Distance from SF: 217 miles; a 3 1/2-hour drive
NOTE: The Carr Fire burned 229,651 acres in and around Redding in the summer of 2018, making it one of the most destructive fires in California’s history. Though certain places like Whiskeytown National Recreation Area will be rebuilding for a while (39,000 of its 42,000 acres were burned), there are still a lot of fun things to see and do, and the city could use visitors now more than ever.
Redding gets overlooked as a NorCal road trip destination and that’s dumb. It has waterfalls, ghost towns, and crazy cool caverns that are almost as old as dinosaurs. There will be no do go chasing waterfalls jokes here, but that is what you should do when you get to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (sadly, it’s BYO whiskey). Take the “Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge,” which requires you to do all four waterfall hikes in one day. Or do one waterfall hike and then spend the day swimming in and lounging by the lake. (Pro tip: You can also camp there.)
Unfortunately, as of September 2018, only the visitor center, East Beach, the Shasta Divide Nature Trail, and Whiskey Creek boat launch and picnic area are open in Whiskeytown. This is good news if you want to swim, kayak, or paddleboard. If you’re set on seeing a waterfall, Hatchett Falls and Lion Slide Falls are just a short drive away and, unlike the ones in Whiskeytown, at these falls, you can jump off of cliffs and lounge in swimming holes.
If you prefer walking into cliffs rather than jumping off of them, Lake Shasta Caverns are also worth a visit. You’ll take a catamaran cruise across the lake and then a bus ride 800 feet up the mountain to see the caverns that are almost 200 million years old and home to massive rooms full of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. Before you go, get breakfast or lunch at The CookHouse at Bay Bridge. It’s less than 15 minutes away and the views of the lake are amazing. Keep the “meal with a view” vibe going and eat dinner at View 202, a more upscale restaurant (especially for Redding) with views of the Sacramento River. Ask for a seat on the heated patio and get there before the sun goes down.
Want more of a water fix? There are a ton of places on Lake Shasta to rent fishing boats, ski boats, kayaks, and more, as well as a bunch of places to pull over and enjoy a picnic. If you want a 360 degree of everything Shasta, hike the Chemise Peak Trail, a relatively easy hike with rewarding views.
For a little bit of history, head to Shasta State Historic Park, a ghost town that was once a booming mining town during the Gold Rush and is now full of crumbling brick buildings and a courthouse museum that has been restored to its original appearance, including the courtroom, jail, and gallows. Just don’t rely on Google Maps to get you there; the park is on Highway 299 on the way to/from Whiskeytown. Please note: Much of this area is closed until further notice due to the Carr Fire, so be sure to check the website before going.
Don’t leave without: Exploring Turtle Bay Exploration Park. There’s a forestry and wildlife center with bobcats, pythons, and vultures, 200 acres of gardens, and one of the largest working sundials in the world.