Looking for a weekend getaway in Northern California?? Ever visited the Shastas? If not, this popular travel destination should be on your bucket list of places to visit in California. Shasta is about four hours drive from the bay area. We visited Shasta a couple of years ago and while I was debating on which of the California destinations I should blog about in the coming months, Shasta was a top contender. So here I am with a few touristy details on Shasta. We have driven by the Shasta route twice after our first trip and it is has been refreshing and breath-taking every single time.
Our first stop on the way was at the city of Redding. Redding is famous for the Sundial bridge. An architectural marvel and definitely worth a stop. However; sun plays a vital role, so if you are visiting on a non sunny day, you may be in for some disappointment. The Sundial bridge is part of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Our initial plan was just to visit the bridge and drive on to Shasta, but we decided to visit the museum entrance and ended up spending a couple of hours at the park. I have been fond of butterflies ever since I was a kid and I have come to conclude that colors are the reason behind that! So anyhow, we visited the butterfly arboretum. Some great photographic opportunities here. As we were heading out, we spotted this bird feeding center in the park and we dared to get inside a cage full of hundred birds. So you get a couple of grain sticks and you can have birds land on your hands and shoulders while you feed them. I was scared at first, but was happy to have done it in the end.
The drive to Shasta is indeed very beautiful. Mount Shasta, Shasta Lake and Shasta caverns make up the three Shastas. Our first stop was at the caverns. They only have guided tours since you need to do a mini hike to get to the boat ramp and get on a catamaran that takes you through Lake Shasta. Then you get on one of their buses that take you up a hill to the entrance of the caves. It makes sense to do a guided tour on your first caving adventure, but after that they are all the same. We have done quite a bit of caving adventures after our Shasta cavern trip now and there is nothing exploring them on your own. It is much more exciting than the guided ones. The tour guides usually describe the various cone-shaped cave formations like stalagmites and stalactites. It definitely is fascinating to watch these formations if it is your first caving tour. Later on, they all seem pretty much the same!
After exploring the first Shasta, we headed to the next – Mount Shasta. A climbing permit is required to climb over 10,000 ft. Shasta’s around 14,000 ft. We visited Shasta during the first week of June and roads over the elevation of 7,000 ft were closed because of snow 😦 So, I’d say peak summer or early fall would be a good time to visit if you plan on doing hikes at higher elevations. Irrespective of the time of the year you go, you’ll get plenty of great views of Mount Shasta. We did a short hike at the Bunny Flat Trail. Shastina at 12,000+ ft is the highest cone formation of Shasta and one of the highest volcanic cones in the Cascade ranges. It would be unfair if I miss mentioning about Black Butte in this blog. Black Butte is a dome-shaped volcano that a lot of climbers prefer for an easy climb. Shasta is for the pro climbers, but climbing up the Butte only requires about half a day.
After returning from a brief hike in the Shasta cascades, we headed to Shasta number 3. The lake and the dam. Although we did not try out any water activities at the lake, this man-made lake is popular for boating and water skiing. The dam is the second largest in the country. I believe they have tours that take you inside the dam, but I am not very interested in civil engineering stuff, so we decided to take an evening stroll at the dam. It is extremely calm and serene in the evening. We went just before dinner time and there were hardly 10 people around.
A few tips if you are planning a Shasta trip:
– Check out for road closures especially if you are planning on hiking
– Definitely stop by in Redding to take a peak at the Sundial bridge
– Some of the most picturesque views are on I-5 while driving, so don’t miss those photographic opportunities.