Best sites of Mount Shasta & Crater Lake – Trip Report

Early in August 2009, we set forth to explore Northern California and beyond. Our goal was to make it all the way to the Crater Lake in Oregon. With grandparents and kids in tow we did this with stopovers in Mount Shasta and Klamath Falls. Crater Lake is more than 8 hours drive from the Bay Area and the Shasta area provides a convenient stopover location with its own set of unique attractions. Shasta Caverns, located about 20 minutes from Redding (Exit 695 from I-5 North and follow directions) is about 4 hours from the Bay Area and is entertaining for all ages in good health – the caverns have around 600-odd steps inside not to mention trudging up and down a steep dirt road to get to the boat ride.

Shasta Caverns is touted as “three adventures in one” and that is an exaggeration – unless one can find adventure in the boat-ride and the bus-ride required in getting to the entrance of the caverns. The tour takes about two hours. Pricing was as follows: Adults - $22, Junior - $13 (no discount for seniors). It is hard to miss the distinctly beautiful landscape comprising of the red sandy terrain downhill and the dark towering Cascade Range on the walk to the lake (partly dirt road). The wait is minimal as the boat departs every half-hour. Even so it is advised to stay in the visitor center in the shade until 10-minutes before the scheduled time as waiting by the lake can get extremely hot during the summer months. The downhill trek to the boat-dock is relatively easy although about one-third of that walk is through a dirt-road. The hardest part is the upward climb after the tour and it can be too strenuous for a small percentage of the people in spite of their good intentions while getting the tickets. Even though it is not encouraged or promised, a shuttle comes around to ease the strain of the exhausted guests on the way back. The cavern tours have two segments - the first is less demanding while the second segment is indeed taxing as it involves climbing a very steep stairway of some 200-odd steps. It is possible to skip the second part and wait at the visitor center, if so inclined. The boat-ride takes between 10 to 15 minutes and a short commentary is provided on the history of Lake Shasta - the mining town of Kennett founded in 1850s during the gold rush lies about 400-feet under water and is still about 80% intact. The boat-ride is followed by a 5-10 minute bus ride to the top of the hill where the entrance to the cave is located. Another short commentary is provided, this time on the local flora and the fauna and on the story of how the cave was accidentally discovered by two hunters. There is a wait of 10-15 minutes at the visitor center – two groups are allowed inside at a time. The guided tour inside the cave takes about 40-minutes. The tour guides are a mine of information and if you have an interest in geology, you get a field day. Others get to appreciate and ponder on the wonders nature creates.

Our next stop was at Mount Shasta. The grandmother in our group was aching to see snow up-close. The staff at Mount Shasta visitor center said our best chances were after 15 miles on Everitt Memorial Highway to the base of the Mount. We did see snow once we got there and it seemed proximate enough for us to hike and touch snow and 45-minutes into the hike we truly realized the meaning of the expression "as a crow flies". Nevertheless, it was a worthy detour for pristine beauty is all around. Our hotel reservation was at Klamath Falls, about two more hours from Mount Shasta and around 20 miles north of the Oregon border. It is easy to sense the laid back image of Oregonians for the roads are devoid of aggressive drivers. The grandeur of Mount Shasta in the background along with the waterways and farmland calls for a totally calming influence.

Crater Lake is about 2 hours North of Klamath falls through Highways 97 and 62 (entrance $10 per vehicle). This is yet another wonderfully scenic drive with the first half along the banks of Upper Klamath Lake and farmlands and the latter half through the Sun Pass State Forest. The visitor center at Crater Lake is well-appointed and has a small cafeteria as well. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States of volcanic origin formed around 8000 years ago – it is a Caldera lake formed due to the collapse of land after a volcanic eruption. The lake is 5x6 miles across with an average depth of around 1150 feet. The deepest point is measured at just under 2000 feet which makes it the seventh deepest lake in the world. The rim has an elevation between 7000 and 8000 feet and the basin is well above sea level. The lake has a striking deep blue color and the water is remarkably pure (devoid of pollutants as there are no inlets). Rim drive is a 33-mile scenic drive around the Caldera Rim – attractions include the pinnacles (volcanic spires), scenic lake views, and several trails including a mile-long one that has access to the lake.

Last Updated: 02/2011.

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