Brought to you by Visit Redding
I had some good friends looking to come up from Los Angeles for the ultimate Northern California trip. Of course, they came to the right guy. I like to think I know a thing or two about recreation in NorCal. And for my money, I can’t think of a better adventure in Northern California than a day on Shasta Lake.
My friends took one of the recently added flights from Los Angeles to Redding and we booked a hotel room in Redding for the night. From there, we took the quick 15 minute drive to embark on a day we’ll never forget.
We had a lot planned this week, so we would have to fit all of our activities on Shasta Lake in just one day. Considering that Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in California, we had a long day ahead of us.
Luckily, my good friend had a boat that he was willing to chauffeur us around for the day, but before we got out on the water, we had to see one of the best attractions on the lake:
Lake 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.
From the boat you climb aboard vans that transport you to the cave entrance. Along the way the guide talks about some of the fascinating history of the cave, how it was used by Native Americans, “discovered” by white people, made safe for tourists and opened to the public. It was no small feat.
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.
We emerged from the cave with youthful enthusiasm and a full day to bask under the sun on the lake. So we drove over to meet our friend with the boat and to explore some of the lake’s awesome destinations above ground.
Of course, we had to swing by to show my friends the 8th largest dam in the United States – Shasta Dam. With the high water levels on the lake right now, there is a large congregation of wood debris near the dam, so you can’t get too close. But it’s still a marvel from afar.
We didn’t have time on this trip, but for anyone looking to explore the dam, they have a visitor’s center with a small museum and free guided tours. The enormous lake was once a small portion of the Sacramento River, but due to the dam construction beginning in 1937, the lake can now hold about 4,500,000 acre feet of water.
With our quick detour to show off the dam to my SoCal friends, it was time to head over to a little know gem on the lake.
Little Backbone Creek Natural Waterslide
It’s kind of a pain to get to, but for my money, it’s one of the coolest outdoor spots in all of NorCal – a smooth natural waterslide. Where Little Backbone Creek flows into Shasta Lake near the Big Backbone Creek Inlet, there is a smooth waterfall with a rope that you can experience a natural waterslide like no other. See what it’s like to ride the slide:
The Little Backbone Creek waterslide is across from Digger Bay. Head into the inlet, go all the way to the back until you hit the creek and anchor. Hike up the creek, which is in a canyon. You’ll pass a series of crystal clear ponds and boulders. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the waterslide. Use caution as rocks are slippery and conditions differ from season to season and year to year.
We had a blast riding the slide for about 30 minutes and headed back to the boat to finish our day doing what we do best on Shasta Lake – relax.
Relaxation on the Lake
The main attraction for most people on the lake is the water itself, so we spent the rest of our sunlight lounging on the boat, hitting a couple wakeboard runs and tossing out a line for bass. While the beginning of the day was jam-packed with activities, lounging on the lake may have been our favorite part.
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 was pure bliss.
We even saw one of the Jetovators in action near Bridge Bay! See what it’s like to ride to hose:
Alas, our time on the lake was done, but we were still riding high on our epic day. It was time to head back down into town for some tasty food and craft beer.
Wind Down in Redding
We got off the water and headed straight for The Park – a brand-new food truck hub in downtown Redding. With multiple food vendors and plenty of activities in the park, it was the perfect place unwind after a long day on the lake.
The Park has a lively vibe, frequently populated with live bands, hungry visitors and delicious craft beer. It’s recently become the centerpiece of a thriving downtown that includes plenty of craft beer spots, unique restaurants and walkable destinations (mind the dust, they are currently undergoing a significant renovation in the former promenade). If you want to beat the heat, head down to the nearby Sundial Bridge to enjoy a sunset above the Sacramento River.
At the end of the day, Shasta Lake and the Redding area remains the centerpiece of outdoor recreation in Northern California. With views of Mount Shasta, proximity to National Parks and Wilderness and pristine rivers flowing everywhere, it’s really unlike anywhere in the world.
Our day on Shasta Lake had ended, but NorCal will remain in the hearts of my SoCal friends forever.
Zach O’Brien is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Active NorCal