Shasta Cascades, CA: In the Shadow of Shasta

Besides being a tasty and economical soda pop, Shasta is also a county, a town, a national forest, and a super-huge mountain in California, and being almost to the Oregon border, is the northernmost point of our 11-week trip. In fact, though still in California, the over-the-air news broadcasts are from Oregon stations.

Seeing it for the first time, environmentalist John Muir said, “When I first caught sight of Mount Shasta … my blood turned to wine.” Because wine in your blood is never a bad idea, we spent a week in the area of this mighty mount.

Mount Shasta

This stratovolcano, which is fancy-speak for one with a cone shape and steep sides, is one of the largest and highest at 14,162 feet, and is said to be spiritually significant and one of the 7 to 19 (depending who you ask) holy mountains in the world. Indigenous people tag this mountain (and not Donald Trump) as the “center of the universe.”

Our campground at Lake Siskiyou, 4 miles south of the City of Mount Shasta, is a busy, noisy, happy kind of place, where every campsite has 20 or more folding chairs, a pile of wet towels, and children running feral with sticky ice cream dried on their faces. In the evenings, we pondered the necessity of mariachi music played at 200 decibels. Oh well, we’re not here forever.

The lake is predictably the center of all the action, with a wide sandy beach, pontoon boat rentals, a splash pad play zone, and lots of happy sunburned bathers, all under the shadow of Shasta. We got the puppers in the kayak for the first time in over a year, and nobody drowned.

The 7.5-mile Lake Siskiyou Trail encircles the lake, with a wide variety of terrain. The terrain made of huge rocks and a deep creek was unexpected and probably exposed by lower water levels. We forded the wide section of boulders and water with equal parts gusto and curse words.

The Trail also leads over the Wagon Creek Pedestrian Bridge, with evolving views of Mount Shasta around every corner. You can traverse this public trail even if you’re not staying at the Lake Siskiyou Camp.

We hiked almost every day while here, including up 700 feet in just over a mile from pretty Castle Lake up to Heart Lake, which is shaped like a heart, but for which we’d have to have continue climbing to get that view, and we were pooped, but “I cross my heart” that it was heart-shaped.

Of course, as always, Mount Shasta gazed upon us, and there was still some snow at the top of the trail, even in August. Of particular interest were the weird-shaped trees. Right angles? and curvy curves? Unexpected.

Another (easier) hike took us past the scant long-abandoned remnants of Ney Springs, an 1889 hot springs resort, to 50-foot tall Faery Falls, which becons you with just the cute name alone.

John Ney discovered the springs in 1887 and proceeded to build Ney Springs Resort, a destination health resort, which in its heydey had a 50-room hotel, bathhouse, barn and carriage house.

Remains of bathtubs, cisterns, and even a decorative fountain are there, if you squint and look hard. The old stone wall and spigot, covered in bright green moss, still flows. It is eerie and fascinating how quickly the forest has taken back the property.


Because a town named Weed is never not funny, we trotted 10 miles north of Mount Shasta to visit this favorite of the 420-friendly community.

We bought t-shirts requested by various family members who shall remain nameless, and a little Weed-branded somethin’-somethin’ for our good friends Ryan and Erin Weed back in Phoenix, but were unable to convince our family that our grandchildren would be all the rage at preschool playgroup if they wore these.


Steeped in railroad lore, and about 10 miles south of Mount Shasta, the tiny town of Dunsmuir offered some surprising delights. Our campground, Railroad Park RV, included many refurbished train cars that could be rented as hotel rooms … at a price. (Currently about $290 a night.) We sweet-talked the maid to get a peek inside.

Don’t wanna stay in a train car? How about an old school bus that has been converted into a 1970’s-style hotel room! Check ’em out in our post about Mystic Hot Springs in Utah.

The on-site Dining Car train-themed restaurant is also on site here, and one of the few “fancy” (as fancy as it gets, here, anyway) places to eat in the area.

There is also a ride-upon train that roves the property twice daily filled with small and not-so-small train buffs, to the confusion of our dogs. If you’re a pufferbelly fanatic, this place is your jam.

Castle Crags State Park is just five miles south of Dunsmuir, with 6,000-foot spires forming a stunning, jagged crown rising out of the surrounding forest. Vista Point is a great place for views of the peaks, as well as distant Mount Shasta. The crags very much reminded us of Pinnacles National Park, visited earlier on this trip.

You (the theoretical “you”, if you’re young, strong, and fit) can hike the steep 5.2-mi. Crags Trail to the top of Castle Dome, but being no fools, we chose other trails through shady forest, with virtually nobody else around.

Back in Dunsmuir, an easy 1/2-mi hike to Hedge Creek Falls lets you walk behind the 35-foot waterfall, streaming from a basalt cliff above, before continuing to the Sacramento River and its cool, clear waters.

More surprises in Dunsmuir: how about a dumpy roadside dive right on Interstate-5, ranked as one of the Top 100 Food Destinations in the Nation by Yelp in 2015. Whaaaaatt?? Can I really trust a place that can’t afford to replace the C and A in their CAFE sign?

All the cool kids gather at Yaks on the 5, and their hamburger-centric menu is bonkers. Yaks also has an outpost in Mount Shasta called YakShack, but the Dunsmuir location is the more divey and funkier, and therefore the better one of the two, IMHO.

Their kids’ menu includes a Gummy Bear Burger, described thusly: “Plain, dry burger with side of gummy bears.” They don’t call your name when your order is ready; instead, the pseudonym you draw from a cannister serves as your notice. Philip was Funky Monkey, but we later heard them also call Sprinkles, which would have been fun if he’d drawn that, since that is our dog.

Because we’re currently watching the fascinating Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary on Netflix, we chose the “Arnold Alpha Burger”: aioli, jack cheese, pastrami, bacon crumbles, two burger patties, house-made fried onion strings, house-made ranch drizzle. As if that weren’t enough, we threw in Scott’s Tots, with brown sugar cajun rub, bacon crumbles, gorgonzola, jack cheese, chili-lime drizzle, chopped cilantro, squeeze of lime.

It’s not just burgers, though that is what they are famous for. Don’t forget to throw on an order of their world-famous sticky buns with bourbon and Bailey’s caramel sauce, kinda what would happen if a cookie and a bear claw had a baby.

The back patio is dog-friendly, but the inside is even cuter and funkier, with lots of artsy touches.

The craft beer they served blew our minds, and they told us it was from a local brewery in this tiny town. We stopped in later to buy some cans, but they don’t have cans ready to go; rather, they drew the brew straight from the vats into empty cans before pressure sealing them and handwriting a label. Now THAT’S fresh beer!

Numb Numb Juice for the win!

The final surprise in Dunsmuir, a tiny town of only 1,700, was learning that Babe Ruth played on the city ballpark during a barnstorming tour in 1924. Too bad Yaks wasn’t here then; they woulda really cleaned up.

Whiskeytown NRA

Another 40 miles south from Dunsmuir outside Redding, the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area includes Whiskeytown Lake, with boat ramps and rentals, beaches, and marinas along its 36 miles of shoreline.

President Kennedy dropped in via helicopter to dedicate the dam in a media frenzy, a few months before he was killed exactly 60 years ago. But of greater interest is the name. Whiskeytown. It conjures images of rugged goldminers. Foolhardy settlers. Sun-beat cowboys just trying to stay alive. But here we are. Where’s the whiskey? Where’s the town?

Nowhere, it turns out. Legend has it a mule hauling a barrel of whiskey dropped it down a hillside and it broke, spilling it into a creek and thereby making it Whiskey Creek. The small settlement became Whiskeytown. For several decades, the US Postal Service refused to acknowledge the name because it was unwholesome. These days, however, it’s of no consequence, because the population of Whiskeytown is zero, and there is no town, and therefore no whiskey tasting room.

Besides playing in the lake, you can visit historic structures, go four-wheeling, and hike to tumbling waterfalls. It was hot, so the cool water was exceptionally refreshing, especially after a steep — very steep! — hike to Whiskeytown Falls on the James K. Carr Trail.

We didn’t have much time in Redding, and it was hot, so we stayed with early-morning excursions and those involving cool water. We’ve been here before, though, and enjoyed it very much.

A previous visit to the Redding area in 2014 also included boating on Lake Shasta, exploring Old Shasta Ghost Town, and a visit to Shasta Caverns, a stalactite- & stalagmite-filled cave accessible only via a boat tour across scenic Shasta Lake. Read about it here!


From here, we start to swing south again for the last 5 weeks of this trip. Next, we travel down the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway to see the stunning Burney Falls, which Teddy Roosevelt reportedly called “the eighth wonder of the world.” But as for Shasta, all we can say is Shazam! It has been a wonderful week.

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