20 Reasons Why Redding is the Gateway to California’s Breathtaking Wilderness

Brought to you by Visit Redding

Photo: Turtle Bay

If you look at Redding, California on a map, you’ll see it sits on the very edge of the Norther California valley, surrounded by a semi-circle of mountains and forests. Sitting in those mountains are some of the most pristine outdoor destinations on the planet, making Redding the perfect gateway to the best wilderness California has to offer.

From illustrious peaks and pristine waterways, to massive waterfalls and low-traffic National Parks, there is simply no arguing the sheer beauty that surrounds the area. Not only is Redding itself a marvelous destination, it’s also easy to get to. It can be conveniently accessed via California’s Interstate 5, and now there is a direct flight from Los Angeles the Redding Airport. See the inexpensive and easy flight details for yourself.

When looking at that map, it’s easy to get lost in that think forest and mountainous terrain surrounding Redding, so we dove deep to show you exactly what you could see if you venture into the wilderness. Below are 20 destinations that prove Redding is the gateway to the pristine wilderness of California:

Sacramento River

Flickr/Peter Alfred Hess

You don’t have to go far see this one. The centerpiece of Redding is the beautiful river that flows right through its center – the Sacramento River. There are so many ways to enjoy the river, either from inside Redding or all the way up to its headwaters in Mount Shasta. This river is world renown for its fishing opportunities, but it also provides rafting, hiking or just some beautiful scenery. And you can’t forget the world-largest functioning sundial, which sits as the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay near downtown Redding.

One way to experience the river is the Sacramento River Trail, which traverses throughout town all the way up to the Shasta Dam. For Redding locals, the Sacramento River Trail might be the perfect place to get outside and exercise on a weekly basis. But if you’re from out of town, it’s worth visiting at least once. In just one adventure, you can exercise along the river, cross the Sundial Bridge and see Shasta Dam up close and personal.

There are many spots to fish the Lower Sacramento River all the way down the valley, but it seems like the hottest fishing area on the river lies right in the heart of Redding. Flowing under the Sundial Bridge, through the town of Redding and out to Red Bluff, you will find a ton of great Rainbow Trout on the Sacramento River.

Here’s our fishing trip with Chris King from the Fly Shop on the Sacramento River in Redding:

Burney Falls

Flickr/Steven Bratman

For many people around the globe, when they think of Northern California, they think of Burney Falls. Located just north of Redding between Lassen Peak and Mt. Shasta in California’s lava country, is famous for its 129-foot waterfall, which cascades from Burney Creek down into Lake Britton. The falls are a sacred place for the Pit River Indian Tribe, who have held ceremonial rituals here for thousands of years. President Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with the waterfall, he dubbed it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

The year-round falls are formed by melting snow from Burney Mountain, which travels through underground streams before hitting solid rock and flowing back to the surface. Each day, more than 100 million gallons of water plunge over the falls.

While you’re there, don’t miss the Falls Loop Trail, which is a 1-mile hike to the base of the falls and back up. During the walk, you’ll see lava flows and fractured basalt — evidence of the region’s turbulent volcanic activity. After descending 100 feet into Burney Canyon, we’re rewarded with a cool mist at the base of the falls.

Read more about the Eighth Wonder of the World – Burney Falls

Mount Shasta

Flickr/Don Graham

One of the most famous outdoor activities in California is summiting Mount Shasta, and it’s not for the physically or mentally weak.

This summit falls into a whole other category than the others. To do the Mt. Shasta summit properly you need to be in excellent physical condition and have done your homework. This is where casual hiking meets authentic mountain climbing.You will need to buy (or rent) hard mountaineering boots, crampons and an ice ax. The Fifth Season in Mt. Shasta is a great resource and has everything you will need, plus many years of experience on the mountain. There you can pick up the Wilderness Permit you will need to legally be on the mountain.

If you are in that top 10 percent of athletes with a super-fit cardiovascular system, you might consider hiking the mountain in one day. The main advantage to this is not having to carry a tent, sleeping bag, extra food/water, etc. for a longer stay on the mountain. Many such climbers start their hike around midnight, and there will appear a strange line of headlamps slowly plodding up the mountain.

Avalanche Gulch is by far the most popular route (John Muir’s favorite) and starts from the Bunny Flat Trailhead. Take the Everitt Memorial Highway north from the town of Mt. Shasta until it eventually veers northeast. The trailhead/parking area is well marked. The Sierra Club Hut (Horse Camp) is at 7,900 feet. There you have access to fresh spring water.

From there it’s a long plod up Olberman’s Causeway to Helen Lake, a tent village which is the traditional overnight spot for hikers wishing to climb the mountain in two days. From there it’s up Avalanche Gulch to the Red Banks (steepest part of the climb) to Misery Hill (a long hike with several false summits) to the top.

The summit is not a comfortable place to stay very long. It is small with numerous places where a person might actually fall off. At times the wind is simply howling. Most everyone at the top has some degree of altitude sickness.

One advantage of hiking the mountain in one day is, by the time you’re ready to head back down, the snow isn’t hard anymore. It is, literally, “all downhill from here.” When conditions are right you can glissade (sliding on your butt in the snow) from top to bottom in about two hours.

Learn more about climbing Mt. Shasta

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Sitting right outside Redding, California is one of the most underrated National Parks in the United States, loaded with pristine wildlife, beautiful hikes, pristine waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes and an active volcano. It’s typically not one of the National Parks you’ll hear when listing America’s most popular parks, and that’s a good thing.

At Lassen Volcanic National Park , you can experience a top-notch outdoor experience without the crowds you see at Yosemite or Yellowstone. And even with it’s lack of tourists, for our money, you won’t find more outdoor beauty in one wilderness area than in Lassen.

Read about the 8 best adventures in Lassen Volcanic National Park

McCloud Falls

In McCloud, California sits one of the premiere outdoor destinations in Northern California. McCloud Falls offers visitors three beautiful and unique waterfalls within a short hike. It’s the perfect place to bring the family to swim and enjoy the great outdoors.

McCloud Falls, located just outside of Mount Shasta, California, actually consists of three different waterfalls, all with their own distinct personalities. The three tiers of McCloud Falls – Upper, Middle and Lower – provides visitors one of the best outdoor experiences in NorCal. It’s a beautiful hike to see all three waterfalls and in the summer months there is some great opportunities for swimming and recreation.

While Upper is difficult to get to and Lower is the smaller of the three, Middle McClouds Falls remains the most popular waterfall in the area. It contains a large swimming hole at the bottom and you can even catch some crazy cliff jumpers putting on a show. But one thing’s for sure, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Shasta Lake

The main attraction for most people visiting Redding is Shasta Lake, which includes California’s largest reservoir and America’s 9th largest dam – Shasta Dam. Spending a day lounging on a boat, hitting a couple wakeboard runs and tossing out a line for bass are the perfect way to spend a day in NorCal, and Shasta Lake provides these opportunities in spades.

From a boat, the water and shoreline of Shasta Lake seems endless. Giving the ceremonious hand wave to any nearby boaters gives a sense of community – a sense of carefree living that always puts my mind at ease. Lay out in the sun. Jump in the water. Repeat. It can be pure bliss.

Of course, a day on the lake can include a visit to Shasta Dam, Lake Shasta Caverns or even a trip to the Little Backbone Creek natural waterslide. There’s endless reasons why this destination is Redding’s most popular.

Read about an unforgettable day on Shasta Lake

Subway Cave

When most people visit the Lassen area, they head directly to Lassen Volcanic National Park to see the many mountains, lakes and hydrothermal areas that make the park famous. But just outside the national park, sitting in the Lassen National Forest, sits a lava tube formed thousands of years ago that outdoor adventurers can hike through today.

Subway Cave now has stairs at the mouths of the cave enabling adventurers to make the hike through the entire lava tube. The entire trail through the cave is about 1/3 of a mile and includes different “rooms” to look at the smooth walls of the lava tube. The cave is dark and the floor is jagged, so be sure to bring a light in order to navigate the hike. The cave is nice and cool on summer days, and you can even make it a frozen experience during the winter.

Watch the below video to see what you can expect on your visit to Lassen’s Subway Cave:

Learn more about Subway Cave in the Lassen National Forest

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Flickr/daveynin

You’d be hard pressed to find a more pristine area in Northern California than the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Whiskeytown Lake is the centerpiece of the park that includes four waterfalls, hundreds of miles of trails and a beautiful beach.

There’s something for everyone at Whiskeytown. You can hike a peak, visit a waterfall, go for a swim, enjoy the lake from a boat, go fishing, lounge on the beach or even do some water skiing. Whiskeytown is a local favorite for Redding residents and is a must-see destination for anyone visiting the area.

Note: Repairs from the Carr Fire are still ongoing in the park. Please check here before planning your visit to Whiskeytown

Pit River

The longest tributary to Shasta Lake, the Pit River begins in a series of small forks in Lassen and Modoc Counties. It remains rather slow and sluggish until it passes through Fall River Mills and only really becomes trout habitat in the canyon above the Pit 1 Powerhouse. Those less concerned with catching fish see the river as a giant electricity-producing machine. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) owns and operates a series of powerhouses above and below Lake Britton, and anglers have come to use the numbers of these powerhouses to designate great Pit River places to fish.

If an angler said, “I’ll meet you at Rock Creek on Pit 3,” Pit River regulars understand that’s three miles below Lake Britton Dam where Rock Creek flows into the river. Pit 3 is the river from Lake Britton Dam downstream to the Pit 3 Powerhouse. Pit 4 is the river between Pit 4 Dam and the Pit 5 Dam. Pit 5 flows out below Pit 5 Dam, flows through Big Bend and on down to the Pit 5 Powerhouse. There are also plenty of trout in the river between the Pit 1 Powerhouse and Lake Britton, but this section of river fluctuates dramatically every day and can be dangerous.

Read more about fishing on the Pit River

Trinity Lake

Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Trinity Lake is routinely overshadowed by its lake brethren to the east – Shasta Lake – but it’s magnificent in its own right. Not only does the lake provide plenty of boating, fishing and hiking opportunities, it’s also a beautiful habitat for NorCal’s wildlife. In fact, the lake recently surpassed Shasta Lake as the largest population of nesting bald eagles in California.

Trinity Lake, held in place by the Trinity Dam and created by the flows of the Trinity River, holds three marinas that can assist with rentals and boat launching year-round. With its location in the middle of the mountainous Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the lake is known for its glassy conditions for wakeboarders.

Hatchet Creek Falls

Just under an hour northeast of Redding on Montgomery Creek sits a beautiful, unique waterfall that may just be the best swimming hole in Northern California.

Hatchet Creek Falls familiarity amongst locals is most certainly due to the giant fallen tree that lays right in the middle of the falls, creating a makeshift stairway for swimmers to climb and jump into the water. At Hatchet Creek, kids can swim around in a shallower area formed by a dam. The waterfall and creek are easily accessible after a short trail walk. It’s the perfect place to spend a summer day.

Another popular feature with this swimming hole is the cliffs on either side of the falls where adrenaline junkies can perform cliff jumps. Take a look for yourself:

Learn more about Hatchet Creek Falls

Castle Crags Wilderness

Flickr/Thomas Shahan

Castle Crags seems to hide in plain sight. Though clearly visible from I-5, the magnificent geological oddity receives less mention than other North State attractions. Maybe people prefer volcanoes to granite spires.

Whatever the reason for Castle Crags State Park’s relative anonymity, the destination certainly deserves a visit. From the hike to Castle Dome to finding waterfalls like Root Creek Falls and Burstarse Falls, there are so many reasons to make a trip to the legendary Crags.

Learn more about Castle Crags State Park

Hat Creek

Talking about fishing Hat Creek as if it were one, homogeneous fishery is like saying all California anglers are the same. It just ain’t so. Hat Creek is an iconic fishing stream named long ago in a hailstorm of profanity. In addition to its riffles, runs and pools, Hat has been made into a hodge-podge of dams, diversions, ditches and draws, all holding fish. The lowest three miles before it enters Lake Britton helped jump-start the California Wild Trout Program. Through the course of its almost forty-mile length, Hat Creek wears many different, ah, hats.

It first sees daylight when it gushes out of the volcanic earth in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It leaves the park a diminutive spring creek holding small, wild trout before merging with other subterranean waters at Big Springs near Old Station. There it begins taking on the characteristics of the fine trout stream that it is.

Read about fishing on Hat Creek

McCloud River

Sure, when most people think about McCloud River, they think of the three tiers of McCloud Falls (detailed above). But most people don’t know that the river contains some of the most famous rainbow trout on the planet. The Rainbow Trout of the McCloud River have often been called the “Rainbow of the World,” being exported all around the world including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, Peru and all over western Europe. What was once a fish localized to the McCloud River, now calls the world its home.

From a fishing perspective, the Mac is best described as two different rivers. Above McCloud Reservoir the river is smaller, easier to wade and popular with families and folks who delight in the smell of fresh fish sizzling in pan. There are several popular campgrounds, three gorgeous waterfalls and an abundance of trout regularly stocked through the summer season and families doing all they can to connect with a few. The upper river is readily accessible from Hwy. 89 about six miles east of the sleepy little town of McCloud. There are stunning views of majestic Mount Shasta from this stretch of highway, and no one will blame you if you miss your turn because you’re gawking at the mountain.

If you have the ability to kayak on the river, you can also witness its historic castle, which was once the vacation home of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

Learn more about fishing on the McCloud River

Shasta Bally

Photo by Rachel Perry

When summiting peaks in NorCal, most people talk about the big volcanos like Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak. But there’s a peak near Whiskeytown Lake that can give you incredible views of the wilderness just west of Redding that’s easier to summit than Mount Shasta, and a little more difficult than Lassen Peak.

On the westside of Whiskeytown Lake, you’ve probably noticed a rounded peak sometimes covered in snow. That’s Shasta Bally, a 6,200 feet peak that’s a popular destinations for local hikers and mountain bikers. It’s a mild hike compared with real mountaineering and will give you a completely new beautiful view of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

View of Whiskeytown Lake from Shasta Bally

A great place to start is Sheep Camp, part of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area run by the National Park Service. What these fancy titles really mean is that you will have to buy a parking permit at the Visitors Center on the way in. From there drive 4.2 miles into the park and hang a left at the Brandy Creek Camp Road, also marked for Shasta Bally. From there it’s another 2.6 miles to Sheep Camp, which, by the way, is not a terrific place to leave valuables in your car. From Sheep Camp just follow the dirt road up the mountain. It’s really almost impossible to get lost.

From the top you can see for many miles in all directions, and it’s a great spot for lunch and to spend some time. You’ll be able to see Whiskeytown Lake to the east, as well as the stunning mountain ranges to the north and west. It’s a truly “hidden” experience that everyone in NorCal should do at least once.

Learn more about the hike to the top of Shasta Bally

Trinity River

Photo: Bureau of Land Management

Driving along Highway 299 between Redding and Humboldt, you’ll see fantastic views of the crystal-clear water of the Trinity River. And there’s two reasons to get out and enjoy the water – fishing or white water rafting.

During the warmer months, river rafting has been near the top of the favorite summer family activities in NorCal. The Trinity River offers more than enough white-knuckle rapids to satisfy almost anyone with a pseudo death wish. The Trinity River is by far the most popular NorCal whitewater venue, and the “Pigeon Point Run” (Class III) is at the top of the list. Depending on water levels, the drop at notorious “Hell Hole” can approach ten feet. Terror apparently has a name.

As far as fishing goes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better steelhead fishery in California. During the fall and winter months, fisherman from all over descend on the river to catch one of the elusive steelhead, known for their big size and hard fight.

Potem Falls

Photo: All Trails

Right in the middle of waterfall country, there are so many beautiful falls to explore year round. You may choose to see Burney Falls, Hike the three tiers of McCloud Falls or swim at Hatchet Creek Falls. But there’s another large waterfall that’s a lot less crowded and can provide a blissful experience for anyone that visits.

Potem Falls is a 70-foot waterfall on the Pit River arm of Shasta Lake and for good reasons, it has become a popular weekend swim spot for locals. The easy quarter-mile hike to the Potem Falls watering hole makes it an attractive option for families. If you desire some peace and quiet, take a mid-week trip to the falls when it’s often deserted. Potem Falls also makes for a romantic date spot.

Approaching the narrow, but scenic Potem waterfall, you’ll encounter a large pool perfect for swimming and lounging around. In Latin, “potem” means “to drink”, and after seeing the translucent water of Potem Creek, you might be compelled to do so. However, we don’t recommend it.

Learn more about the blissful experience at Potem Falls

Shasta Caverns

While most people head to the lake for sunny vibes, there’s also an awesome experience you can find underground. Lake Shasta Caverns are a network of caves located near the McCloud arm of the lake and is one of the most unforgettable cave adventures found in the country.

The tour begins with a long downhill hike to the patio boat that carries you to the other side of the McCloud River arm of the Shasta Lake. Once you arrive at water level, the boat ride is wonderful. Though Shasta Caverns is only a short drive north of Redding, you may be shocked by how otherworldly it really is. Maybe that’s the point.

Once in the cave you are ushered through chambers of all sizes, some up a flight of stairs, some down. Each cavern has a name, and a story. Though I have been known to get claustrophobic in tight places, I’ve never felt that way inside Shasta Caverns. There is so much to see and too many great stories to listen to. The tour takes at least an hour, and the time flies.

Discover a captivating underground world at Lake Shasta Caverns

Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park

Probably NorCal’s best kept secret is the Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, most likely due to its remote location in northeastern Shasta County and the fact that it can only be reached by boat. But the area with about 13 miles of shoreline has three campsites and nearly 20 miles of accessible trails in the area. If you’re willing to put in the work to get there, it’s worth the trek.

Named after the Achomawi (a band of the Pit River Indians) that inhabited the area for centuries, the park’s 5,930 acres is covered in jagged lava flow rocks and remains one of the nation’s largest systems of underwater springs in the U.S. The park was once a muskrat farm in the 1930’s, and the little critters can still be seen in the area, along with remnants of Native American fishing traps on the water.

Learn more about the Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park

Trinity Alps Wilderness

Photo by Miguel Vieira

The Trinity Alps Wilderness, located just northwest of Redding, is a gorgeous mountain range providing backpackers with stunning views, pristine high-alpine lakes and unmatched wilderness isolation. It’s the perfect place for an outdoor adventure in the summer months.

For campers and backpackers looking for an introduction to the Trinity Alps Range, Caribou Lakes Trail is the perfect route! Along the trail, hikers run into enormous Caribou Lake (72 acres), Lower Caribou Lake, as well as stunning Snowslide Lake and a series of other smaller pools.

We also recommend taking the difficult hike to Grizzly Falls. Considering its length (14 miles) and altitude change (5,400 feet), Grizzly Creek trail doesn’t exactly fit into the category of “casual hikes”. Following the motto: “nothing worth doing is easy” though, Grizzly Creek Trail’s grueling hike leads to one of the best if not THE best payoffs in Northern California.

Learn about hiking the Trinity Alps Wilderness.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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