Soaring to 14,179 feet/4,322 meters high, Mt. Shasta scrapes the turquoise-blue sky, north of Redding, a totem from almost anywhere in the northern part of the state. And while some mountains climb gradually, this one rises from surrounding flatlands with such towering, snow-capped majesty that it seems almost unreal—like a child’s notion of what a mountain should be.
Yet this is no childish vision—it’s a very real, very big volcano (last erupted in 1786) that is on the bucket list of serious mountaineers. (Famed naturalist John Muir wrote that his “blood turned to wine” when he first caught sight of the Fuji-esque peak.) Summiting the mountain is for the hardiest of climbers; ask about guide services at The Fifth Season outdoor store in the town of Mt. Shasta, a New Age-y enclave on the mountain’s west side. (Get the town’s vibe at The Crystal Room, a prism-filled visual feast.)
Fortunately, you don’t have to bag the peak to enjoy this alpine paradise. Easy paths loop through wildflower-filled meadows and into cool forests, where you should keep an eye out for eagles and deer, and just might catch a glimpse of a black bear or two. One of the prettiest trails, a mellow two-mile path along the McCloud River on the mountains south, leads to a trio of waterfalls—all beautiful, though Middle Falls is the real head-turner. Cycling is also a huge draw, as the area offers some of the most stunning scenery and least crowded cycling routes—for both road and mountain biking—in the West. (Rental rides are available at Bike Shasta and Cycle Siskiyou.) There’s camping, caverns, and world-class fly-fishing too.
With the arrival of colder weather, there’s skiing at low-key and local Mt. Shasta Ski Park, on the mountain’s western slope. Non-downhill-skiers can take advantage of locations for sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
Know before you go: Most Mt. Shasta hiking trails are closed during winter months due to snow. To fish, a current California Fishing License is required.