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.
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.