Winters are usually quiet in terms of hiking and backpacking if you're not up for winter activities like snowboarding or snowshoeing. Last weekend I opted to do something different and decided to head north to Siskiyou County with Discover Siskiyou.
I've visited Siskiyou in the summer before, but never thought to visit in the winter. As far north as the region is, the county still has a lot to offer in the quieter winters as well. We had an incredible weekend exploring the outdoors that was only a 5 hour drive from the Bay Area, and I'd highly recommend this area as a great alternative to the more crowded Yosemite and Tahoe area.
For all of us, the highlight of the weekend was meeting some of the locals, as we were blown away by how friendly and welcoming they were. Sometimes the most memorable moments from trips like these aren't about finding that waterfall or getting that perfect shot, but are the unexpected ones where I get to meet awesome people along the way.
Things To Do
In preparation for our weekend road trip up to California's North, we took inspiration from www.discoversiskiyou.com, where we were able to find things to do and eat based off a particular region, activity, or season. Siskiyou encompasses quite a large area, and we found so much to do that it was hard to narrow down an itinerary of activities for just two to three days.
I also wrote an intensive article about a one week itinerary for the best road trip exploring Siskiyou and Southern Oregon
Lava Beds National Monument
One of the places I was most excited to visit was the Lava Beds National Monument at the very northern edge of California. This monument is slightly remote to get to, but you could spend an entire day exploring as many caves and tunnels as you wanted.
This area has 700+ caves and miles and miles of underground lava tubes and tunnels! The ones on the main Cave Loop Road are well maintained, great for families, and make for some really unique photo opportunities. We had a blast exploring the different caves, each with their own aesthetic, with some of my favorites being Hopkins Chocolate and Skull Cave.
Another PROTIP: If visiting between November and April, about 500 bald eagles migrate to the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge, which you'll pass by on the drive in. Don't miss this chance to see this American icon in the wild.
On our way to Lava Beds National Monument, we actually ended up driving past Mt. Shasta and we were able to view the massive landmark from several great vantage points. We stayed in Yreka, CA, so the bulk of our drive was on the Highway 97. Some of the best views of Mt. Shasta were from the 99-97 Cutoff, on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway south of Dorris, CA, and the rest stop in Weed.
After getting a closer look of the peak as we passed by, we made the decision to come back in the summer to summit the 14,179 ft potentially active volcano. I love the look of a prominent peak in the middle of nowhere, and you can spot its shape from miles and miles away.. so naturally I only wonder what the view is like from the top!
Heart Lake Hike
The last time I visited Siskiyou was in the summer, and the 2 mile roundtrip hike to Heart Lake was my favorite short hike in the area. Now that it was colder, I wanted to see what the lake looked like in the winter. The one mile uphill trek from Castle Lake was still easy-going in the snow, and we even got to experience a brief moment of snow falling down on us. The best part of hiking this popular spot in the winter is you get the views all to yourself!
Castle Lake was partially frozen over while the shallower Heart Lake was completely frozen solid. My favorite thing about this hike is the final view from Heart Lake - at the outlet, the edge of the lake almost drops off over the edge of the cliff, which also happens to look out over Castle Lake below.
In the summer, this trail is a great short overnight backpacking trip and would be perfect for first-timers. There aren't too many spots to pitch a tent, but the great thing is no permits are required... a perfect alternative to Yosemite!
We brought up a mini blackberry pie and an inflatable couch to enjoy the view (always gotta have that post-hike snack!). We were hoping to wait it out and see if the clouds would clear around Mt. Shasta, but it didn't seem like Mt. Shasta would be making an appearance on this particular day.
We walked a short way on the Lake Siskiyou Trail to see the Wagon Creek suspension bridge, a gorgeous pedestrian bridge on the northeast side of the lake. We also spotted several fisherman and children playing on the shore by the inlet, even during this time in the winter. This trail loops around the entire lake, where you can see views of Mt. Shasta, Mount Eddy, and Castle Crags.
From my last Shasta County weekend trip, I never got the chance to make it to the McCloud River. This time, we finally got to visit the series of waterfalls on the upper section. These are a popular cliff jumping/swim spot in the summer, but the falls themselves are gorgeous anytime of the year. You can hike along the river to see each one of the three falls, or drive and park at the viewing lot for each one.
I'd love to come back and explore the rest of the McCloud River Preserve, as I've heard it's a fisherman's paradise and a preserved site for scientific research. Even the small section we visited looked so pristine and the water had an incredible blue color.
Where to Eat
Black Bear Diner - Mt. Shasta
Many Californians are familiar with this homestyle breakfast chain, and you can go eat at the original Black Bear Diner right here in the town of Mt. Shasta! Yes Black Bear Diner originated here in Northern California.
Seven Suns Coffee & Cafe - Mt. Shasta
We stumbled into this joint on a winter afternoon and loved the variety and price point of their coffee, teas, and sandwiches.
Mt. Shasta Brewing Co - Mt. Shasta
The go-to spot for microbrew enthusiasts to end a day outdoors.
Jefferson's Roadhouse - Yreka
A laidback, locally-owned steakhouse that fully embodies Northern California's farm-to-table lifestyle.
Some of the beautiful photos in this post are by Edmond Kwok