Winter view of Mount Eddy from the Sacramento River.
This winter started off with a few great snow storms and that was sustained right through January. However, February dried up and the temperatures went up and what looked like a promising winter has ended up not fulfilling its auspiciousness. While this may present challenges down the road (I don’t think drought is a concern but fire is the primary risk at this point), there is little we can do about it but enjoy the positive side of the mild weather we have been enjoying. While the high country trails are still buried in snow, the lower elevation trails are still open. They are all beautiful, feature interesting geology and are all worthy hikes. What they all lack, however, is a sense of wildness that is found on most of the trails in the high country. That, more than anything else, is the great lack of the winter hiking experience in the Mount Shasta area. There are, however, a few places to find even this most primal attribute. I think my most favorite of these is along the upper Sacramento River, upstream from Lake Siskiyou. Here the river runs wild, the world seems far off and an air of wilderness is pervasive. It is one of my favorite places withing quick striking distance of town.
I have taken my family there a few times in the past couple weeks and we have all enjoyed scrambling on the rocks, enjoying the river and exploring the wild stretches of forest. In all the trips we have taken, only one encounter with other hikers has been had. This really is a premier place to play outside and enjoy one of the region’s less-appreciated destinations.
The wild part of the Sacramento River begins high in the Trinity Divide, rising as three forks that originate from beautiful alpine lakes and expansive, lush meadows. The three forks course energetically through deep canyons before combining into the main stem of the Sacramento, just upstream from the Box Canyon Dam and Lake Siskiyou. When the forks emerge from their canyons, the river flows through a broad valley with ridges lower than the ones that line the headwater canyons. Here the river’s flood plain widens significantly, revealing a vast field of multi-colored river rock. The river charges through the rocky way, pouring over, through and around the rocks that litter its path. Here the Sacramento’s essential character is kinetic and the river manages to at once refresh and energize visitors.
I grew up visiting Yosemite many times per year, for extended periods of time. Since the 1960’s, my family had been staying in the park’s Housekeeping Camp, an extension of famed Camp Curry, where cabins were constructed of concrete walls, canvas roofs and wooden plank fences. The camp is situated on a bend in the Merced River and many of the cabins are located right next to the river. Nowadays much of the riverfront area is fenced off and restoration efforts have allowed the banks to revegitate. This was not the case when I was a kid and the longest stretch of Housekeeping’s riverfront was several hundred yards of large boulders that functioned as riprap near the cabins. As a child, my brother and I would charge up and down the length of this section of river, jumping from one large boulder to the next as fast as possible. This was the earliest memory I have of loving to scramble on rocks and over granite. I still love to do this and it is for this reason that the newly formed Sacramento, just downstream from the confluence of the South and Middle Forks is a place that I am particularly fond of. It is here that I am able to indulge once again in the pleasure of scrambling over stones in the presence of a beautiful river.
Between the confluence of the South and Middle Forks and the inlet into Lake Siskiyou, it is possible to find many spots with plenty of opportunities to enjoy scrambling on the rocks. Nearer to the confluence, the river channel is narrower but there are still plenty of huge rocks to enjoy and small swimming holes to cool off in. Further downstream, as the Sacramento approaches the North Fork, the channel widens and the river rock consists of vast, unbroken fields of boulders, cut by the churning water of the river. Enjoying the beautiful, multi-colored rocks and the lovely river is made all the easier by the presence of Mount Shasta, visible beyond the river in many places.
It is easy to pick a spot from which to enjoy the river. Almost anywhere on South Fork Road, once it has crossed into the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, will offer access to a good spot next to the water. Some spots closer to Lake Siskiyou have cliffs on the south side, so getting down to the river can be a bit challenging but most of the area where the road and river run parallel has an easy approach to the water. Many spots on the river have unofficial campsites, where it is possible to pitch a tent just above the water or only a stones through away. A couple of these sites are even blessed with incredible views of Mount Shasta, its mighty cone towering above the river.
There are no trails along this section of the Sacramento River and scrambling over the rocks is the only way to enjoy the raucous beauty. However, scrambling over rocks next to a beautiful river is one of the great joys of being in the mountains and the Sacramento River has one of the best scrambling areas around. It is a special place, whether you are bringing kids who are sure to have fun climbing on the rocks or you are in search of a place conducive to great contemplation. Whatever the reason, just be sure to visit the Sacramento and enjoy one of the great treats of the Mount Shasta area.
Click to enlarge: