If you dream big in the outdoors, then your dreams will eventually take you to 14,179-foot Mount Shasta for the best hiking, flat-water paddling and fly-fishing in Northern California.
It is one of California’s world-class destinations yet Shasta is off the main grid, except for those who drive past on nearby Interstate 5, and then out of curiosity, take the exit for Central Mount Shasta.
Thus starts what can be a life-changing experience. As summer winds down the next two months can bring crystal mountain weather and exceptional recreation opportunities with few people around.
Even on a recent weekend, when a bike race and concert brought in crowds from across the Western United States and sold out hotel rooms and campsites in the area, you could still find many pristine spots to call your own for the day.
Here are details of the 10 best:
Bunny Flat Trailhead, Mount Shasta: At 6,950 feet, this is the most popular trailhead and hike in the north state. You can drive right up and the views of the mountain above and the canyon below are spectacular. It’s a 1.8-mile hike with a climb of 900 feet to tree line and Horse Camp, where you’ll find an artesian spring, the Sierra Club Hut and the launch point for the Summit Trail.
Old Ski Bowl, Mount Shasta: From Bunny Flat, drive another two miles to the road’s end, at 7,800 feet, to the site of a historic ski area that was wiped out by an avalanche. There’s a great view, picnic tables and trailheads for North Gate and Old Ski Bowl. A favorite trek is the 2,100-foot climb to 9,913-foot Green Butte and Green Butte Ridge.
Mount Shasta summit: From Bunny Flat, it’s a 14-mile round-trip with an elevation gain of 7,229 feet to the summit, a volcanic plug dome where you can stand right on the pinnacle. That is more than a 1,000-foot gain per mile. To make it, you need crampons and ice ax (rentals available), and most set up a base camp for a multi-day trip. For day hikes, Yaxtrax are OK across the ice to Helen Lake or Red Banks. Snow acts as a mortar for volcanic rubble and boulders, so when the snow melts in September, it can be like climbing in a pinball machine.
Lake Siskiyou paddling: From Mexico to Canada, this is the prettiest lake along I-5. Many vacationers stop to camp, rent a cabin and then play, swim or fish. Flat-water kayaking can be ecstatic, where you look up at giant Shasta on one side, the sprawling Eddy Range on the other.
Upper Sac fly-fishing: Easy access along I-5 and great fly-fishing for rainbow trout make the Upper Sacramento River one of the best trout streams in California. Guide Jack Trout is the only fly-fishing outfitter certified to run raft trips through sections of river that are unreachable from shore.
Castle Lake paddling: Nestled in a rock bowl at an elevation of 5,574 feet, this lake has a high back wall and water qualities similar to Lake Tahoe. It’s a 7 1/2-mile drive from Lake Siskiyou. The flat-water paddling is exquisite and fun. A trailhead on the left side of the lake rises to an overlook, then heads beyond to little Heart Lake for sensational views of Mount Shasta.
McCloud Falls: A set of three waterfalls crowned by Middle Falls, a wide curtain-like 50-foot free fall, are easily accessed by paved roads and a river trail that connects them out of Fowler’s Campground. Upstream of Upper Falls is historic Lakim Dam, where cold, spring-fed water is so clear that it looks like you could reach in and touch a rock 15 feet deep.
Deadfall Lake: From Parks Creek Trailhead at 6,850 feet, it’s a 2.5-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail to gorgeous Middle Deadfall Lake, with an elevation gain of only 450 feet -- and a sweet-tasting spring right along the trail. No mountain bikes permitted.
Mount Eddy summit: The ambitious can turn the hike to Deadfall Lake into a spectacular trek. From Parks Creek Trailhead, it’s a round trip of 11 miles with a climb of 2,175 feet to the 9,025-foot summit. At the top, the full scope of Mount Shasta, where it rises 11,000 feet over the valleys below, is revealed.
Squaw Creek: This is one of the best walks for fall colors in the north state, and it is good year round. A gorgeous set of pools, edged by elephant ears, is within a quarter-mile of the trailhead. Continue on downstream for an hour, about 2 1/2 miles, and you arrive at pretty Squaw Creek Falls, where you can scramble down and create a picnic site near its plunge pool.
If you go to Mount Shasta...
- Lodging: Mount Shasta Visitors Bureau, (530) 926-4865, Ext. 203, visitshasta.com.
- Chalets: Mount Shasta Resort & Golf Course, (530) 926-3030, mountshastaresort.com.
- Siskiyou Resort: Lake Siskiyou Resort & Camp: (530) 926-2610, reynoldsresorts.com/lakesiskiyou.html.
- Camping: 20 drive-in campgrounds in area. For details on all campgrounds, see “Moon Northern California Camping,” available at amazon.com.
- Summit permits: $30, required for those climbing on Mount Shasta over 10,000 feet. Mount Shasta Ranger District, (530) 926-4511.
- Climbing report/rentals: Fifth Season Climbing Report and mountain weather forecast, (530) 926-5555.
- Climbing guides: Shasta Mountain Guides, (530) 926-3117, shastaguides.com.
- Fly-fishing: Guide/outfitter Jack Trout, (530) 926-4540, mtshasta.com.