Mt. Shasta-Cascade Loop: Visit Lakes, Volcanos and Forests in California

Route Details Trip Tips Length: About 500 miles, plus side trips. When to go: Much of the area can be

Shasta Lake
Shasta Lake, a reservoir of the Sacramento River, is known as the Houseboat Capital of the World.

Route Details

Trip Tips

Length: About 500 miles, plus side trips.

When to go: Much of the area can be
enjoyed year- round, but temperatures, especially
in the mountains, are most comfortable
from June to October. Many alpine routes
are closed during winter.

Nearby attractions: Shasta St ate Historic
Park, ruins of gold-mining boomtown
Shasta City, Rte. 299, west of Redding.
Shasta — Trinity National Forest, three wilderness areas and more than 2 million acres
laced with trails and rivers, west and north
of Redding.
Eagle Lake, resort area, with swimming ,
fishing, and campgrounds, Rte. A1, near
Susanville.

Further information: Shasta Cascade
Wonderland Association, 1699 Hwy. 273,
Anderson CA 960 07; tel. 800-474 – 2 78 2 ,
www.shastacascade.com

Although relatively few people live in northeast California — some
call it one of the state’s best-kept secrets — the region boasts a bounty of
scenic riches. This long-distance loop tour, filled with variety and novelty,
offers an ideal introduction, wending among the most dazzling treasures of a dramatic land.

1. Redding
Nestled in the northern reaches
of the Sacramento Valley, Redding
boomed in 1872, when the railroad
was built. The city serves
today as a gateway to the surrounding
wilderness. Its streets offer
hotels, restaurants, shopping,
museums, Turtle Bay Exploration
Park, and the all-glass pedestrian
Sundial bridge.

Preview the area’s wildlife and
enjoy quiet strolls on the Sacramento
River Trail. A leisurely
9.5-mile loop through riverside
oak groves, the pathway is full of
the sights and sounds of many
species of colorful songbirds.

2. Shasta Lake
The drive heads due north on I-5
to Shasta Lake, a favorite of both
boaters and water-skiers. Shaped
like an oddly fingered hand, with
each digit stretching toward an
incoming river, the lake was created
by Shasta Dam. Massive and
imposing — its spillway rises 487
feet — the dam ranks as one of the
nation’s largest concrete structures.
The lake’s zigzagging shoreline is
a mix of red-clay cliffs and foothills
cloaked with pines and manzanita.
To visit the dam, take Shasta Dam
exit 7 miles north of Redding on
I-5, and continue through the city
of Shasta Lake. Shasta Dam Blvd.
will lead you to a panoramic view
of the region.

3. Lake Shasta Caverns
Five miles beyond the turnoff to
Shasta Dam lies the small community of O’Brien, the jumping-off point for tours of these caverns — a cache of hidden beauty
that rivals the area’s more conspicuous
wonders. The trip begins
with a 15-minute ferry ride across
Shasta Lake, followed by a short
hop on a bus that climbs to a simple,
nondescript door. Behind it,
though, lies a surreal display of
geologic art: an interior adorned
with fluted columns, white spires,
and crystallized stalagmites — all
built slowly, drip by drip.

4. Castle Crags State Park
With the Trinity Mountains to
the west, the interstate leads to
Castle Crags State Park, where
huge dome-topped granite spires
rise more than 4,000 feet above
the Sacramento River. Hoping to
strike it rich, gold diggers once
prospected here, but today the
treasures are strictly scenic. Trails
lead sightseers to the foot of the
impressive peaks and weave
through the area ‘s forest, overgrown
with Douglas firs and incense
cedars.

5. Dunsmuir
On the way to Dunsmuir, I-5 continues
alongside the Sacramento
River, which courses through
brush-covered canyons beside
the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The trains that steamed
through here were instrumental
in the town’s growth,
and an old railroading center
offers visitors a glimpse of
those earlier days.

Dunsmuir is also
known for its drinking
water, which comes
from an underground
spring and is bottled
for nationwide export.
Take a sip at one of
the public fountains,
then decide whether
or not the town’s
nickname, Home of
the Best Water on
Earth, is truly deserved.

6. Mt. Shasta
Shasta’s great peak —
visible from m o re than
a hundred miles away —
beckons travelers along
much of this drive. Cresting at
14,162 feet, Mt. Shasta is a delight to behold
and an inspiring monument
to the volcanic past. For a closer
look and an eagle’s-eye view of
the region, follow Everitt Memorial
Highway (Rte. A-10), which
makes a relatively easy climb
nearly halfway to the glacier-clad
summit.

Scientists explain that Mt. Shasta’s
great bulk — its base spans a distance
of 17 miles — has contained
within it at least four separate volcanic
cones. The mountain’s fairly
symmetrical shape was
formed over the centuries —
some speculate 100,000 years
were required — as one eruption
after another discharged
lava, with later flows coming to
rest atop earlier ones.

7. Klamath National Forest
After passing a steep-sided volcanic
cone called Black Butte, I-5 enters
the welcoming town of
Weed, once a busy lumbering
center notorious for its brawling
inhabitants. The drive then heads
northeast on Rte. 97, making a
gradual climb into the Cascades
and the Klamath National Forest.
Visit the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden, 13 miles east of
Weed, or simply enjoy the route’s
natural attractions. Vast and diverse, the forest includes juniper,
ponderosa pine, incense cedar,
and shrubs such as sagebrush
and rabbitbrush.

After topping out at Mt. Hebron
Summit, the road descends between
volcanic mountains. On the
way, you’ll cross old lava flows,
then eventually enter Butte Valley,
a sweeping expanse that was once
all lake; today it is a huge depression,
spotted with marshes and
farms and encircled by sage-covered
hills and high peaks.

8. Lower Klamath Lake
Just a bit south of Oregon, the
drive turns east, following Rte.161
to Lower Klamath Lake, part of
Lower Klamath National Wildlife
Refuge, among the world’s best
sites for viewing bald eagles. One
of the world’s greatest nature-watching locales, the area teems
with literally millions of birds —
some 400 species in all. Although
each season offers something
special, spring and fall get the
highest concentrations of birds,
with huge flocks of waterfowl
filling the sky.

Unpaved roads (bird-watchers
can use their cars as blinds) loop
through the refuge, offering views
of the display, which includes
ducks, geese, swans, grebes, pelicans,
herons, hawks, and eagles.
To the east Tule Lake National
Wildlife Refuge offers more of
the same, so be sure to bring your
camera and binoculars.

9. Lava Beds
National Monument

Switch onto Rte.139 south, which
passes through Tule Lake, then
leads to the well-marked turnoff
to Lava Beds National Monument,
one of the stops on the Volcanic
Legacy Scenic Byway, an All-
American Road that continues
down Rte. 49. After skirting the
southern shores of Tule Lake, the
road passes through a region that
was once scorched under sinuous
rivers of lava, which cooled into
an array of formations, including
bluffs and caves. On the area’s
younger rocks — some about a
thousand years old — lichens have
gained a toehold, the first step in
transforming the stones into soil.

Eagles and hawks — their aeries safely
hidden among the cliffs — might
be seen soaring above. On land
deer and pronghorns share living
space with stealthier animals such
as marmots and foxes. Stop by
the national monument’s visitor
center, complete with interpretive
displays, for helpful information.

10. Ash Creek Wildlife Area
After returning to Rte. 139, the
drive passes through an isolated
wilderness, where the facilities are
few and scattered. To the east o f
this area lie the vast high deserts
of California and Nevada. B e f o re
the town of Adin, the highway
again climbs into the mountains
and crests at 5,188 feet. Black
basalt and gray ash — more reminders
of past volcanism — can
be seen along the way.
Grazing grounds and alfalfa
fields then come into view, and
just off the highway at Ash Creek
Wildlife Area, some 14,000 acres
offer yet another bird-watcher’s
haven.

11. Fall River Mills
Fly-fishing connoisseurs rave
about the spring-fed brooks outside
Fall River Mills, a mountain
town perched at an elevation of
about 3,400 feet. In the mid-1800s
a pair of mills operated here, one
a sawmill for processing lumber,
the other a gristmill for making
flour. Exploring the local streets,
visitors can take in an old blacksmith shop and jail at Fort Crook
Museum, which also houses exhibits
of the pioneers and native
American artifacts.

12. Burney Falls
Eleven miles beyond Fall River
Mills, turn north onto Rte. 89 for
the start of a six-mile journey to
Burney Falls. Trails lead to the
129-foot cascades, which in the
wetter months are watery plumes
that burst from a cliffside. When
the conditions are right, rainbows
color the rising clouds of mist.
For that very reason, perhaps, the
local Ilmawi Indians allowed
other tribes to camp beside the
falls, the only part of their territory
where such an intrusion was
permitted.

13. Lassen National
Scenic Byway

After a quick turnaround, head
south on Rte. 89, which runs
through the Hat Creek valley and
Lassen National Forest. A lengthy,
steep rim — visible evidence of a
fault in the earth’s crust — juts up
just to the east.

At the junction with Rte. 44,
turn toward the east on the first
leg of the scenic byway. This superb route passes myriad volcanic
remnants and provides access to
many trails, which lead to lakes and
fine views of the forest.

The soil in this region supports
a variety of different trees. A list
of the various species includes
ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine,
red fir, white fir, and Douglas fir.
Aspens also grow here, surviving
in areas that have relatively high
amounts of moisture, such as
creek banks and along the fringes
of open meadows.

At Rte. 36, a turn to the west
leads to Lake Almanor, a restful
vacation spot. The dome of nearby
Lassen Peak reflects on the water’s
often mirrorlike surface.

14. Lassen Volcanic
National Park

Few national parks can illustrate
with as much clarity the fact that
the earth’s surface is forever changing.
Rte. 89 — which leads to the
visitor center and viewing areas —
snakes through skirting steam
vents, boiling mudpots, gaseous
fumaroles, and cone-shaped
mountains of cinder and ash.

Boardwalks lead to many of the
sites, and visitors are advised to
stay on the trail, for parts of this
region where the earth’s molten
interior escapes to the surface
have been known to collapse. A
shining example of nature ‘s power
is Lassen Peak, which last erupted
for seven years beginning in 1914
and is the park’s tallest volcano,
cresting at 10,457 feet — yet another showstopper in a national park that, despite its unsettled volcanic past, offers a relaxing escape at one of the national park system’s best — kept secrets.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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