The Republic of California
En route to Mount Shasta from the south, you may want to stop near Red Bluff at William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park, 21659 Adobe Rd. (tel. 530/529-8599), for a picnic along the Sacramento River and a visit to an adobe home dating from 1852. The 4-acre park commemorates William B. Ide, the Republic of California's first and only president. (The Republic of California was proclaimed on June 14, 1846, following the Bear Flag Rebellion, and lasted only 3 weeks.) In summer, the park is open from 8am to sunset, and the house from noon to 4pm; call ahead in winter. Parking is $5 per vehicle.
The major town and gateway to the area is Redding, the hub of the panoramic Shasta-Cascade region, at the top of the Sacramento Valley. From here, you can turn westward into the wilderness forest of Trinity and the Klamath Mountains, or north and east into the Cascades and Shasta Trinity National Forest.
In Redding, with its fast-food joints, gas stations, and cheap motels, summer heat generally hovers around 100°F (38°C). A city of some 80,000, Redding is the transportation hub for the upper reaches of Northern California. It has little of interest; it's mainly useful as a base for exploring the natural wonders nearby. Information is available from the Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, 777 Auditorium Dr., Redding, CA 96001 (tel. 800/874-7562 or 530/225-4100; www.visitredding.org), west of I-5 on Hwy. 299. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Ahead and northeast, Mount Shasta rises to a height of more than 14,000 feet. From Redding, I-5 cuts north over the Pit River Bridge, crossing Lake Shasta and leading eventually to the mount itself. Before striking north, however, you may want to explore Lake Shasta and see Shasta Dam. Another option is to take a detour west of Redding to Weaverville, Whiskeytown-Shasta Trinity National Recreation Area, and Trinity Lake.
The $15-million, 34,000-square-foot Turtle Bay Exploration Park (tel. 800/TURTLEBAY [887-8532] or 530/243-8850; www.turtlebay.org) is often a visitor's first stop. From there, wander over the Sundial Bridge, an architectural marvel built by Spanish artist Santiago Calatrava. The 710-foot-long, 21-story-tall pylon bridge with a translucent glass surface is the largest sundial structure in the world and connects the 10-mile-long Sacramento River Trail. Free live musical performances are held by the bridge on Friday nights in summer from 7 to 10pm.
One of the best ways to truly see the area is by way of a full-guided Segway tour from Shasta Glide 'n Ride (tel. 866/466-4111 or 530/242-1150; www.shastaglidenride.com). No prior experience is needed, and tours are 1, 2, or 3 hours in length, departing several times a day and passing over the Sun Dial Bridge, through the arboretum, and by the turtle pond. Night Glides are offered on Friday and Saturday nights in summer months. On "Free 'fer Fridays," all daytime tours are buy-one-get-one-free (call a few weeks in advance during summer). Bike rentals are available, too.
This section of the river also offers good year-round urban fishing of steelhead, trout, and salmon; for information about where to cast your line, call Redding's world-class fly-fishing store, the Fly Shop (tel. 800/669-3474 or 530/222-3555; www.flyshop.com). Whiskeytown Lake, west of Redding, offers great beaches, windsurfing, and sailings; for information, call the lake's Visitor Center (tel. 530/246-1225).
About 3 miles west, stop at the old mining town of Shasta, which has been converted into a state historic park (tel. 530/243-8194). Founded on gold, Shasta was the "Queen City" of the northern mines in the Klamath Range. Its life was short, and it expired in 1872, when the Central Pacific Railroad bypassed it in favor of Redding. Today the business district is a ghost town, complete with a restored general store and a Masonic hall. The 1861 courthouse is now a museum, where you can view the jail and a gallows out back, as well as a remarkable collection of California art assembled by Mae Helen Bacon Boggs. The collection includes works by Maynard Dixon, Grace Hudson, and many others. Continue along Hwy. 299 west to Hwy. 3 north, which will take you to Weaverville and then to the west side of the lake and Trinity Center.
Weaverville was a gold mining town in the 1850s, and the Jake Jackson Memorial Museum-Trinity County Historical Park, 508 Main St. (www.trinitymuseum.org; tel. 530/623-5211), captures part of its history. The collection, from firearms to household items, tells an interesting story about the residents -- Native Americans, miners, pioneers, especially the Chinese. In the Gold Rush era, the town was half Chinese, with a Chinatown of about 2,500 residents. Admission is free, but a donation of $1 is suggested.
Across the parking lot, you can view the oldest continuously used Taoist temple in California at the Joss House State Historic Park (tel. 530/623-5284). This well-preserved temple was built by immigrant Chinese miners in 1874. Admission is $1 for adults, free for children ages 16 and under.
The Trinity Alps
West of Weaverville stretch the Trinity Alps, with Thompson Peak rising to more than 9,000 feet. The second-largest wilderness area in the state is between the Trinity and Salmon rivers and contains more than 55 lakes and streams. Its alpine scenery makes it popular among hikers and backpackers. You can access the Pacific Crest Trail west of Mount Shasta at Parks Creek, South Fork Road, or Whalen Road, and also from Castle Crags State Park. For trail and other information, contact the forest service at Weaverville (tel. 530/623-2121).
The Fifth Season, 300 N. Mount Shasta Blvd. (tel. 530/926-3606; www.thefifthseason.com), offers mountaineering and backpack rentals and will provide trail maps and other information concerning Shasta's outdoor activities.
Living Waters Recreation (tel. 800/994-RAFT [994-7238] or 530/926-5446; www.livingwatersrec.com) offers half-day to 4-day rafting trips on the Upper Sacramento, Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon rivers. Trinity River Rafting Company, on Hwy. 299W, in Big Flat (tel. 800/30-RIVER [307-4837] or 530/623-3033; www.trinityriverrafting.com), also operates local white-water trips.
For additional outfitters and information, contact the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce, 210 N. Main St. (P.O. Box 517), Weaverville, CA 96093 (tel. 800/487-4648 or 530/623-6101; www.trinitycounty.com).
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
In adjacent Shasta County, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is on the eastern shore of quiet, relatively uncrowded Trinity Lake, with 157 miles of shoreline. This reservoir was originally named Clair Engle, after the politician who created it. Locals insist on calling it Trinity, however, after the river that used to rush through the region past the towns of Minersville, Stringtown, and an earlier Whiskeytown. When they dammed the river, however, they also destroyed the three towns, which now lie submerged beneath the lake's glassy surface.
Both Trinity Lake and the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area are in the Shasta Trinity National Forest, 1.3 million acres of wilderness with 1,269 miles of hiking trails. For information on trails, contact Shasta Trinity National Forest (tel. 530/226-2500; www.fs.fed.us/r5/shastatrinity).
Heading north on I-5 from Redding, travel about 12 miles and take the Shasta Dam Boulevard exit to the Shasta Dam and Power Plant (tel. 530/275-4463; www.shastalake.com/shastadam/index.html), which has an overflow spillway that is three times higher than Niagara Falls. The huge dam -- 3,460 feet long, 602 feet high, and 883 feet thick at its base -- holds back the waters of the Sacramento, Pit, and McCloud rivers. A dramatic sight indeed, it is a vital component of the Central Valley water project. At the visitor center is a series of photographs and displays covering the dam's construction. You can walk or drive over the dam, but it's far more interesting to take the free 1-hour tours that run on the hour daily from 9am to 5pm in summer, and at 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm Labor Day to Memorial Day. The guided tour takes you deep within the dam's many chilly corridors (not a good place for claustrophobics) and below the spillway. It's an entertaining way to beat the summer heat. Note: Tours may be canceled due to security reasons, so call ahead first.
Lake Shasta has 370 miles of shoreline and attracts anglers (bass, trout, and king salmon), water-skiers, and other boating enthusiasts -- two million, in fact, in summer. The best way to enjoy the lake is aboard a houseboat; you can rent them from several companies, including Antlers Resort & Marina, P.O. Box 140, Antlers Road, Lakehead, CA 96051 (tel. 800/238-3924; www.shastalakevacations.com); and Packers Bay Marina, 16814 Packers Bay Rd., Lakehead, CA 96051 (tel. 800/331-3137 or 530/275-5570; www.packersbay.com). There is a 1-week minimum during the summer, and a 3- to 4-day minimum during the off season.
While you're here, you can visit Lake Shasta Caverns (tel. 800/795-CAVE  or 530/238-2341; www.lakeshastacaverns.com). These caves contain 20-foot-high stalactite and stalagmite formations -- 60-foot-wide curtains of them adorn the great Cathedral Room. To see the caves, drive about 15 miles north of Redding on I-5 to the O'Brien/Shasta Caverns exit. A ferry will take you across the lake, and a short bus ride will follow to the cave entrance for a 2-hour-long tour. Admission is $22 for adults, $13 for children ages 3 to 15, and free for kids 2 and under. The caverns are open daily from 9am to 4pm in the summer; 9am to 3pm April, May, and September; and from 10am to 2pm October through March.
For information about the Lake Shasta region, contact the Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, 777 Auditorium Dr., Redding, CA 96001 (tel. 800/874-7562 or 530/225-4100; www.visitredding.org), west of I-5, on Hwy. 299. It's open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm.
A volcanic mountain with eight glaciers, Mount Shasta is a towering peak of legend and lore. It stands alone, always snowcapped, unshadowed by other mountains -- visible from 125 miles away. Although it has been dormant since 1786, eruptions cannot be ruled out, and hot sulfur springs bubble at the summit. The springs saved John Muir on his third ascent of the mountain in 1875. Caught in a severe snowstorm, he and his partner took turns submersing themselves in the hot mud to survive.
Many New Agers are convinced that Mount Shasta is the center of an incredible energy vortex. These devotees flock to the foot of the mountain. In 1987, the foothills were host to the worldwide Harmonic Convergence, calling for a planetary union and a new phase of universal harmony. Yoga, massage, meditation, and metaphysics are all the rage here. These New Agers seem to coexist harmoniously with those whose metaphysical leanings begin and end with Dolly Parton song lyrics.
Those who don't want to climb can drive up to about 7,900 feet. From the town of Mount Shasta, drive 14 miles up the Everitt Memorial Highway to the end of the road near Panther Meadow. At the Everitt Vista Turnout, you'll be able to stop and see the Sacramento River Canyon, the Eddy Mountains to the west, and glimpses of Mount Lassen to the south. You can also take the short hike through the forests to a lava outcrop overlooking the McCloud area.
Continue on to Bunny Flat, a major access point for climbing in summer and also for cross-country skiing and sledding in winter. The highway ends at the Old Ski Bowl Vista, providing panoramic views of Mount Lassen, Castle Crags, and the Trinity Mountains.
While in Mount Shasta, visit the Fish Hatchery, at 3 N. Old Stage Rd. (tel. 530/926-2215), which was built in 1888. Here you can observe rainbow and brown trout being hatched to stock rivers and streams statewide -- millions are born here annually. You can feed them with food purchased from the coin-operated food dispensers and observe the spawning process on certain Tuesdays during the fall and winter. Admission is free; hours are daily from 8am to sunset. Adjacent to the hatchery is the Sisson Museum (tel. 530/926-5508; www.mountshastasissonmuseum.org), which displays a smattering of local-history exhibits. It's open daily year-round, from 10am to 4pm in summer, from 1 to 4pm in winter; admission is free.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.