At A Glance
A short but incredibly scenic hike in the Shasta Valley that follows the shore of surprising Trout Lake. Tremendous views in all directions, crowned by the glacier-clad glory of Mount Shasta highlight the high desert scenery.
Total Distance: 2.3 miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Season: All year (subject to seasonal closures for hunting during late fall and early winter)
High Desert Heaven
While Mount Shasta and the regions immediately to the east, west and south are heavily wooded and often boast alpine terrain, to the north of the mountain the Shasta Valley is a classic high desert. Sparsely wooded with junipers in lieu of pines and firs, the valley is a stark contrast of green against the gold desert terrain. Lined to the east and west by the Klamath and Cascade ranges, the southern end of the valley is crowned by the snowy pyramid of Mount Shasta presiding regally over its domain. The high desert landscape is a result of the valley’s position within Mount Shasta’s rainshadow. When storms move through the area, the mountain is perpetually thrust upwards into the turbulent currents and wrings moisture from the clouds. Consequently, there is little precipitation to the north and the desert holds sway. It is a striking reversal from the lush forests that lie just a few miles to the south. Unfortunately for hikers, most of the Shasta Valley is a productive ranching area and there is little opportunity to enjoy the dry climate. What little public land available is found in the southeast corner, hugging the foot of the mountain. The rest of the valley is privately owned with one glaring, but little known exception. At the north end of the valley, just east of the town of Montague lies the Shasta Valley Wildlife Refuge, a park administered by the California Department of Fish and Game. This 4,657 acre slice of the Shasta Valley is a diamond in the rough. A former ranch, what little development there is aside from old agricultural infrastructure is oriented more towards hunters and fishermen. Nonetheless, the refuge is blessed with gorgeous scenery and absolutely spectacular views of Mount Shasta and the rest of the peaks the ring the Shasta Valley.
Hiking in the Shasta Valley Wildlife Refuge is a bit different from other destinations around Mount Shasta. For the most part, what hiking there is is either on roads or cross country. The most significant exception to this is the Trout Lake Trail. Surprisingly large and deep, Trout Lake is a closely guarded secret amongst fishermen. Loaded with its namesake fish, the lake is spectacularly situated amidst grassy plains and rocky, juniper covered mounds. It is particularly noteworthy for its staggering view of Mount Shasta and anyone lucky enough to arrive at the lake when the wind is still is guaranteed to enjoy a fantastic reflection on the water. The Trout Lake Trail is not an officially sanctioned trail but it is the closest thing the refuge has to an actual hiking trail. In spite of not being officially sanctioned, the trail is a stunning hike with unforgettable vistas. The journey through the high desert is an great change of pace from other hikes in the Mount Shasta area. Though not extremely long, there is excellent potential for nearly limitless exploration all around Trout Lake. During the winter months, when the mountains are cloaked in snow, a hike along Trout Lake is ideal opportunity to get outside and enjoy terrific scenery.
Like nearly anywhere in the Shasta Valley, the Trout Lake Trail’s trailhead has fantastic views of Mount Shasta. Highlighted against the large lake and golden hills Mount Shasta is an amazing sight. The trip to Trout Lake is worth it just to enjoy this spot. Not surprisingly, Trout Lake is not a natural lake. It may have originally been one of the numerous shallow ponds that are scattered around the area. Now a pair of levees have been constructed in order to increase the volume of the lake. Unlike many other reservoirs, Trout Lake does not exhibit much of a bathtub ring when the water level is low. Instead a fringe of reeds and thick grass are revealed where water once lapped against the high water mark. The levees are the only spots where a typical bathtub ring develops. To begin the hike, head east and cross the first levee. Views to the north are great and include Cottonwood Peak to the northwest, Paradise Craggy and Black Mountain due north and Soda Mountain and Fuji-like Mount McLoughlin far to the north in Oregon. Even though the refuge is surrounded by farms and ranches, little of this development is visible and its absence heightens the scenic quality of the area. On the far side of the levee the road drops lower and then makes a long loop back in order to climb up a prominent rocky point. Note the quarry at the top where rock was blasted out of the prominence to construct the levee. The road continues south across another levee. To the right the original route of the spring fed creek that forms Trout Lake is visible, passing through a marshy area en route to another small pond.
On the far side of the levee, where the road turns to the west, note a large, man-made birds nest protected from predators by shields that prohibit climbing up the pole. The nest is intentionally made to blend in with the landscape but is obvious nonetheless. Look for a path splitting off the road just below the nest that continues northeasterly, just above Trout Lake’s high water mark. The single track trail is easy to follow and stays fairly close to the water. Views are great, particularly to the east where Steamboat Mountain (the refuge’s highest point) and distant Willow Creek Mountain and the Goosenest are all visible. The path is tucked between the water and the rocky slope of a high hill. Weaving through the broadly scattered juniper’s the trail remains distinct the entire way except for one spot where large rocks obscure the route to some degree. It is not difficult to find the trail beyond this point. The trail proceeds south for about 0.2 miles from the end of the levee before it joins an old road that is seldom, if ever used. Looking more like a pair of parallel single track trails, the road joins the trail after descending down from a shoulder of the hill skirted by the trail. Once joined the path continues along the now level shoreline, passing occasional junipers, skirting the base of yet another small hill. As the trail rounds the south end of the second hill, a small valley opens up. Trout Lake extends a narrow finger into the valley. Views of Mount Shasta, good up to this point, are now even better. While the trailhead offers a good opportunity to frame the massive volcano, the potential from this point on the trail is even better.
The road, which becomes increasingly closer to a true single track trail is it proceeds, rounds the narrow finger of the lake and continues on the far side. The shore throughout this section of the trail is lined by dense reeds that are golden in the fall and winter. As the trail arrives at the southern end of the lake, another broad, level valley is revealed. The land to the south of this point is actually owned by a prominent Hollywood actor’s estate. This generally marks the end of the Trout Lake Trail. It is discernible up to this point but going forward, it becomes increasingly faint. Thankfully the ground is level and travel is easy. For those looking to extend the hike, it is possible to hike along much of the southern shore of Trout Lake. There is not too much room to maneuver because there is only a narrow margin of land between the lake and the refuge’s southern boundary. Unfortunately it is not possible to completely circumnavigate Trout Lake. The southeast corner of the lake has a series of marshes that are hard to cross. The property line is so close at this point that there is usually no dry land in this corner of the refuge and completely rounding the lake on dry ground requires passage across private land. Nonetheless, even an out-and-back trip on the Trout Lake Trail is a great hike.
On the return trip, when the old road arrives at its junction with the single track trail that branched off at the end of the levee, take the old road up the hill. Rather than simply following the same route back to the trailhead, this path climbs over a small hill and offers a great opportunity to scramble up to its summit. Views from the top are stupendous and are certainly among the most memorable vistas in the area. To the east the Cascade crest towers above the Shasta Valley, topped by Willow Creek Mountain, Ball Mountain and the Goosenest. Looking north, all of the aforementioned peaks can be observed, as can much of the eastern bulwark of the Klamath Mountains, including China Mountain and Mount Eddy. To the south, the great bulk of Mount Shasta, looming above the valley and Trout Lake, dominates the entire scene. When one is able to tear away from this incredible spot, continue south on the old road as it climbs over the hill and descends down to the road that makes its way across the levees. Near the bottom of the descent, look for a single track trail that splits off to the right. Taking this will prevent hikers from having to dip down too far to get to the road and shaves a few dozen yards off of the route to the levees. From there it is an easy hike across the levees to the trailhead, where still more great views of Mount Shasta await.
From Mount Shasta drive north on I-5 for 27 miles to the Grenada exit. From the off ramp, turn right onto A12 and proceed for 0.7 miles then turn left onto the Montague-Grenada Road. Continue north for 5.8 miles. In downtown Montague, turn right on Webb Road, which becomes Ball Mountain Road-Little Shasta Road after 0.7 miles. Proceed another 0.8 miles then turn right onto the paved road at the sign indicating the Shasta Valley Wildlife Refuge. Stay on the paved road south for about 0.5 miles. Upon arrival at the refuge offices, follow signs to the refuge. The road will turn east and become a will maintained gravel road, passable to all vehicles. From the offices follow the gravel road for two miles to a fork in the road. Note the crossing of the Little Shasta River about halfway to the fork. At the fork, stay right and continue another 0.8 miles to the end of the road at the parking lot for Trout Lake.