San Francisco local Preethi Chandrasekhar is passionate about traveling and finding adventure wherever she goes in the world. (One of her most recent trips involved a trek to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.) She's also an avid photographer who documents her journeys on her travel blog, The Eager Traveler.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Chandrasekhar vowed to be smart about pursuing her passion. If she wanted to travel, she had to put safety first. So for a recent trip, she picked a California destination relatively close to home that she had never experienced—the Shasta Cascade region.
Read on as the Eager Traveler shares a few of her road trip highlights as well as some tips for making travel as safe as possible.
1. What prompted you to plan a road trip during a global pandemic?
I was tired of sitting at home and being anxious. I needed a break, but I knew international travel was risky. So I began to look at domestic travel as a safer option. The outdoors has always been an antidote for me, so I thought getting outside could also help me relieve the stress of social distancing and not having my family near me!
2. Why were the safety measures you took such an important aspect of your journey?
We have to watch out for one another to protect public health. With COVID-19, one can have the virus and not even know it. If I take a road trip, I'll be touching the gas pump to fill my tank, using a public bathroom at least once while on the road, and maybe even eating in a restaurant. If I had the virus and wasn't showing any symptoms, I could unknowingly spread it as others come into contact with the surfaces I’ve touched.
So, if you are going to take a road trip, the responsible thing to do is to follow certain safety measures to protect yourself and others. For this trip, I followed CDC guidelines. It is absolutely one of the most critical parts of planning any kind of trip right now.
3. What was your strategy for practicing social distancing? And how did that work out?
I wore a mask anytime I was outside and near people. On the trails, I wore my mask and also made sure to step off the trail to let others pass. I wore my mask inside the grocery store and made sure to sanitize my hands immediately afterward in the car. I also ensured all groceries were wiped down.
4. What are some of the most important tips you’d like to share with travelers who might be considering a similar adventure?
There are so many. I put together a list of some important things to keep in mind here.
5. Why did you think Mount Shasta would be a good place to visit right now?
Mt. Shasta was a great option for me because of its proximity to San Francisco and the variety of outdoor activities it has to offer. Can you believe I’ve lived in California for 30 years and have never been there? It’s a mere 3.5 hours away from me, and I wanted a place that was within four hours’ driving time. I also knew I wanted to hike so that meant my destination needed to have some mountains.
6. What does being outdoors mean to you?
Nature doesn’t care who or what I am. The mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and forests treat me the same no matter my skin color, how I look, or what I wear! I feel richer after I spend time outdoors, and more connected to myself. Hiking also helps me really stay in the present.
7. What was the highlight of this trip?
One of many highlights was hiking the underrated Black Butte. Black Butte is a cluster of lava domes in a satellite cone of Mt. Shasta. It looks quite intimidating and steep from the highway (and it’s not very picturesque, to put it politely). But once on the actual trail, I realized it wasn’t that hard at all. Just be sure to wear hiking shoes with good ankle support. The views of Mt. Shasta from various parts of the trail are incredible, and the 360-degree view from the top was absolutely worth the hike.
Another highlight was the abundance of waterfalls and meadows. My two favorites were the McCloud waterfalls and Faery Falls. McCloud is magnificent, especially the Middle Falls. Know that the trail is pretty crowded, so try to go early in the morning. Find a rocky outcropping to sit on away from the crowds and enjoy the spectacular views. Faery Falls in contrast was super quiet and it felt like our own private oasis. The area is very picturesque and covered with lush green foliage.
8. Did you find anything during your trip that surprised you?
I had always thought of Mt. Shasta as just a mountain peak. I knew there was a lake too, because I had heard of people spending summers in a houseboat. But when I saw these beautiful waterfalls, I was stunned.
9. What were your photographic highlights from the trip?
Definitely photographing the sunset at Lake Siskiyou. The reflections were insane and otherworldly. I also really enjoyed capturing both waterfalls—I tried to capture the spirit of what I felt when looking at Faery Falls. Some of my images from the Black Butte hike reminded me of a classic California landscape: Snow-capped mountains and the different varieties of trees such as pine, fir, hemlock, oak, maple and cedar to name a few!
10. What other California adventures have you had?
I just finished a road trip to Yosemite National Park. Eleven years ago I went to Yosemite to hike Half Dome and failed to summit due to my fear of the cables and heights. This time I decided to go back, avoid the crowds and popular spots, and redeem my relationship with the rock formation in a different way. I obtained a wilderness permit and backpacked on North Dome. There, I made peace with Half Dome, and found a deep appreciation for this iconic granite rock as I watched it change hues during both sunrise and sunset. I can honestly say I completely forgot about COVID-19 and the world during my stay.
Before you explore any of these locations, be sure to visit our Responsible Travel Hub, which includes helpful Travel Updates. Also check out our What You Need to Know series for information on staying in a hotel, visiting state and national parks, renting a car, and more.