The Shasta Cascade area often gets overlooked by more well-known areas in Northern California like Tahoe and Yosemite, but its vast forests, numerous lakes, and snow-capped mountain views makes the perfect weekend getaway. Plus, it's less than a four hour drive from the Bay Area, so why not head up for a few nights?
I could easily spend days exploring all of the hikes, waterfalls, and lakes Shasta County has to offer. My favorite part was that everything seemed so pristine and off the radar - it felt like the area has yet to be fully discovered. Of course the hot spots like Shasta and Castle Lake were bustling, but there seemed to be endless hikes and hidden gems yet to discover.
Below I'll list some ideas to help plan your weekend. One day can easily be spent entirely just hiking to waterfalls and lounging in the alpine lakes. For the second day, I suggest rending either a ski boat or a houseboat to spend on one of the larger lakes.
Castle Lake and Heart Lake — 2.1 miles roundtrip
One of the more popular hikes in the area, the short climb up to Heart Lake should be a must do for anyone visiting the area. From adorable Heart Lake, you are rewarded with incredible views of Shasta-Trinity forest and Mt. Shasta towering above Castle Lake. Normally you would need to hike a lot further than a mile for views like these.
Castle Lake also makes for the perfect swimming spot with warm water and easy access. This would also be a great destination for a first time backpacker for the short mileage, and no need to worry about fighting over backcountry permits ahead of time.
Mossbrae Falls — 2 miles roundtrip
Tucked away by the small town of Dunsmuir, CA, Mossbrae falls is one of the most unique falls I've been to, and I'm convinced it has to be one of the prettiest in Northern California. Getting to the falls is half the fun, and although I can't condone you breaking any rules to get there, I must admit the spectacular view at the end of the hike is worth the trouble.
Other Hikes to Check Out:
There were several other spots on our list that we would have loved to hit if we had the time.
- McCloud Falls is a little longer of a hike at four miles, but the trail will bring you by three thunderous waterfalls on the McCloud River along with opportunities to jump into some of the best swimming holes in the area. The area also has great camping, fishing, and cliff diving
- Burney Falls - you've probably seen photos this gorgeous 129 foot tall waterfall all over social media - it's hard to take a bad photo of this beauty. I really wanted to fit this one into our busy weekend, but it would have been out of our way at an hour 15 minutes drive northeast from Redding. Although there is no swimming allowed at these falls, there is a one mile hike that loops around the falls and leads to the water's edge
- Hatchet Creek Falls would have been a great spot for swimming and cliff jumping. These 46 ft tall falls are distinguished by a large log that can be climbed up to the top of the falls.
- Potem Falls is another gushing waterfall (can you tell I like waterfalls?) that stands 70 ft tall and can be reached by a short 0.4 mile hike.
Now we get to one of my favorite summer activities... boating! There's really nothing like it - I could spend all day tubing, wakeboarding, swimming, and exploring infinite canyons and fingers. In the Bay Area there aren't too many options lake-wise, but up in Shasta County less than four hours away, there are several perfect options like Shasta Lake, Trinity Lake, and Whiskeytown Lake.
We chose the less popular Trinity Lake to avoid any summer weekend crowds at the other more popular lakes, and we rented a ski boat from Trinity Alps Marina. Even though it was an hour 30 minute drive from Redding, the lake was incredibly peaceful and we had all the room in the world to wakeboard and float as long as we pleased.
Helpful boat renting tips for first timers:
1. Reserve a boat as soon as possible
Marinas can run out of boats on busy summer weekends. If there are no more available boats, try opting for a houseboat or pontoon instead of a ski boat, or try a different marina or lake.
2. Bring a valid drivers license
Most people think a boating license is needed to rent a boat, but the marina only requires a valid drivers license for each person that will be operating the boat.
3. Pack, pack, pack
Try to get a boat with some shade, otherwise bring a hat! A full day on the lake almost guarantees some toasty sunburns. Don't forget to stock the cooler with enough food and beer for the entire day :)
4. Download offline maps
Especially for Trinity Lake, there might not be service on the drive or on the lake. Especially if it is your first time navigating that lake, be sure to download a map of the entire lake on Google Maps so you'll always know where you are.
Since Shasta-Trinity National Forest is so close, there are plenty of camping options in the area ranging from primitive backcountry to established campgrounds complete with all the amenities. For hotels and Airbnbs, Redding has tons of options and is a great location central to many of the locations and activities described above.
Had to throw this one in there because it was so good - Niu Hawaiian BBQ. Drool. Their gigantic portions were perfect since I can always eat a horse after a day in the sun. Plus I hear Katsu Chicken Curry has magical sunburn healing properties ;)
You can also eat at the original Black Bear Diner in Mt. Shasta! If you're a local Californian, the black bear symbol will be familiar icon as a homestyle breakfast joint.
The Mt. Shasta area is one of my favorite lesser-known areas in Northern California. The Cascade Range offers something for every person, whether it's multi-day wilderness exploration, short day hikes to countless waterfalls, or summer boating and floating.
If you're willing to head even more north closer towards the border, check out my article on a planning a weekend in Siskiyou County.