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Mount Shasta, CA - Local’s Guide

Mount Shasta, with its weird legend and lore, dominates the skyline above Shasta Base Camp, center of all things outdoors in town. Casey Schneider photo.

At the mention of Northern California, many picture the Golden Gate Bridge, wine country or Humboldt County. Few people know that just north of The Bay Area –beyond the vineyards and fields of marijuana--is some of the most accessible ski mountaineering, mountain biking, hiking and climbing in the state.

At 14,161 feet, Mt. Shasta is the southern tip of the Cascade Range and sits just south of the Oregon-California border in southern Siskiyou County where the population of cattle might be greater than the population of humans in many towns.

Shasta's Quirky Culture

The city of Mount Shasta is often sought out for the supposed healing properties of the water there and the positive energy of crystals surrounding the area. The mysticism that’s associated with the volcano and the surrounding area is uncanny even for California, and followers of alternative philosophies believe a race of reptilian beings from the lost continent of Lemuria  take refuge under the mountain. Mount Shasta calls to practitioners of fringe religions that border on cultism.

14,161 foot Mount Shasta. Photo via Wikimedia.

While the spiritual side of the area gets the most attention, visitors to the local supermarket will also come across camo-wearing gunslingers picking up a 30-rack for a weekend with the boys, the dirtbags replenishing their stash of avocados and hummus for a trip to the crag, trailhead, or skin track, and the families who have called the region home for generations.

Mount Shasta sits in the heart of the proposed State of Jefferson, the region spanning Southern Oregon and Northern California where ranching, mining and logging have historically driven the economy. The people first tried to become independent through secession in 1941 in an effort to gain local control over the use of natural resources. The idea was revisited most recently in 2013 when Siskiyou County voted 4 to 1 to secede from the state of California, fed up with the Bay Area and Southern California’s sway in state decision-making and feeling abandoned in California’s most rural region.

The mysticism that’s associated with the volcano and the surrounding area is uncanny even for California, and followers of alternative philosophies believe a race of reptilian beings from the lost continent of Lemuria take refuge under the mountain.

While some people see the State of Jefferson as some kind of backwoods redneck way of dodging state regulations on land use, others unite under the concept of independent spirit and protecting the surrounding wilderness for both its resources and recreational opportunities. One thing anyone from the area can agree on is the shared love for endless adventure just outside of city limits.

Winter Shred

If you're going to get perfect corn on Mount Shasta, you're going to be hiking at night to cover the 7,000 vertical feet before the snow heats up. It ain't so bad though, really... Nick Cahill photo.

Spring on Mount Shasta means one thing, corn snow and plenty of it. The long sunny days and cold nights provide the perfect corn cycle for those willing to earn their turns. From the summit, skiers and riders can enjoy a nearly 7,000 feet descent back to the car, drawing backcountry skiers and riders from Tahoe and elsewhere seeking for seriously long late-season descents.

Of course, you could always make it easier on yourself and set up a rad little snowcamp at 10,400 feet. Nick Cahill photo.

The most popular route to climb is the John Muir Route through Avalanche Gulch via the Bunny Flat Trailhead. Climbers have the option to bag the summit in one shot, or set up camp at Lake Helen located at 10,400 feet and rest up for the summit attempt. Be sure to pick up a Wilderness Permit, a Summit Pass and a human waste pack out bag either at the trailhead or the Mt. Shasta Ranger Station in town. Climbers should be proficient with an ice axe and crampons. Shasta Mountain Guides and SWS Mountain Guides provide a variety of classes and clinics to best prepare climbers for a successful climb and are sure to know the best lines on the way down.

200 feet down, 6800 to go... Nick Cahill photo.

Even if bagging the summit isn’t on your to-do list, Bunny Flat is a good place to start for quick spring laps. Powder Bowl and Sun Bowl are two options for rapid-fire corn harvesting. Snowmobilers can continue up the road past Bunny Flat to the Old Ski Bowl. The Old Ski Bowl is a giant playground for skiers and sledders alike, offering long steep runs and rolling hills. It’s named for the ski resort that once occupied the slopes before an avalanche wiped out the lifts and lodge in the late ‘70s.

Summer Shred

The adventure isn’t over after a morning on the mountain. Grab a bike or a pair of hiking shoes and hit the trails. The Gateway Trail is a popular singletrack ride located on the way back to town from Bunny Flat on Everett Memorial Highway about 1.5 miles outside of Mount Shasta City. The 10-mile multi use cross-country trail network includes long turns, short but steep climbs, fun descents and flowing rollers.

Shredding downhills around Mount Shasta. Eli Newman photo.

If climbing hills sounds like torture, head to the Sission-Callahan Trail for three miles of rugged singletrack. The trail follows the North Fork of the Sacramento River and offers steep drop-offs and rocky terrain. From Mount Shasta City, take W.A. Barr Road to Lake Siskiyou. The trailhead is about ten miles from the dam. For bike and ski repairs, trailhead directions or the opportunity to meet some cool people, visit Shasta Base Camp in downtown Mount Shasta.

Shasta Base Camp is the place to be for local beta on everything adventure-minded, and a great place to pick up the gear you left at home. Casey Schneider photo. 

Hikers can hit Black Butte, the prominent cinder cone seen from Interstate 5 that provides panoramic views of the area. Heart Lake is another scenic hiking destination. Begin at the Castle Lake parking lot and head east around the lake until you find the trail. The Pacific Crest Trail also winds through the area.

For those who prefer pulling on rocks to covering miles on trails, there’s plenty of granite and limestone to satisfy. Cantera Loop, just outside of town, offers a good mix of short top rope and sport climbing routes for that after-work session. Visible from Interstate 5 just south of Mount Shasta, Castle Crags State Park serves up multi-pitch trad routes on granite domes, walls and spires.

In the foothills of Mount Shasta on Everett Memorial Highway, a slew of boulder problems hide just below tree line. The “directions” contain little more detail than pulling off on some dirt road and looking for the fallen tree. It’s an adventure that requires a map hastily sketched on a napkin, so head to The Goat Tavern and offer to buy one of the locals a beer.

To unwind after exploring a chunk of the State of Jefferson, head to Lake Siskiyou for a quick dip. Skip the pay-beach and look for a secluded spot along North Shore Road. A barbeque and a cooler of beer aren’t required, but are highly recommended. The cold water rinsing off the day’s sweat is the pay-off for a hard day of work.

Eating & Drinking

Poncho & Lefkowitz is the place to be if you favor steak burritos over trail bars. Casey Schneider photo.

Chain restaurants are few and far between in the area aside from a few fast food staples, and thankfully some spicy local joints hold down the restaurant scene instead. For breakfast, head to Seven Suns. This family-owned café serves up a better cup of coffee than any Starbucks, along with some mean breakfast burritos and sandwiches. Burrito connoisseurs should head to Poncho & Lefkowitz, where the ingredients are delicious and the tortillas are rolled fat.

Mount Shasta Brewing Company's funky brewpub. Based in Weed, California, the brewery's favored marketing lingo surrounds "Try Legal Weed."

For some local flavor head north to Weed, Calif. and check out the Mount Shasta Brewing Company. The Shastafarian Porter and Mountain High IPA have each placed first in the California Brewers Festival.

When dinner rolls around, head to Say Cheese for the best pizza in town, or if you’re not feeling pizza, The Wayside serves up traditional pub food often accompanied by live music. After dinner, grab a night cap at Roxy’s Vet’s Club and mingle with some of Mount Shasta’s crustiest locals.

You may find plenty of adventure and plenty of people with interesting philosophies, but traffic is something you'll be hard-pressed to come across. Casey Schneider photo.

Whether or not you believe in ancient reptilian races living under Mount Shasta or in the healing power of crystals, Shasta and the surrounding area offer a huge diversity of adventures, especially in the spring and summer, when sports based on snow and others based on the lack thereof can be enjoyed simultaneously. The quirks of the town and its funky set of visitors and locals only add to the flavor, making the area a must-see for those looking for all-round adventure in California’s forgotten country. 

From The Column: Local’s Guide

Super stoked to see this article, I was born and raised in Shasta! Ya’ll are letting out the secret of this magical place haha, but it is a great place to be!

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