While some of the waterfalls around Mount Shasta are well known, the greater area is not usually thought of as a destination for great waterfalls. The truth is, outside of Yosemite National Park, the Mount Shasta region has one of the finest collections of waterfalls in the American West. Whether looking for wild, glacier-fed plunges on the slopes of the mountain itself or massive cataracts on beautiful rivers, you will discover excellent specimens throughout the area. Many of the best falls are found on Mount Shasta, Ash Creek Falls and Mud Creek Falls being among the best plunges found in the state. The McCloud River is famous for its trio of magnificent waterfalls. The Trinity Divide while not often thought of as a destination for finding great falls shelters many spectacular cataracts. Click to enlarge
While the fall color in Mount Shasta is not as grand as the east coast or parts of the Rocky Mountains, it is still very dramatic. Indeed, this is one of the most beautiful time s of the year up here in the North State. The color is not found high on Mount Shasta or amongst the tall peaks of the Trinity Divide. Instead, it is focused in the lower elevation areas, including the Strawberry Valley and the along the southern fringe of the Shasta Valley near Weed. The best places to enjoy the fall color from the trail are along the region’s creeks and rivers. Here the riparian environment is loaded with a variety of trees and shrubs that have wonderful displays of color in the fall. The trails are focused around the McCloud and Sacramento Rivers, though there are a few paths on other creeks that feed into the rivers as well.
Even though the spring thaw is perhaps the most dramatic and awe-inspiring time to visit the rivers, fall is no doubt the prettiest time of the year. Their water level is lower, but the rivers have a friendly and intimate sense about them and the power of the surging spring water is replaced by the palette of colors that surround the waters. The delicate leaves, slowly falling from the trees compliment the running rivers. In some ways, given the profusion of conifers throughout the area, the quality of the fall color can often come as a surprise. The McCloud and Sacramento Rivers enjoy great displays of the autumn spectacle and the fall is one of the best opportunities to appreciate these great rivers from the trail. Yet it must be mentioned that the best color may actually belong to the Klamath River at the north end of the Shasta Valley. There are no trails along this river but those motivated to see the large river in its incredible canyon and dazzling color will not be disappointed.
Few mountains in Northern California have the stark and sudden contrast from its surroundings as the Castle Crags. Erupting from the vast forests of the Sacramento River Canyon, the ramparts and towers of the Castle Crags are spectacular by any metric. Yet, despite their incredible geography and stunning appearance, it is often difficult to find good vistas from which to observe them. Certain points in Castella and few vantages from within Castle Crags State Park offer good places to view the granite splendor. Unfortunately these generally lack a certain elan, since they are basically just large breaks in the forest canopy. Conversely, there are several great places such as the Girard Ridge Lookout and Castle Peak, that permit the dedicated to enjoy staggering views of the Crags but they require hikes or long drives. While they are certainly worth the effort, if time is at a premium then they require more investment than may be realistic. However, there is one spot that is easy to reach that offers a truly spectacular view of the Castle Crags. Within earshot of I-5 and requiring only a short walk on a paved road, the confluence of the Sacramento River and Castle Creek may be the finest view of the Crags’ granite chaos. It is a source of continued amazement that such an incredible perspective on one of the Northern California’s most spectacular formations remains so seldom seen.
Although there are several great places to see the Crags, I am convinced that the confluence of Castle Creek and the Sacramento River is the best. At the outset, this view is a variation on the classic aspect most people see from Castella. The great knot of soaring granite towers and massive cliffs are all present including Battle Mountain and Mount Hubris. Six-Toed Rock and Castle Dome are also easy to identify. However, what makes the confluence viewpoint excellent is the presence of so much water, a resource that is often hard to appreciate in the Crags. At the confluence the Sacramento narrows a bit and runs very deep. Small rapids upstream and downstream from the confluence add interest to the location. Castle Creek, on the other hand, runs through a rocky channel with room to spread out and splits into a few different troughs en route to joining California’s longest and largest river. It should be noted that Castle Creek is not an insignificant stream. It is possibly the largest tributary of the Upper Sacramento River. It has a large watershed that includes the Seven Lakes Basin and the hidden lakes tucked away in the mysterious Grey Rocks. The real highlight of these two waterways is where they meet. Castle Creeks is 4 or 5 feet higher than the Sacramento so at the confluence the creek tumbles over a short but broad cascade in order to contribute its waters to the river. Over all of this presides the majestic Castle Crags. Though seldom seen, the view from the confluence of Castle Creek and the Sacramento River is magnificent and not easily forgotten.
The confluence does not require a long hike or walk. Due to its ease of access, it works much better as a place to sit, relax and read or to have a picnic or other such time with friends and family. It is also possible to swim in the river here though obviously great care should be taken if doing so. It should be noted that access to this spot passes through a residential area so respect for those who live in the area is due. Still, despite the residential setting passed through to get to the confluence, once there the road and homes fade away and all one can see is the glory of granite turrets, rushing rivers, and the great expanse of wonderful river rock. It may be seldom seen but it is stupendous nonetheless.
As always, if anyone is curious about details in getting to the confluence, feel free to send me an email and I will give directions.
Four seasons at the confluence:
Last week finally saw winter’s return to the Mount Shasta area. Cold temperatures had been around for a while but the snow had not yet set in. It seemed as though autumn was fighting to maintain its dominance until Christmas at which time it would finally allow winter to assert itself over the region. Obviously this was not to be the case and the week after Thanksgiving saw the arrival of snowy conditions for the first time.
The initial onslaught was a short burst of rain. Not surprisingly this translated into a thin layer of snow on Mount Shasta. While it may rain everywhere else around Mount Shasta, the giant volcano’s tremendous height yields colder temperatures and, consequently, snow when none has fallen elsewhere. This was not the first time the mountain has been cloaked in white this fall but like all the other times, the winds picked up and the ice was blasted off of peak. It would take a stronger storm with more precipitation to successfully cover the mountain with a healthy layer of snow. While the wind strips the mountain clean again, and it would be a miserable place to be in those conditions, it still creates wonderful images from down below. Looking up at the mountain when it seems that it is shrouded by what seems to be a wispy cloud and realizing that it is snowy being hurtled through the air by fierce winds always makes me want to stop and pull out my camera. If the conditions are highlighted by sunrise or sunset, so much the better!
Immediately after the first storm, the temperatures plummeted. Day time highs ranged from lower 10’s to lower 20’s. At night it got down to around zero in some places, including my house. I live outside of town at a higher elevation so we are always colder (and snowier) than weather reports for Mount Shasta City. The frozen temperatures were actually enjoyable and made for some beautifully unusual conditions, especially along the Sacramento River. This area is one of my favorite spots around Mount Shasta. The broad, rocky channel of the river makes a great foreground below Mount Shasta. The rushing river and the multi-colored boulders are always visually appealing when contrasted against the great heights of the mountain. In the freezing weather, the river was given a new personality. Rather than the swift river one normally finds, the Sacramento was burdened with a thick layer of shimmering ice. The crystalline flow stood in stark opposition to orange, red and gray boulders dotting the river’s channel. Adding to the surreal setting, the river could still be heard running beneath the ice. In a few places the living water emerged into the sunlight, only to once again be swallowed up by the frozen crust.
Snow finally did arrive for the first time in the valleys. We got about 6 to 8 inches around the house. This is just about the perfect level of snow since it covers everything and really FEELS like it has snowed but it is not so deep that it requires a lot of work to manage. It also makes dresses the mountains in their winter attire without cutting off access to many of the trailheads. Of course, it is necessary to have a 4×4 to reach some of these spots but it is nothing like the big storms where several feet of unplowed snow build up on the mountain roads and access is much more difficult. The snow also came at the perfect time to head out to the woods to get Christmas Trees. While we have a few spots where there a lot of good trees in areas that need to be thinned, the best of them was still accessible across the divide from the South Fork Canyon. The Trinity Divide was particularly beautiful beneath the freshly fallen snow. The frozen lakes, snow-laden trees and icy river were invigorating.
Unfortunately the snowy conditions did not last. A few days after the storm, the winds returned and the temperatures rose a little above freezing. I returned to the South Fork to hike the PCT. While there was plenty of snow on the ground, I was amazed at how quickly the trees and south-facing peaks and ridges had shed their mantle of ice. I hiked out through the snow to Gumboot Point. This is one of the best view points in the Mount Shasta area and it is amazing just how easy it is to bet to. From this vantage I could look out at the Trinity Alps, the Scott Mountains, the Trinity Divide and magnificent Mount Shasta. Looking about at all of these mountains, I was surprised just how much the snow had already receded. Mount Shasta in particular had been scoured clean by the wind and was already the semi-naked mountain that it has been for the last few months. While disappointed that it had not lingered as long as I would have liked, I was still grateful for the opportunity to behold such a magnificent vantage so soon after the storm.
As I drove home, I stopped again at one of my favorite spots along the Sacramento River to enjoy the afternoon light on Mount Shasta. Some of the ice had melted off of the river but there was still plenty of frozen spots to add a lot of interest. Now the ice was mixed with the snow that covered the boulders that litter the Sacramento’s channel. As I packed up to finish the trip home, I thought about how winter may inhibit hiking opportunities, but it does highlight the beauty of this spectacular region.
Though it is not obvious from most vantage points, Mount Shasta is not actually on the crest of the Cascades as the range travels from the Lassen region northward into Oregon. The actual crest of the Cascades lies just to the east of the great mountain, running through the area dominated by peaks such as Ash Creek Butte, the Whaleback, the Goosenest and Willow Creek Mountain. Ironically, the truly classic Cascade landscapes are most apparent around the outliers like Mount Shasta, which lies to the west and the Medicine Lake area, which lies well to the east of the crest. Of course, many of the high peaks along the central spine of the range exhibit plenty of volcanic features but for the most part, the core of the range consists of a long series of wooded peaks and ridgelines. Hidden away in these seemingly interminable forested mountains on the east side of the Willow Creek Mountain lies one of the most unique, mysterious and utterly unknown volcanic features to be found in Northern California. The Hole In The Ground Geologic Area, despite its stark and unusual beauty, has managed to stay completely off the radar and rarely sees any visitation. Needless to say, lack of awareness or popularity among the interested public does not necessarily translate into a lack of great beauty and interest.
All of this begs the obvious question: what is the Hole In The Ground? The answer to that question is at once easy to describe and yet totally elusive. The formation itself is obviously volcanic in origin. Set in the midst of the great sea of green that is the northern most section of the California Cascades, the Hole In The Ground appears to look like an obliquely angled crater. This is particularly true when viewed from afar and must be the genesis of the formation’s name. When viewed up close, it does not resemble a hole in anyway. On the contrary, it appears to be an exceptionally rugged, rocky amphitheater set against a steep and heavily forested ridge. Dominating the entire formation is an oddly sculpted rock tower that is about 75 feet high. Though its genesis is uncertain, it is strikingly similar to the volcanic necks found throughout the Rio Puerco Valley in New Mexico (though those towers are much larger than the one in the Hold In The Ground). Behind the tower are a series of rocky walls that hem in the formation. Radiating out from the tower are beautifully arid badlands. This aspect of the Hole In The Ground seems particularly out of place compared to the lush forest that surrounds this bizarre feature. Amazingly, a small series of springs emerge immediately adjacent to the badlands. Though often only a trickle, the mossy seeps producing the water stand in stunning contrast to the barren landscape of the rest of the Hole In The Ground formation.
Still, the question regarding the formation of this beautiful anomaly lingers. Just how did this striking and strange volcanic feature come to be? What little information on the Hole In The Ground comes through the Forest Service. Surprisingly, the Forest Service implies that the creation of the Hole In The Ground is a mystery. They do believe that the original foundation comes from successive lava flows at some point in the past. It is suggested that this particular spot had lava with a different chemical makeup that made the cooled lava more susceptible to decay. It is also claimed that the Hole In The Ground experienced significant mud slides that helped contribute to both the current shape of the formation and to its being revealed in the general. Once the lava was exposed, it is believed that erosion and other mechanical actions like freezing and unfreezing of water shaped the area into its present form. Whether or not that answer is satisfying, the experience of being there is magnificent. The tremendously unusual nature of the place enhances its beauty tremendously.
Indicative of its anonymity, visiting the Hole In The Ground is an utterly primitive experience. Though it is not hard to get to, one must know precisely where to go because there is no signage alerting adventurers they have arrived at the formation. One must park along a seemingly random dirt road and bushwhack through the forest before reaching the outskirts of the formation. Hiking around the Hole In The Ground should be done cautiously due to the fragility and sensitivity of the badlands and other geologic features. Still, for those who do venture into this fascinating area, the experience has many rewards. The Hole In The Ground itself is tremendously beautiful and has a strong sense of mystery running through it. Great views of Butte Valley and southern Oregon during the hike in and some rarely visited meadows add to the enjoyment of exploring this unusual area.
As always, if anyone is curious about details in getting to the Hole In The Ground, feel free to send me an email.
The Trinity Divide, the large mountain range directly to the west of Mount Shasta is a treasure trove for outdoor enthusiasts. Blessed with lakes, rivers and spectacular rocky cliffs, the range is also home to some fantastic waterfalls. Though none of the waterfalls in the Trinity Divide are as well-known as their cousins along the Sacramento and McCloud Rivers, they are still gorgeous cataracts. What sets the falls in the Trinity Divide apart from those in the river areas is the grand setting in which they are found. Specifically, the majority of the waterfalls in the Trinity Divide occur in the magnificent granite jumble of the Castle Crags. Just as the erosion resistant granite has contributed to the majestic waterfalls in Yosemite, it has also resulted in some memorable cataracts in the Crags. The biggest difference between the waterfalls in Yosemite and the Castle Crags is the formers vast watersheds that funnel tremendous amounts water over the falls. Though the Crags cataracts may lack volume they are still exquisite examples of plunging water. It is worth mentioning that while there are only a couple of named waterfalls in the Castle Crags, there are many, many more tucked away in the hidden folds of the Crags. Of course, the waterfalls in the Castle Crags are not the only ones in the Trinity Divide. During the thaw there are excellent cascades tumbling down the rocky cliffs that line the numerous cirques scattered around the Divide. Still, outside of the Castle Crags there is only one other named waterfall in the Trinity Divide. Faery Falls is a fine cataract tucked inside Ney Springs Canyon, just north of the Crags. Still, even if the falls of the Trinity Divide are focused in the Castle Crags, they remain some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Northern California and deserve far more attention than they receive.
Lower Burstarse Falls
When folks talk about waterfalls in the Castle Crags, Burstarse Falls is naturally a subject of conversation. Yet the large waterfall’s lower sibling somehow fails to garner any mention in its own right. Lower Burstarse Falls (officially this falls has no name but this seems the logical choice) deserves better than this. Nearly 30 feet high, Burstarse Creek rockets itself over a short cliff and falls into classic pool at its base. In some ways it is reminiscent of the waterfalls found in the Appalachians: short, slender, graceful and beautiful. It is a fine sight, worthy of a hike in its own right. However, it is only a part of the greater whole since it must be passed en route to Burstarse Falls. In truth, it is one of many waterfalls that line Burstarse Creek below Burstarse Falls, though it is by far the largest and most obvious. Surprisingly, for all of its anonymity in the shadow of the larger waterfall, a surprising number of people go no further than this cataract, thinking they had found Burstarse Falls!
Hidden away in a narrow granite amphitheater, Burstarse Falls is one of the Castle Crags’ finest waterfalls. About 80 feet high, the falls are a slender, rainy cataract. Somehow, despite the seemingly slight nature of the falls they manage to retain a tremendous amount of power. Formed when Burstarse Creek hurtles itself off of a tall granite cliff with great momentum. Rather than cascading down the cliff, Burstarse Falls is a complete free fall. This is what results in the rainy nature of the falls. About three-fourths of the way down the fall, the water crashes into a rocky bench and breaks apart into numerous cascades. There is a bit of a pool at the base of the falls but it is not a great one for soaking in. The tight confines of the amphitheater make viewing Burstarse Falls a more secluded, intimate experience. The cliffs looming so closely overhead magnifies the energy and ferocity of the waterfall. Coupled with the exciting scramble up the narrow canyon to the falls and the many fine cataracts along the way, the hike to Burstarse Falls is possibly the Mount Shasta area’s best spring hike. The route along the Pacific Crest Trail is low enough to be free of snow far earlier than most of the trails in the area. Of course, spring is the best time to view the falls because Burstarse Creek has a very limited watershed. Though it usually has a meager flow throughout the year, the spring thaw is the best time to see the falls at their full fury.
Root Creek Falls
Almost totally unknown beyond a few locals until a few years ago, Root Creek Falls still remains a fairly obscure waterfall. It does not get mentioned in any waterfall guidebooks nor does the Root Creek Trail garner a lot of attention. What is passed over though is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Northern California. Like all the waterfalls in the Castle Crags, it does not have a high volume, instead taking on a graceful, wispy appearance. However, what Root Creek Falls lacks in power it makes up for in form and setting. Composed of a series of cataracts falling over five tiers, the falls charge through a narrow slot. This alone would make the falls a beautiful sight. What sets it apart and makes a truly magnificent waterfall is the presence of mighty Castle Dome looming high overhead. The polished granite dome seems to have been wrenched out of Yosemite and dropped into the Mount Shasta area. It completes a wondrous picture where dome and falls combine together to form what ought to be one of the most iconic images of the North State. Instead it remains largely anonymous, a favorite of locals who make the easy hike to the falls. For those looking for a bit more adventure, it is possible to scramble up to the waterfall and enjoy gorgeous sapphire pools that lie at the base of some of the tiers, again bringing to mind some of the spots in California’s most famous national park.
A little further north from the Castle Crags, Ney Springs Creek begins at Little Castle Lake and races through a remote and wild canyon. The lowest portions of the canyon once hosted a thriving health resort in the 19th century. Closed long ago and reduced to ruins, it is hard to imagine the bustling activity that once surrounded the area. A series of springs give rise to the resort, which was located on the banks of Ney Springs Creek but a short distance up the canyon is beautiful Faery Falls. This was surely one of the great attractions of the resort and most have seen considerable visitation while it was in operation. Today the resort is gone and nature is reclaiming what little of it remains, yet Faery Falls flows as it always has. The falls are easily accessed on an old road that is, like the resort, slowly being taken over by the surrounding forest. About 40 feet high, the waterfall is formed when the creek pours over a rocky cliff band that cuts across the canyon. A little higher up the canyon this band of cliffs is now a popular rock climbing spot. The cataract first falls through a short but very narrow slot. It then hits a broad, rocky bench and breaks apart into two large waterfalls. When the creek is full, it is a powerful sight, amplified by the tight canyon. When the water level is low, one of the two lower sections, typically the one on the left, disappears. Thankfully, given the lake and meadow that feed the creek in the high country, Faery Falls has a much longer season than its neighbors in the Castle Crags and can be enjoyed well into the summer.
Wagon Creek Falls
Rising from headwaters in remote Eddy Bowl on Mount Eddy, Wagon Creek is a large, beautiful creek. The northernmost tributary of the Sacramento River, it makes a precipitous descent down the east side of Mount Eddy, forming one of the most striking displays of white water in the Mount Shasta area. Wagon Creek Falls is a 50 foot plunge through a notch in a nearly vertical serpentine wall. It is perhaps the most classically formed waterfall in the region. However, it is by no means the only cataract on Wagon Creek. Several other notable falls and cascades are formed on the way down to Mills Meadow. Some of these, though not true waterfalls, are striking in their own right. The drawback to these beautiful cataracts is their remoteness. These are some of the hardest waterfalls to reach in the area and certainly the hardest to reach that are not on Mount Shasta itself. However, for those who make the journey out to Wagon Creek Falls, they will not be dissappointed!
Other cataracts on Wagon Creek:
As John Muir once noted, Mount Shasta is the polestar of Northern California. Geographically, the entire region orients around the incredibly massive volcano. It is one of the premier mountains in the U.S. Whether one is considering height, volume, wildness or sheer beauty, Mount Shasta is one of the great treasures of the American West. Though it ranks high in the esteem of mountain lovers, most of the mountain’s geography is shrouded in mystery for the majority of those who admire it. There are many incredible spots on the mountain, places of tremendous beauty and staggering scale, which go almost completely unappreciated. Perhaps there is no truer example of this than the case of Mud Creek Canyon. Easily one of the most dominant features on Mount Shasta, it ranks equally with Shastina and the mountain’s quartet of gigantic glaciers. While Shastina is easily recognized from far below and at least the Whitney and Bolam Glaciers are obvious from the Shasta Valley, Mud Creek Canyon remains unobserved from areas below the mountain. This is a consequence of the canyon’s position above the vast McCLoud Flats, a heavily wooded area with a paucity of good, elevated vantage points from which to observe the mountain. What the canyon lacks in ease of viewing, it makes up for in the enormity of its scale. Considering that it cuts into the flank of a single peak, its 6 mile length and depth of over 1,000 feet is truly imposing. That such a magnificent feature remains so seldom seen is testimony to how wild Mount Shasta really is.
Cutting deeply into Mount Shasta’s southeastern flank, Mud Creek Canyon is a place of wild, hellish beauty. It begins at the foot of the Konwakiton Glacier, one of three small glaciers that are scattered around the south side of the mountain. Of course, these glaciers are only small when compared to the behemoths that cloak the north and east sides of the mountain. The Konwakiton Glacier still manages to cover over 1,500 vertical feet of Mount Shasta. The glacier clings to the upper portion of a vast amphitheater just below the volcano’s summit. In addition to the icy features, this broad bowl is lined with craggy spires and rocky pinnacles, evidence of the fiery past that shaped Mount Shasta. Indeed, this area and Mud Creek Canyon below it are considered to be the oldest exposed areas on Mount Shasta, remnants of a proto-Shasta from prior eruptive periods. At a basic empirical level this seems reasonable. No other area on the mountain exhibits such tortured geology. The amphitheater also gathers meltwater from the Mud Creek Glacier and the large Misery Snowfield. All of the runoff is funneled down into the canyon where it plunges over a tall waterfall that is unnamed but known unofficially as Konwakiton Falls. Though at times wispy, the falls certainly boast one of the grandest settings imaginable for a waterfall.
Below Konwakiton Falls the canyon deepens significantly as it gouges its path through the ash and rock that make up the mountain’s flank. This is a truly wild, seldom seen and seldom traveled place. In truth, it is a never-traveled place for the slopes of the canyon are seemingly boundless screefields. When standing on the rim of the canyon, listen for the sound of falling boulders clattering down into the unreachable depths. The sides of Mud Creek Canyon are still in search of their angle of repose. Those who are patient enough may even see small scree slides up near the top of the canyon. While most of the canyon’s walls are loose debris, they are punctuated by giant hoodoos emerging from the scree and towering over 100 feet above the rubble. Indicative of the mountain’s volcanic history, the hoodoos are particularly reminiscent of the Thor’s Hammer hoodoo in Bryce Canyon National Park. I have taken to referring to these twisted towers as Thor’s Hammers in honor of the famous landmark in Utah. Another fascinating feature at the bottom of Mud Creek Canyon is the permanent ice. The ice is nearly completely obscured by layers of talus that has slid over it. Though these patches of ice are not glaciers, they do exhibit some glacial features.
Rock and fire are not the only forces that created Mud Creek Canyon. Water has played a tremendous role in the formation of this incredible gash on the side of Mount Shasta. Mud Creek roars through countless rapids at the bottom of the canyon. It is loudly audible from high overhead on the canyon rim. Amazingly, the sides of the canyon are littered with springs, especially the areas further down-canyon from the uppermost section where the hoodoos are located. The layers of material within the mountain are exposed on the sides of the canyon and the aquifers that exist between certain strata are cut open and flow down the sides. One unexpected result of this is the abundance of riparian plant life that clings to the thin margin of water on the otherwise barren slope. However, despite the beautiful and unusual abundance of springs on the side of the canyon, it is Mud Creek Falls that is the most memorable water feature here. The large, powerful waterfall thunders over a cliff that is well over 150 feet high. The cataract is the largest waterfall on Mount Shasta and is second only to Ash Creek Falls in terms of beauty.
It is a wonder that, for all of its size, beauty and fascinating geology, Mud Creek Canyon has remained so seldom seen. Most who do observe it do so from high above while climbing up to the summit of Mount Shasta. It is also viewed by those who hike the Clear Creek Trail. This is actually one of the two trails on Mount Shasta that offer a good opportunity to experience Mud Creek Canyon. The Clear Creek Trail ascends the rim of the lower canyon, which is the area downstream from the confluence of Mud Creek and Clear Creek. The view from the trail is astounding. Mud Creek canyon extends up toward the summit, its deep V-shaped gap incising deep into the mountain. Mud Creek Falls is prominently visible from this perspective and is a particularly memorable highlight. A few intrepid adventurers descend into the canyon and repel down the falls. The other way to get to Mud Creek Canyon to is to hike to beautiful South Gate/Squaw Meadows. From there, one can make a fairly easy cross country scramble to the west rim of the canyon. If one completes the scramble correctly, there is a stunning perch perfectly positioned to get a panoramic view of the most of Mud Creek’s gargantuan gorge. One can trace the course from Konwakiton Glacier, down the eponymously named waterfall, through the hellish, hoodoo lined upper canyon, down the vast spring-lined main part of the canyon and onwards, downstream into the lower canyon. I have dubbed this vista “Grand View Point” in an obvious nod to the point of the same name at the Grand Canyon. Like an observation deck, the vista has a nice wall of rock fencing it off and preventing those fortunate to make it here from sliding into the canyon. While standing here taking in this awe-inspiring but seldom seen view one can hear the roar of Mud Creek mix with the sound of boulders clattering down to the bottom of the canyon, evidence that Mount Shasta is a living mountain still taking shape.
As always, if anyone is curious about details in getting to these places, feel free to send me an email.
Mount Shasta is a lone giant, towering more than a vertical mile above its highest neighbor. Since the massive volcano is so prominent, it is not difficult to enjoy the incredible views of California’s finest mountain. All one has to do is take a drive on I-5 or Highway 97 to find absolutely tremendous scenes of Mount Shasta soaring 10,000 feet overhead. This gives even the casual traveler passing through the area a good sense of the mountain’s majesty. However, one of the great pleasures of exploring the Mount Shasta region is finding those great vistas that offer different perspectives of the mountain and also place it within the broader context of the entire region. The truth is that, as wonderful as Mount Shasta is, there is no shortage of spectacular scenery surrounding the mountain. Whether it is the Trinity Divide and the Castle Crags, the southern Cascades and Lassen Peak, the serrated granite spires of the Trinity Alps, the twisted and beautiful Marble Mountains, or distant Mount McLoughlin in Oregon, there is an abundance of other high country attractions to appreciate. Indeed, Mount Shasta is the crown of a truly stunning mountain region.
Picking the best vistas of the Mount Shasta area is a completely subjective exercise. There is plenty of room for debate as to what constitutes a great view. I tend to lean towards panoramas, where the more that can be seen the better, especially if the breadth of the view does not come at the expense of the essence of the view. That is to say that, particularly in the context of views of Mount Shasta, the overall expansiveness of the view does not detract from the view of the mountain itself. All the other scenery is crowned by the mountain and enhances it rather than obscuring it. Still, by this definition there are many, many great spots from which to appreciate Mount Shasta and the area’s other awesome geography. This is evinced by the exclusion of incredible vistas like the summits of Black Butte and Castle Peak or the iconic view from Heart Lake. The five viewpoints on this list offer great views of Mount Shasta and the rest of the geography of the area. However, what sets them apart from other vistas is the immediate vicinity of the view. It is not just that one can see a lot from these places but that the great beauty of the region surrounds these spots, with memorable sights close at hand. The viewpoints are great for both imminent and panoramic qualities.
As always, if anyone is curious about details in getting to these places, feel free to send me an email.
5. Grey Rocks Summit
This is possibly the most obscure summit of the Mount Shasta area though it does not deserve to be. It certainly is the most difficult vista on this list to reach. The Grey Rocks are a series of craggy towers in the remote southern section of the Trinity Divide. They are accessed via a difficult scramble up the side of the towers and no small amount of “manzaneering” (bushwhacking). However, the view from the summit is one of the most rewarding. The centerpiece is Mount Shasta towering over the length of the magnificent Castle Crags. To the south are the glittering jewels of the Twin Lakes and Tamarack Lake, backed by their tall cliffs. The Trinity Alps unfold to the east while to the south rise Shasta Bally and Bully Choop down by Redding. Lassen Peak and the other high peaks of the southernmost Cascades line the horizon to the east. The Trinity Divide and Mount Eddy extend to the north. Still, it is the great cone of Mount Shasta and the awesome granite chaos of the Castle Crags that makes this vista so memorable.
4. Peak 7,149 “Many Lakes Mountain” Summit
Though it lacks an official name, Peak 7,149 does not lack a view that will leave an indelible mark on those who make the easy scramble up to its summit. I dubbed the mountain “Many Lakes Mountain” because it lies at the hub of three large lake basins and is surrounded by no less than 14 named lakes and a handful of unnamed tarns. This is far more than any other peak in the area can boast, including the mighty towers in lake filled areas like the Trinity Alps. Of course, these ranges are prominently visible from the top of Many Lakes Mountain, especially the Trinity Alps which lie only a short distance to the west on the far side of the Trinity River Canyon. However, it is the views of the Cliff Lake and Seven Lakes Basin that define this vista. To the south the dark jumble of the jumble of the Gray Rocks looms above the broad Seven Lakes Basin. To the east, the terraced steps of the awesome Cliff Lakes lead down to the South Fork of the Sacramento River, which draws the eye to Mount Shasta, once again presiding regally over everything.
3. Herd Peak Lookout
Not all great views require a hike or difficult climb. Herd Peak Lookout is accessible by car and only requires a climb of about 50 feet up some stairs to enjoy the view. The lookout is situated on a small rock pinnacle north of Mount Shasta, at the southern end of the Cascade Crest. Possibly the best view of the north side of Mount Shasta, it also takes in much of the Trinity Divide, the Marble Mountains and the Siskiyous, including a rare opportunity to observe the enigmatic Red Buttes. The various cinder cones of the cascades pock the landscape to the east and the giant cone of the Goosenest looms ominously to the north. Still, the highlight is the chaotic layers of Sheep Rock in the foreground of Mount Shasta. The awesome Bolam and Whitney Glaciers are prominently visible from this perspective. The lookout is manned in the summer.
2. Little Mount Hoffman Lookout
Another drive-to vista, the lookout on Little Mount Hoffman near Medicine Lake just misses the top spot. It is an incredible sight with possibly the most far-reaching vista of any in the Mount Shasta area (excluding the view from on Mount Shasta itself, of course). Beginning in the southeast, one can observe the entirety of Lassen Volcanic National Park, including volcanic cones just to the east in the Caribou Wilerness. Panning west from there, the view includes the vast range of mountains east of the McCloud River, the Yolla Bollies south of Redding, Bully Choop, the Grey Rocks and Castle Crags, the Trinity Alps (notably the Mount Gibson area) and much of the Trinity Divide, all of which leads up to Mount Shasta. North of the mountain lies the Marble Mountains, the Siskiyou and the Cascade Crest, including the Goosenest. Amazingly, the panorama continues. It extends into Oregon and is highlighted by Mount McLoughlin, the rounded summits of the Sky Lakes Wilderness, the old caldera of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness and the rim of Crater Lake, including Mount Scott. Even a bit of Mount Thielsen, far to the north can be observed. As incredible as this all is, it is what lies immediately to the west within the line-of-sight of Mount Shasta that inevitably draws attention. Just below Little Mount Hoffman is the chaotic swirl of the Little Glass Mountain lava flow. A vast amount of obsidian protrudes from the dark mass. Beyond Little Glass Mountain are the mysterious peaks around Ash Creek Butte. Over all of this, as always, towers Mount Shasta. Though the mountain is a bit further away than the other vistas on this list, it still looms large. An added bonus is the chance to see the rarely seen east side, capped by the enormous Wintun and Hotlum Glaciers.
1. Mount Eddy Summit
It is difficult to imagine a finer view than the 360 degree view from the top of Mount Eddy. The tallest of Mount Shasta’s neighboring peaks, it still falls more than a mile below the summit of the great volcano. Still, standing as tall as gives it an unparalleled view of the Mount Shasta area. All of the usual suspects are present: the Lassen area, the Yolla Bollies and the Bully Choop area by Redding. To the west nearly every major peak of the Trinity Alps’ high eastern half can be observed in all of their craggy glory. Just below the summit to the northwest are the gorgeous Deadfall Lakes. Beyond the lakes lie the red Scott Mountains, the granite peaks of the Russian Wilderness and the convoluted maze of the excellent Marble Mountains. To the north is the underrated China Mountain, the Siskiyous, Shasta Valley and Mount McLoughlin in Oregon. The Cascade Crest, topped by the Goosenest are also prominent. The entirety of the Trinity Divide lies at the feet of Mount Eddy, each peak able to be inspected with great detail. The spires of the Castle Crags, the jumble of the Grey Rocks and the folded ridges and canyons of that form the headwaters of the Sacramento River all beg to be pointed out. Despite all of the amazing scenery, it is still Mount Shasta, the lone monarch, which demands attention. Only 16 miles to the east, the great mountain seems close enough to reach out and grab.
Mount Shasta is a spectacular sight no matter where one views the mighty mountain. Most people who observe it do so from somewhere along the I-5 corridor. The views from the interstate are without doubt exceptional. However, I think that one of the best features on Mount Shasta are the four massive glaciers, the Whitney, Bolam, Hotlum and Wintun, that cloak the volcano’s north and east flanks (there are three small glaciers on the south side but they are tiny compared to their northern and eastern neighbors). Two of these vast sheets of ice, the Whitney and Bolam Glaciers, can be observed while driving south on I-5 through the Shasta Valley. Though this is a tremendous view from a freeway, it still does not take in the Hotlum Glacier (California’s largest glacier) and the nearly-as-large Wintun Glacier. These glaciers are more difficult to observe because they are on the isolated east side of Mount Shasta. No major roads or highways pass this side of the volcano, drastically reducing the number of people who have the opportunity to witness these incredible glaciers. Most people who do set eyes on this lonely side of the mountain do so while climbing Mount Shasta or one of the higher peaks that mark the Cascade Crest as it passes the giant mountain’s eastern flank (worth noting: Mount Shasta does not lie on the main divide of the Cascades, instead it is a massive outlier, falling well west of the crest).
If viewing the Hotlum and Wintun Glaciers while hiking is what you want, the only option, and it is an excellent option, is to hike the Brewer Creek Trail. The beginning of the trail has great views of the Hotlum Glacier, including large icefalls where the glacier is pouring over rocky cliffs beneath the sheet of ice. If hikers continue on to gorgeous Ash Creek Falls, there are great vistas looking up Ash Creek Canyon to the Wintun Glacier. For those not looking to explore Mount Shasta on foot, there are a couple of good places where one need only climb a short distance to get a chance to see the incredible spectacle of Mount Shasta’s east side glaciers. This is particularly true from various points on the Whaleback, a tall volcano northeast of Mount Shasta. Though the Whaleback is one of the highest summits among the peaks that surround Mount Shasta, it still falls nearly 6,000 feet short of great mountain’s towering height. Still, there are spots on the Whaleback where can obtain wondrous views of the glaciers. Some even afford a rare glimpse of all four of Mount Shasta’s giant sheets of flowing ice.
A few weeks ago I posted the image at the top of this blog on Hikemtshasta.com’s Facebook page. It was taken from one of the aforementioned spots on the Whaleback where all four glaciers are in view. Three of the glaciers, the Wintun, Hotlum and Bolam are readily identifiable. Their large crevasses stand out even from a distance. The fourth glacier, the Whitney, is only partially visible. Considering that the Whitney is really a river of ice flowing through the deep canyon formed between the cones of Shasta and Shastina, it is impressive that any portion of the glacier is visible at all. The best time to see the glaciers is late in the summer or during the fall, when all of the winter snow has melted and only the permanent ice of the glaciers themselves remains. Not only does this highlight the extent of the glaciers but it also makes their features, like the icefalls and crevasses, more obvious. The above image has a bit of fresh snow on it so the extent of the four glaciers is outlined here:
While the outlines may not be precisely correct on every corner of the glaciers, it gives an idea how extensive they are. When years with light winters come and the mountain loses most of its snow on the west side, it is always encouraging to know that a short drive or a great hike can bring us within view of these staggering glaciers. Nowhere else in California boasts glaciers that compare with those on Mount Shasta. Though they are not as large as some of the epic one found further north on peaks like Mount Rainier, Shasta’s glaciers are still among the largest in the Cascades and demand respect.
As always, if interested in finding this spot, send me an email and I will be glad to give directions.
The Klamath River is one of the most important features in California’s North State region. It is easily the largest river in the area. The river begins in south central Oregon, counting the rim of Crater Lake among its various headwaters areas, and courses 263 miles through Oregon and California before reaching the sea roughly between Eureka and Crescent City. Along the way the river drains the bulk of the vast Klamath Mountains, collecting the water from other major rivers including the Shasta, Scott, Salmon and the enormous Trinity River. Though the river is large and passes through areas famous for the high and rugged mountains, it is surprising how much of the river’s travels are through arid, high desert terrain. This is particularly evident in the area between Keno, Oregon and the Horse Creek area in California. The sage and juniper covered slopes of tawny mountains pocked by dark rock outcroppings is a stark contrast to the cool, life-giving waters of the rushing river. The contrast is made even more dramatic considering the harsh desert environment is concentrated along the river corridor and just a few short miles away are the lush mountain meadows of the Marble Mountains and the Siskiyous. Of course, these are not the only mountains within easy reach of the Klamath River. Indeed, though not obvious to the casual observer, the Klamath River has an interesting relationship with the mighty Cascade Range. The Klamath is one of three rivers that begin on the east side of the Cascade Crest and then complete a transection of the mountains. The most famous and dramatic example of this is the Columbia River Gorge, where the Columbia River makes a sea level passage through the heart of the Cascades. Less dramatic but still interesting, the Klamath River and the Pit River further south also cut across the Cascades during the journey to the sea. Both rivers have beautiful, if somewhat less monumental canyons during this impressive feat.
The canyon through which the Klamath River achieves its traverse of the Cascade Range is one of the most remote corners of Siskiyou County and receives very little visitation, despite the great natural beauty of the area. Few people venture here for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it is simply a long way from anywhere and not promoted at all. Add to that the lack of trails and the large blocks of privately owned land and what few people would venture here is pared down to a relative handful of folks. Still, the canyon of the Upper Klamath (the upper section of the river is considered to be that which is up stream of the Irongate and Copco Reservoirs, which begin at the west end of the canyon) is a fascinating and beautiful formation. The river carved its passage across the Cascades at a low saddle in the range’s crest. North of Willow Creek Mountain, the Cascades subside into a high, forested plateau underlayed by lava flows. The river gouged its path out of the southern end of the plateau, near where the crest rises up toward Willow Creek Mountain. This resulted in what is known as the Klamath Rim, a sharp band of cliffs that line the northern side of the Upper Klamath’s canyon. The rim’s elevation above the river varies but it generally maintains a height of about 1,000 feet. The south side of canyon is marked not by a severe edge like the north, but an undulating series of slopes rising up toward the heavily forested high country. The most interesting feature on the river’s south side is large Secret Springs Mountain, which is an ancient volcano that boasts a surprisingly large crater on its north side. Though the canyon does not have a definite rim on the south side it is still marked by steep walls broken intermittently by deep canyons of tributary creeks. The most notable is Shovel Creek, which begins in a large meadow at the divide near Little Shasta meadows, the headwaters of the Little Shasta River.
As noted earlier, the river receives little visitation in part because of the lack of public land. There are no maintained trails along the river. Still, the area is ripe for exploration by those interested in seeing a beautiful place that is seldom seen. A very well maintained gravel road follows the south side of the river through the canyon, eventually passing into Oregon on its way to meeting Highway 66. The land owner along much of the river is Pacific Power and they have established 6 river access points for fishermen to use. Thankfully these offer opportunities to get down close to the river and enjoy short walks along the banks. The sixth one is the most scenic. As one heads north toward Oregon, the last little bit of the river passes through BLM land just below the border. The BLM has established a put in site for rafters with some minor amenities, including a pit toilet. This area is a fantastic and utterly underused camping spot. Solitude in this incredible canyon, along a gorgeous river is practically guaranteed. For those interested in adventure, an ascent up Secret Springs Mountain is excellent and exploring the area along the river is great. Fall is the best time to come, when the autumn colors explode along the river and the temperatures are perfect.