California’s far north yawns languidly from the bottom of the Cascade Range and up through lower Oregon. The landscape is both harsh and ridiculously beautiful, crafted by the alchemy of volcanic eruptions and the splendor of arboreal wilderness. Lakes, gushing rivers teeming with fish to snag, abundant waterfalls, swimming holes and hot springs hide beneath the shadows of stratovolcanoes and amid seas of douglas fir, black oak, and cedar.
This least populated part of California defies most stereotypes of the Golden State—here people hunt, fish, slow down to chat, and tend to vote conservatively. That being said, the Shasta Cascade has its share of crystal wearing, tarot card reading hippies, especially circling the majestic Mt. Shasta—a mountain believed to carry healing properties in its bloodstream. Native American settlers swore that this great volcano was so sacred that they had to be purified before ascending beyond the tree line. Today, folks of all persuasions gather to revere the mountain’s power, climb her and soak in her healing hot springs.
Note that the largest city in the region is Redding, which has a small airport.
Redding is a family friendly small town whose charm takes some unraveling, but once you wheedle away the tough exterior, you’ll find cheery locals, an array of green space, and some interesting food options. Check into Redding’s lovely Bridgehouse Bed and Breakfast and spend the afternoon exploring the Sundial Bridge. While you’re in the neighborhood, hike to waterfalls in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, and explore the historic buildings at Shasta State Historic Park. Grab dinner at Moonstone Bistro, or El Rinconcito, then catch live music at Vintage Wine Bar.
Drive through the majestic Lassen Volcanic National Park. With 106,000 acres to explore, you can easily stay here for an entire week, and still feel you’ve not really experienced this remote landscape. If you have more time, be sure to check out the Subway Caves, and the massive McArthur Burney Falls State Park.
Hikers will love the abundant trails snaking through the region, often populated with bears, eagles, and even wolves. Tread carefully up Mt. Shasta, as the ascent can be tough on the lungs. Rock climbers adore Castle Crags State Park,
which offers easy access to dramatic hiking and rock climbing bested in Nor-Cal only by Yosemite National Park.
Stop for lunch in the small community of McCloud, a proud mill and lumber town, huddled in the shadows of Mt. Shasta, with a working tourist railroad and historic buildings, and the mountain in the background. Then plan to stay a couple nights in the curiously adorable community of Mt. Shasta City. Cluttered with wine bars, breweries, eateries, and of course those famed crystal shops, this haven for healers orbit the sacred mountain. Foodies should check out Dunsmuir, an artsy village perched on the Upper Sacramento River, the mural lined downtown which houses some of the regions finest restaurants among upscale galleries.
Stock up on picnic fixings, plenty of snacks and a tank of gas to travel into no man’s land. Bird lovers, stop in the Butte Valley Region, an arid desert hugged by volcanoes and adored by a loving population of bald eagles, especially in the Butte Valley National Grasslands. Pass through the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to arrive at Lava Beds National Monument–a treat for both geologists and history buffs.
If you really want to get lost in the woods, spend some time exploring Bigfoot’s stomping grounds in the stunning Trinity Alps. Rivers slice through wooded mountain ranges. Raft, fish, or swim in the Trinity River or one of the gorgeous alpine lakes.