The last post suggested three hikes that were good options for escaping crowds and still enjoying awesome scenery. However, these were all longer hikes and required longer time commitments. Time might not be available to get out for several hours to make the long journeys on these trails. Fortunately, Mount Shasta has plenty of shorter trails with plenty of opportunity to disappear and include quiet solitude even though it is one of the busiest recreation weekends of the year. The opportunity to enjoy so many trails without a lot of company results from the combination of the sheer number of trails around Mount Shasta and the fact that so many of them are seldom used. There are many more trails that offer great scenery and solitude than can be listed here but for the sake of continuity, I will limit to three. These trails are beautiful, little used, and are easy to get to no matter what kind of vehicle you drive, essentially beginning along paved roads. This is especially useful if you are traveling through the area and don’t have the means to travel some of the rougher roads that access remote trailheads.
McCloud River Trail: Algoma to Nitwit Camp
It continues to amaze me how under appreciated the entire length of the McCloud River Trail is. The section along the falls naturally and deservedly attracts the most attention but the rest of the trail has some really nice features and follows the upper reaches of one of Northern California’s great rivers. The hike begins at the remote Algoma campground, near Bartle. At first it runs parallel to the river through a shallow canyon. The trail is routed along a steep slope, high above the river. It weaves in and out of trees as the river rushes below. The water here is swift moving and raucous. Eventually the trail leaves the canyon and enters a wide flood plain. The river is separated from the trail at times but they eventually rejoin and run parallel again through Skunk Hollow and Nitwit Camps, where there are nice swimming holes.
Almost every trail in the Shasta Valley is a great place to find glorious Mount Shasta views and solitude any time of the year. Consequently, all of the trails out here could be good choices for a lonely hike, with the lone exception of Pluto’s Cave. The path up Yellow Butte is one of my favorites. It has the obligatory views of the great mountain, including the Bolam and Whitney Glaciers. The hike up also has immersive vistas of the mountains around the southeastern corner of the valley, including Sheep Rock, Herd Peak, the Goosenest and Whaleback and even a glimpse of the somewhat more elusive Ash Creek Butte. The hike itself climbs from Highway 97 to the summit of Yellow Butte, maintaining a steady but very moderate grade. The high desert landscape means that views are constant for the entire duration of the hike. This is a particularly good outing to watch the sun set on Mount Shasta.
The Parks Creek Trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail is one of the most popular trailheads in the Mount Shasta area. However, almost all of the traffic heads south, toward Deadfall Basin. Few hikers follow the PCT to the north, rounding the head of High Camp Basin and then coming down to the summit of the Cement Bluff and diminutive Bluff Lake. The truth is, this is not a short hike, racking up a little over 9 miles round trip from the trailhead to the lake and back. However, almost the entire hike is on a level, easy grade that makes the miles melt away faster than normal. Moreover, the scenery is fantastic. Most of the trail travels through rocky terrain, where forests are thin and views are great. Occasional meadows and creeks punctuate the wide arc around the headwaters of High Camp Creek. Lots of unusual geology also adds a significant amount of interest to an already wonderful hike.