A Guide to Exploring the World-Famous Rivers of the Shasta Cascade

Brought to you by Visit Redding

With Redding, California situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, the flanking hills push water down the hill and into the valley. This gravitational pull into California’s north valley has created some of the most beautiful rivers on the West Coast, each providing their own unique experience.

Whether you’re in search of a fishing adventure, a chance to get a floatation vessel on the waters or simple looking to relax in a river setting, there are so many choices in the Shasta Cascade region. Here’s a breakdown of the beautiful rivers of Redding:

Lower Sacramento River

Flickr/Peter Alfred Hess

Below Shasta Dam (and subsequent Keswick Dam) is the Lower Sacramento River, which is world-renown to visitors and locals as it swerves through downtown Redding. This gorgeous stretch of water flows right through town, giving locals the opportunity to admire its beauty year round, especially at the Sundial Bridge.

Fishing the Lower Sacramento River in Redding is easy and productive. Just below the Sundial Bridge is what is known as Lunker Lane. That’s usually where you’ll find the biggest fish in the system. It’s easiest to catch these fish on a boat, but there are plenty of opportunities to find the fish from the shore as well. If you would like to learn more about fishing the Sacramento River, we recommend picking the brains of local guides, like the Kennedy Brothers or Chris King. Or you could stop into the Fly Shop in Redding for some tips.

You can also float the river via raft, kayak or paddleboard. Rafting through Redding on the Sac is a time-honored tradition for residents. There are local rafting companies who will provide you with the boat and will pick you up on the river below. This trip will bring you under the Sundial Bridge and all the way through town as you experience Redding from the water. It’s truly a magical adventure.

Upper Sacramento River

Photo: Raft California

The Upper Sacramento River is much different than its lower counterpart, quickly flowing through valleys as it makes its way from Mount Shasta to Shasta Lake.

The water on the Upper Sac is perfect in the early summer and springtime, giving rafters continuous Class III rapids as they make their way through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, with views of Mount Shasta and Castle Crags. You’re also guaranteed to see some spectacular wildlife as well as some big fish while you’re floating on one of California’s best fisheries.

Fishing the Upper Sac is very productive, although maybe not as easy as the lower section of the river. The best places to fish this section are between Lake Siskiyou and Dunsmuir, an area that has become well-known for its productive October Caddis hatch, which will put the trout in a feeding frenzy. Below Dunsmuir down to Shasta Lake can provide some great places to fish as well, youre just going to have to work to find the right spots.

Trinity River

The Trinity River weaves through the mountains just west of Redding, flowing for miles on your way to the North Coast along Highway 299.

The Trinity River is a designated as Wild and Scenic, meaning its beauty and stability are protected by the federal government. It’s also one of the best steelhead fishing rivers on the West Coast. Lots of anglers enjoy wade fishing it, but a boat is a big advantage because you can cover much more water. It’s also a fairly long fishery, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get away from other anglers.

The Trinity is also the perfect place for a whitewater rafting adventure. It is by far the most popular whitewater venue in the region, 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. For the more ardent adventurer, there is the Trinity’s Burnt Ranch Gorge Run. There you can test your skills (or demonstrate your insanity) on big, Class V rapids like Table Rock, Origami, Burnt Ranch Falls and Jaws.

Pit River

The Pit River is a legendary tributary that flows through rugged terrain from eastern Shasta County to Shasta Lake.

For fishing, the Pit is rugged wading but chock-full of wild rainbow trout (and a few browns). Below Lake Britton is a series of dams and powerhouses carving the river into distinct sections, and some of these sections are quite remote. The farther you are willing to hike, the better the fishing is likely to be. With a little hiking you will not see another angler all day long. There’s a lot of Pit River to fish between Lake Britton and Lake Shasta. The section below Lake Britton Dam sees a lot of fishing guides and clients.

Although rafting/kayaking is not easy due to its rugged terrain, it’s certainly not impossible on the Pit. Most of the daredevils you’ll find on this river are near Pit River Falls, where you can launch down a long chute.

Pit River Falls is easily one of the most underrated waterfalls in NorCal, most likely due to the fact that the hike to see it isn’t easy. So a more matter-of-fact way to get to the falls is to kayak to it. There’s only one problem – once you reach the falls in a kayak, you have to plunge over it, right?

McCloud River

The legendary McCloud River is famous for a lot of things – fishing, massive waterfalls and historic castles. It packs a lot of punch as it flows south into Shasta Lake.

Sitting in McCloud, California is one of the most spectacular hikes in all the West Coast, with a 3.5 roundtrip jaunt bringing you to three waterfalls, all of which are unique in their own right. The McCloud Waterfalls Trail sits about 15 minutes off Interstate 5 near Mount Shasta and will take you to Lower, Upper and Middle McCloud Falls.

If you’re looking for a kayaking adventure, the McCloud can put you right next to the historic vacation home of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. It’s certainly an odd way to explore historic architecture, but it’s the only way you’re going to see it. The Wyntoon Castle is not open to the public and in most cases, can only be seen from the water. If you bring your kayak down through the McCloud River, you’ll be in a rare group.

Of course, the fishing is stuff of legend as well. 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.

From a fishing perspective, the McCloud River 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. Fish are stocked at Fowler’s Campground and Lower Falls. As far as finding the fish, well, if you can’t actually see them, look for deeper water. Because the upper river is fairly shallow and the water clear, fish do their best to avoid direct sunlight.

Clear Creek

For anyone looking for a more challenging kayak trip, Clear Creek below Whiskeytown Lake offers Class IV rapids through the west side of town. The 8-mile stretch of water goes from just below Whiskeytown Lake to the take out near Igo, offering little-known whitewater for the adventurous.

The fishing on Clear Creek is remarkably good for large and small rainbow trout, even though most of it is too deep to wade. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to do a little climbing around (or even swimming during summer), there is enough pristine, trout-filled water to fish for days. The trick is getting in and back out again.

Hat Creek

This smallish spring creek southeast of Burney is a shrine to fly fishing and wild trout. Wild-eyed anglers, sometimes waving bamboo rods worth more than my car, drool if even one of these ultra-selective trout looks at their fly. It isn’t really that tough, but the more skill you have, the better.

The success of transforming the fishery from a put-and-take fishery in the 1960s into a world class, wild trout Mecca inspired the formation of California Trout and the California Wild Trout Program. If you’re into it, this is the Vatican of California fly fishing.

There aren’t many opportunities to enjoy Hat Creek if you aren’t fishing, but taking in its beauty in eastern Shasta County is well worth the trip.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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