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Dunsmuir

Come to this little mountain town near Mount Shasta for outdoor adventure and railroad history

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The official slogan of this northern California town is “Home of the Best Water on Earth.” That’s no idle boast. Dunsmuir, situated along the Upper Sacramento River in the Trinity Mountains, gets its drinking water from snowmelt that’s naturally filtered through volcanic rock on Mount Shasta. Dunsmuir’s water is so pure that it doesn’t require additional treatment.

Thanks to waterfalls, mountain lakes, and top fly-fishing streams, water is also the key to Dunsmuir’s appeal as a destination for outdoor recreation. Indeed, anglers come from all over the country to test their skills as they fish for rainbow trout on the Upper Sacramento and brown trout on the McCloud River (late spring and early fall are peak times). The glacially carved Castle Lake is another prime spot, even in winter when you can bundle up for ice fishing. The lake also has an appealing campground and trails that lead into the backcountry.

If you’re a waterfall connoisseur, Dunsmuir is definitely your kind of place. Just outside town, an easy hike leads to Hedge Creek Falls, where a small grotto lets you look out toward the forest from behind the plunging curtain of water. South of Dunsmuir, the modest yet stunningly beautiful Sweetbriar Falls makes for an ideal quick hike right off Interstate 5.

You’re also bound to notice the jagged ridge of granite spires that soar above the area. Rising to an elevation of 6,500 feet, these 170-million-year-old formations give 4,000-acre Castle Crags State Park its name. With more than 30 miles of trails, outstanding fishing on the Sacramento River, and shaded campgrounds, the park is a must for anyone looking for outdoor adventure.

As much as you’ll want to spend your days exploring Dunsmuir’s wilder side, leave time to discover what’s in town too. Along the Upper Sacramento, the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens bring the region’s natural beauty right into town, with paths that meander through dogwood and Shasta lilies, as well as plantings of other local and California natives. Dunsmuir’s long railroad history earned it inclusion on Union Pacific’s Train Town USA Registry, and rail buffs come here to see trains rumbling down the tracks and to visit the museum managed by the Dunsmuir Railroad Depot Historical Society. For a one-of-a-kind stay, the Railroad Park Resort lets visitors spend the night in refurbished, vintage cabooses—some with clawfoot tubs and walk-up cupolas.

For a town of only around 1,750 residents, Dunsmuir has a surprisingly good restaurant scene—especially if you’re into beer. The micro brewpub Dunsmuir Brewery Works takes advantage of the outstanding local water to craft its Rusty Spike Imperial Red Ale, while regulars tout such menu favorites as the clam chowder and elk burgers. You’ll find more premium craft beers, as well as creative artisan burgers, at the popular Yaks on the 5, which began as a coffee roaster and sources its meats and other ingredients locally.

With its brick walls and shelves of books and board games, The Wheelhouse is a homey spot and a good bet for everything from bagel sandwiches and chai lattes in the morning to a surprisingly comprehensive selection of hard-to-find Belgian ales, ciders, and stouts by night. And for a special dinner in Dunsmuir, intimate Café Maddalena offers Mediterranean flavors, including a pan-roasted seabass with Meyer lemon risotto, that taste even better on a summer night beneath the back patio’s grape arbor.

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