Less than three hours north of Sacramento is a dramatically different world within California. The remote and beautiful Shasta Cascade region covers 20 percent of the state and encompasses thousands of acres of rugged wilderness to explore.
Plan a weekend or ideally spend longer and discover the towering waterfalls and soaring mountain peaks of this under-the-radar destination. Base your stay in Redding, the region’s central hub, which will grant you access to something new in every 45-minute direction.
Fly into Sacramento and rent a car for your weekend adventure. Once you arrive in Redding, stretch your legs with a walk across the iconic Sundial Bridge, a 710-foot suspension bridge that leads to botanical gardens and a network of trails. If this is a family trip, check out the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, a museum and wildlife center with 64 different species of animals, including porcupines, owls, and foxes. Grab lunch or dinner on the patio of the recently opened Mosaic restaurant and enjoy an artisanal pizza and specialty cocktail overlooking the river.
Book a tour to explore the limestone caves of Lake Shasta Caverns, 17 miles north of Redding. Your two-hour tour starts with a short catamaran ride across the sparkling blue-green waters of Shasta Lake, where houseboats float in the summer. A quick bus ride takes you up to the entrance of the cave, keep an eye out for mountain lions, eagles, and black bears along the way. Pause for a photo of the lake and surrounding mountains from the top. Inside, a guide will refresh your geology class memory as he or she points out the stalactites, helictites and rare formations found along the walking cavern tour (note: there are 600 stairs involved).
Grab a coffee and pastry at local roaster Theory and spend the day on a mini road trip to see Lassen Volcanic National Park and Upstate California’s classic waterfalls. Start by exploring Lassen’s boiling mudpots, bubbling lakes, and steaming vents of the hydrothermal areas. Earn your panoramic views with a hike to the top of Brokeoff Mountain, a strenuous 7-mile out-and-back trail, or take a 1.5-mile easy stroll around Manzanita Lake, home to the park’s largest campground, for views of the striking Lassen Peak.
You could easily spend a whole weekend at Lassen alone, but if you’re short on time, keep moving northeast. On the way, 15 miles from Lassen, stop off at Subway Cave. Walk a third of a mile through the underground lava tube, which maintains its 46-degree temperature even during the heat of summer. (Insider tip: Pack a small torch—the middle of the cave is pitch black, especially if no one else is there.)
Continue north for 30 minutes to reach McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, home to the stunning 129-foot waterfall that President Teddy Roosevelt called “the eighth wonder of the world” upon his first viewing. The majestic falls are less than 100 feet from the parking lot, but you can discover different vantage points on the 1.2-mile walk around the park, also worth doing, to see the surprisingly beautiful wall of moss-covered stones.
The waterfalls don’t stop there. See the three separate tiers at McCloud Falls, part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Each of the waterfalls is uniquely beautiful, however, the middle cascade is the most photographed and can be seen on a 3.8-mile round-trip hike. On a steamy day, cool off in one of the refreshing swimming holes of the lower and middle falls.
If time allows, make the journey to see the majestic Mt. Shasta, considered an active volcano (it last erupted in 1786). The 14,179-foot peak towers over the laid-back town of Mt. Shasta. Don’t let the hippie vibes fool you, this community is surrounded by thrills and adventure options, including mountain biking, hiking, skiing, mountaineering, and more. It’s an hour drive straight down I-5 South to return to Redding.
Finish your weekend with a low-key day at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, 15 minutes west of Redding. Paddle around Whiskeytown Lake on a kayak or standup paddleboard, or just park yourself on the sandy beach of Brandy Cove.
If you can’t get enough of waterfalls, good news, there are four more waterfalls to discover in the Whiskeytown area. The star of the lineup is the 220-foot Whiskeytown Falls, reachable by a 3.4-mile round-trip hike through a fern and moss-covered forest.
On the way back to Redding, it’s worth a stop at Shasta State Historic Park to see the remnants of the historic mining town, which features a bakery, museum, and restored general store with original items from the 1800s.
More Things to Do in Shasta Cascade
Though the great outdoors may be what first comes to mind when considering a visit to Upstate California, there are also cities and towns that wait to be explored. Try to leave yourself some time at the beginning or the end of you tour to get to know Redding, which boasts—in addition to the aforementioned Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Sundial Bridge—a lively downtown full of bistros, brewpubs, and boutiques. As home to a state university, Chico buzzes in that way only a college town can, with eclectic restaurants, coffee shops, and a growing craft beer scene (it’s the birthplace of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.), not to mention the sprawling Bidwell Park, famous for its chain of inviting swimming holes. Another outdoor activity brings many a visitor to Dunsmuir: fishing. This town, located in the Trinity Mountains along the Upper Sacramento River, is a mecca for fly-fishing enthusiasts; it’s also steeped in railroad history that’s the on display at the Dunsmuir Railroad Depot Historical Society.