Spend two days discovering some of California’s most spectacular falls, from the tallest waterfall in North America to a trio of captivating cataracts
Redding might be the California city you’re missing—and it’s one you shouldn’t miss. Northern California’s biggest town offers much more than a quick stop off Interstate 5, including lively culture, world-class kayaking, and the only bridge in the world that functions as a sundial. Redding’s 217-foot-high Sundial Bridge, open to hikers and bikers (but not cars), was designed to minimize impacts to the Sacramento River’s salmon-spawning habitat. This city cares about its waterways and strives to protect their clarity, both for wildlife and also the kayakers who take to the local rivers and lakes. But you don’t have to be paddle-crazed to have fun here. Rent bikes and pedal 10 miles on the Sacramento River Trail. Watch the sunset from the riverside deck at View 202. Spend the night or saddle up for the day at the Wild Horse Sanctuary. Learn about nature’s wonders at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. And of course, it’s only one hour’s drive to Northern California’s two spectacular volcanoes, Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen.
The mountain town of Dunsmuir, nestled in the pines of the Upper Sacramento River Canyon, is a mecca for train buffs and travelers seeking a peaceful alpine getaway. Fifty miles north of Redding, this region offers some of California’s best fly-fishing and a big dose of Western railroad history in its historic downtown. The food scene is tempting, too. Yaks on the 5 is famous for sticky buns with bourbon caramel sauce and over-the-top burgers (both veggie and beef). For fine dining, head to Café Maddalena, a Mediterranean bistro with an inviting outdoor patio. Catch live music at Sengthong’s Blue Sky Room, accompanied by sophisticated Thai and Vietnamese dishes. While you’re in town, don’t miss the quick walk to see Hedge Creek Falls tumble over a basalt precipice. Look closely—the waterfall’s curtain hides the entrance to a 12-foot-high cave.
Hulking Mount Shasta dominates the Northern California landscape, its volcanic cone capped with glistening ice and snow long into summer. At 14,179 feet high, the mountain is the largest stratovolcano in the Cascade Range. It presides over the town that shares its name, Mt. Shasta City, a charming mountain village with lots to see and do. Have breakfast and lattes at Seven Suns Café, or lunch under the patio umbrellas at Lily’s. Go snap a few selfies on the single-arch suspension bridge on the Lake Siskiyou Trail. Take a walk on the Ney Springs Canyon Trail, which travels to the ruins of an 1880s resort and 42-foot-high Faery Falls, a misty wonder during its peak springtime flow. Drive up the slopes of Mount Shasta on the Everitt Memorial Highway to watch (or join) the mountaineers setting off to climb Mount Shasta.
Once a lumber town, McCloud has reinvented itself while keeping close to its heritage. The 1897 McCloud Mercantile, built as the company store, now houses a hotel, two restaurants, and a mercantile selling kitchen gifts, old-timey candy, and apothecary goods. At the yellow-and-white McCloud Hotel, the original 1916 registration desk still welcomes guests to its 16 sumptuous rooms. Nature lovers have plenty of options: Hike or bike the Great Shasta Rail Trail, an 80-mile trail that travels from McCloud to Burney. Visit a triumvirate of waterfalls on the McCloud River. Middle McCloud Falls steals the show with its commanding 50-foot wall of water, and Lower McCloud Falls’ deep pool is best for swimming, but see them all by hiking a 3.5-mile connecting trail or driving the McCloud River Loop.
Grab a burger and a shake at Floyd’s Frosty, located in the upscale logging town of McCloud.
Burney Falls, the 129-foot-tall, fern-draped cascade, 60 miles northeast of Redding in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the western U.S. It’s no wonder 26th President Teddy Roosevelt dubbed it “the eighth wonder of the world.”
As you approach the main overlook, you’ll have to raise your voices to talk (or be happy in silence)—the broad wall of water faces you head on—splashing down the fern-covered face, tossing gushers and shards of rainbows left and right—finally plunging into a clear pool.
Continue down the path to the pool—where you are likely to look but only briefly touch: the water never goes much above 42 degrees. Fishermen don’t seem to mind; the big pool at the base, and Burney Creek above and below the cascade, are popular for catch-and-release fly-fishing.
Steaming sulphur vents, splattering mud pots, boiling springs—these lively features at Lassen Volcanic National Park prove that our planet is a living entity. Start at the outstanding Kohm Ya-mah-nee Visitor Center, then head out to explore some of the park’s remarkable and safely accessible features, such as the geothermal site Bumpass Hell (open seasonally, check website for details). An easy, well-marked trail travels past roaring fumaroles and hissing vents (3 miles round-trip and worth the effort). Along the way, a short spur trail leads to a stunning panorama of peaks—actually the remnants of a massive volcano called Mount Tehama, which exploded some 500,000 years ago. The park’s signature volcano, Lassen Peak, last blew its top in May 1914. Today, things have settled down, and trails and overlooks let you safely see and learn about volcanic activity. In the park’s southern reaches, you’ll find two easy-to-reach waterfalls: 50-foot-high Kings Creek Falls is accessed by a downhill tromp through a verdant meadow, then a descent on a rocky staircase alongside Kings Creek. Mill Creek Falls plunges 75 feet over a moss-covered cliff (to see it, hike 1.5 miles from Southwest Campground).
Swing by Highlands Ranch Resort just 10 miles south of Lassen Park, relax by the fireplace with a ginger lemon martini and spend the night in a rustic-chic cabin.
If you’re not into camping, you’ll be searching for a warm bed and a hot meal after a day of exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park. You don’t have to search far—the tiny enclave of Mineral (population less than 200) lies only eight miles from the park’s southwest entrance, where the Lassen Mineral Lodge offers clean, no-frills rooms, plus hearty burgers and fresh-caught trout. More luxurious digs can be found at the rustic-chic Highland Ranch Resort on Childs Meadow in nearby Mill Creek. Wherever you sleep, plan a quick trip to Deer Creek Falls in the morning. This short, snowmelt-fed waterfall drops into a punchbowl swimming hole. Don’t forget your swimsuit.