volcanic National Park, set on the slopes of Mt. Lassen. The land here may look peaceful, but the boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles of this area tell a different story. This is a place of dynamic change, showing shades of the mountain's even more intense past. Since its eruption in 1915, Mt. Lassen has become an incredible place to explore, whether you come for the hiking, the skiing, the wildlife, or to view the hydrothermal features located in the park. More than 150 miles of hiking trails lead you through this unique and changing landscape. You'll find abundant wildlife, scenic views, and breathtaking wildflowers.
For another interesting side trip, visit the dramatic Medicine Lake shield volcano at Lava Beds National Monument, set northeast of Weed. You can tour a land of cinder cones, lava flows, spatter cones, lava tube caves, and pit craters. More than 500 lava tubes lie underground here, just waiting to be explored! The park hosts guided tours of the caves, plus ranger talks, special events, and historical sites relating to the Modoc War. Aside from cave exploration, the park is also a great place to enjoy a hike, watch for wildflowers, or practice photography on this stunning landscape. Also, be sure to watch for wildlife and unique plants as you tour through the park.
Take Highway 44 back to Interstate 5, then head north to the gleaming blue waters of Shasta Lake. This is a phenomenal place for water sports like fishing, water skiing, sailing, swimming, and canoeing. You can go golfing at the Lake Shastina Golf Resort, take a free tour of the Shasta Dam, or enjoy a picnic lunch at the Vista Point, soaking in views of the lake. For a fun springtime festival, head to Shasta Lake in May for the annual Shasta Damboree, a celebration of the dam’s construction.
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