Have you gone spelunking? A wonderful family weekend awaits you just 2.5 hours from Elk Grove, via Interstate-5. Just beyond Redding as you begin the uphill climb out of the Sacramento Valley and travel into the Trinity Mountain Recreation Area, you’ll find the Lake Shasta Caverns. It’s an amazing national landmark.
The tour isn’t just about cave explorations; the adventure begins after you purchase your tickets and head down the trail through native oaks, pines and cedars where the catamaran is waiting to shuttle you across Shasta Lake. Once you’ve traversed the lake, an air-conditioned bus is waiting to take you to the caves.
Once on the bus, the tour guide begins the informative dissertation about the history of the cave and the local flora and fauna as the bus winds its way up the mountain quickly, rising in elevation over 800 feet to the cave location and entrance. You’ll get wonderful views of the lake and the amazing tree-studded Trinity Mountains.
The tunnel there was discovered in 1878 but it wasn’t until 1964 when the tunnel was bored to enable visitors to enter a series of connected chambers from a lower level. Geologists rate Lake Shasta Caverns as one of the nation’s most beautiful and interesting caves – there are stalactites and stalagmites studded with crystals, milky-white flowstone deposits, and spooky faces that formed.
It’s almost like nature’s thermostat since the caves remain at a constant temperature, regardless of the outside temperature. With about a 90 percent humidity, the constant 58 degrees feels more like 65 degrees. Be certain to bring a light jacket if you tend to the cold side. I wore my light Gore-Tex boots, and I would suggest light hiking boots as there were a few puddles.
This tour is well-planned and professionally handled. Touching the formations will get you expelled and the walkways and steps are safe. However, you should know that there are more than 600 stairs throughout the cavern. The guide is very informative and is fielding questions throughout the tour. At the halfway point, if you’re physically challenged then you can exit the tour and return to the visitor’s center.
After you exit the cave, you can walk down the side of the mountain on a nice stairway system with breathtaking views of the lake, and then back to bus and boat for more sightseeing. Don’t forget to stop on the way out at the gift shop for that refrigerator magnet souvenir. There’s also a rock climbing wall for kids and a mining sluice.
Lake Shasta Caverns can offer a great experience; it’s a fun, educational, and great way to learn about the wonderful world we live in. Purchase tickets at the kiosk at 20359 Shasta Caverns Road, Lakehead. The prices are $26 for adults and $15 for children ages 3-15. Call 1-800-795-CAVE for further information and rate changes. Tours are departing at 30 or 60-minute intervals depending on time of year. The winter schedule has three departures a day. This attraction is open all year.
The fun isn’t over. Shasta Lake is filled to the brim - in fact, since December, the water level tripled by rising 134 feet, bringing it to maximum capacity. It’s a beautiful California gem and is the largest reservoir in the state as well as the eighth largest in the United States. Calling it a “reservoir” simply means it was man-made in order to control the flow of the Sacramento River. The dam itself is one of the largest concrete systems in the country standing 602 feet tall - as the lake has a maximum depth of 517 feet. Shasta Lake’s system is truly amazing with wonderful bridges and views. It is a boating paradise.
There are other venues to visit. Heading back to Redding, just Google Search the Sundial Bridge and that will take you to the 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Here you can spend the day for free walking through the botanic garden just over the spar cable-stayed bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians. I was sad I didn’t bring my bike as the garden is huge and bikes are allowed.
The bridge spans the Sacramento River and forms a large sundial.
There is a charge for the museum, but is wonderful, especially for kids to tour a butterfly house, a forestry and wildlife center, and a history museum. You’ll need a couple of days to tour the cave and the park. It’s a wonderful relaxing trip.
I have the perfect place to stay for your adventure - look no further. The Gaia Hotel and Spa is in Anderson just before reaching Redding, so it’s an easy access. This four-star hotel with five-star reviews is next to the Sacramento River surrounded by an old walnut orchard. Kids will love the waterways with bridges and fire pit at night while and mom and dad can visit a great restaurant and spa, if desired. Rooms are all suites. Look them up online at www.GaiaHotelSpa.com. You can upscale the resort experience for $118 with online booking.
Rod Whitlow is your Garden and Travel Writer.