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Volcanoes, manmade wonders, stunning falls & more
Redding is ideal place for an inspiring NorCal retreat
The Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River.

REDDING — Two of California’s most imposing sights — one natural and the other manmade — are in Redding’s backyard.

Come to think of it, describing Redding as California’s backyard retreat is apropos.

It’s a low-key way to enjoy nature and partake in civilized ventures without battling the crowds.

Growing up in Placer County, Lake Tahoe was in my backyard. But whenever my father got an itching to go deer hunting or string together a couple days off from running the hardware store, we’d pack up the 1957 Chevy station wagon and head north to Redding.

The marquee draws back in the early 1960s are the same as they are today — the imposing 602-foot Shasta Dam with the linchpin reservoir of the Central Valley Water Project behind it and the dominating 14,179-foot Mt. Shasta that looms on Redding’s northern horizon.

Mt. Shasta is the fifth highest mountain in California and sticks out like a sore thumb.

That’s mainly because it is an active but dormant stratovolcano complete with seven glaciers including the longest and largest glaciers in California.

There is also a satellite dome dubbed Shastina at 12,330 feet. The volcano last erupted in 1786.

If volcanoes are your thing, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an hour’s drive away. It last erupted in 1915. Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and rises to 10,463 feet.

The national park is one of the few areas in the world where all four types of volcanoes — strato, cinder cone, shield, and plug dome — can be found.

There are unique geological formations you can observe including stinking fumaroles, boiling mud pots, and churning hot springs.

As an aside, California’s largest active volcano and one of the earth’s largest calderas at 20 miles long, 11 miles wide and 3,000 feet deep is just outside the 209’s backyard east of Yosemite National Park tucked between Mammoth Mountain and Lee Vining.

Hiking in the Long Valley Caldera including the imposing Glass Mountain has piqued my interest enough that I’m planning a week of hiking in the Cascades that will include both Mt. Lassen summit and tackling Mt. Shasta trails as well as hikes in the greater area.

That brings us back to the appeal of Redding, especially if you like the mountains.

California is blessed with four significant mountain ranges — the Sierra, the Coastal, the Tehachapi and the Cascades — and a slew of smaller ones such as the imposing Panamint Range on the western edge of Death Valley.

Each major range offers its own unique twists right down to how forests grow at the mid and higher elevations.

Experiencing the Cascades is well worth the trip and the best place to base out of to explore them is Redding.

Over the years, I’ve made perhaps a dozen trips specifically to Redding to enjoy the nearby offerings with most of those as a young kid.

Most family and friends will speak glowingly of fishing, hunting, and camping. Those aren’t my bag but judging from their enthusiasm you can’t go wrong if that is what you’re looking for.

The more recent trips I’ve made is the basis for the five top things I recommend you include in a visit to Redding which, by the way, is also home to a smaller version of Manteca’s Big League Dreams sports park.


Shasta Dam

If you like drinking water, eating food, or visiting Los Angeles or even San Diego then Shasta Dam deserves a look.

This is the linchpin to the massive federal Central Valley Water Project along with its cousin the State Water Project that transformed California into what it is today.

The curved gravity dam stands at 602 feet as the ninth tallest dam in the United States. It has 30,310 surface acres of water and a storage capacity of 4,552,200-acre feet of water (twice the size of New Melones) making it California’s largest manmade reservoir.

There are two- to three-hour tours that take you to the base on the dam via a 482-foot elevator ride to see the inner workings of the powerhouse and other points of interest.

Being able to gaze from the top of Mt. Shasta — or any dam for that matter — would at one time have been equivalent to an E-ticket ride at Disneyland.

You can’t help but to be awestruck to stand atop a dam while thinking about how a gap in a canyon or valley wall was plugged with earth or concrete to hold back massive amounts of water on one side while creating a visual plunge on the other.

There is also endless recreation around the lake such as hiking, picnicking, mountain biking, and camping.


Lake Shasta Caves

I know, I know. Calaveras County in the 209 is the mecca for cave junkies given it being home to unique formations and such.

Still after spending my fair share of time in caves from Missouri to Southern California, the Lake Shasta Caverns Natural Landmark is the cat’s meow.

It’s not just because of the catamaran cruise across Shasta Lake to reach a bus that takes you to the entrance. It’s because dollar for dollar you get to see more. Okay, it doesn’t hurt that you get to cruise across the lake as well.


Sundial Bridge

I’m inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge but I love the Sundial Bridge.

The fact the pedestrian bridge provides access to hiking, mountain biking, cycling, and walking trails is only a small part of its charm.

The cantilever suspension Sundial Bridge with cables attached to a 217-foot tower is a functional sundial with a whimsical glass deck. The design has been likened to a bird in flight.

The effort to have it blend as seamlessly as a bridge with a 217-foot-high tower can into the scenery is underscored by the decision not to have footings that protects salmon that spawn in the river.


Sundial Bridge & Turtle Bay

Exploration Park & Museum

Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a low-key and effective effort along the banks of the Sacramento River that strives to educate people about the relationship between man and nature. It includes a wide array of exhibits including an underground aquarium.

There are also 20 acres of the 300 acres that straddle a bend in the Sacramento River dedicated to Mediterranean climate display gardens, a children’s garden, and more. You will find California’s largest North America butterfly house here when it’s in season.

It also serves as access points for Sacramento River trails.


Burney Falls

The McArthur-Burney Falls State Park about an hour and 20 minutes from Redding is a must.

It isn’t the largest fall based on water drop or the highest in California. That said, even tossing in falls on the Pacific Ocean near Big Sur and Pt. Reyes it is arguably the most beautiful falls in California.

There are two ways to savor the 129-foot Burney Falls fed by underground springs that send about 100 million gallons a day cascading to the pool below. One is from the lookout point on top and the other is the trail to the base.

A section of the Pacific Crest Trail also makes its way through the park that includes five miles of hiking trails through lush forests as well as a boat ramp at nearby Lake Britton.


Dam Redding
Looking down the front of Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River.
Falls Redding
Burney Falls are arguably the most stunning falls in the Golden State. This photo was taken in early spring as the snowmelt was underway.