Woman at Castle Crags State Park
Bikers on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California
Woman at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Park Food Truck Hub in Redding, California
Woman at Castle Crags State Park
Bikers on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California
Woman at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Park Food Truck Hub in Redding, California

5 Can't-Miss Stops on the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail

By Ry Glover | 07/15/2022

Welcome to Trail City, USA! Nestled in the (almost) always sunny Shasta Cascade region of Northern California, the city of Redding is blessed with a network of hundreds of miles of beautiful, world-class, multi-purpose trails—225 miles of them to be exact! All within 15 miles of the city. 

Arguably the crown jewel of all of these trails? The Sacramento River National Recreation Trail. Comprised of two (very similarly named) trails in the Sacramento River Trail and Sacramento River Rail Trail, the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail is a showstopping, all-inviting river path that weaves and winds from the Turtle Bay Sundial Bridge for 17.4 miles all the way to Shasta Dam. Along the way, cyclists, strollers, runners, and even anglers looking for a prime spot to cast a line from can enjoy peerless tranquility, oodles of natural beauty, and a fair bit of fascinating history, too. (Much of this trail is a converted rail trail from an 1800s-era railroad bed after all!)

For ambitious folks—be they big-mile runners or spandex-loving cyclists (or even savvy e-bikers)—there’s nothing quite like covering the entire trail from start to finish and back again. But even casual strollers can access the trail from multiple access points. Along the way, there are some fantastic spots to see! Here are five of the can’t-miss stops along the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail.

Your first stop comes quick—right at the beginning of the trail, in fact! Spanning 700 feet across the Sacramento River with towering and iconic stature, the Sundial Bridge is truly a sight to behold. 

Designed by world-renowned Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava (of NYC World Trade Center PATH terminal station fame), the aesthetics of this bridge are stunning. Not only is it a true work of art, but it’s also an engineering feat of the highest order. By sheer numbers, the Sundial Bridge weighs a whopping 3.2 million pounds, towers 217 feet in the air, and features a robust mix of galvanized steel cables, glass, and granite. 

With its supreme location, a mere 5 minutes from downtown Redding and smack at the beginning of the Sacramento River Trail, this glass-decked, cable-stayed cantilever suspension bridge is a must for any visit to Redding—whether it’s your first visit or hundredth!

Seemingly plucked straight from Vienna or Budapest or some other old-world European city, the immaculately designed (and robustly long-lasting) Diestelhorst Bridge is a 100+ year old icon that’s brimming with character and historical significance. Built in 1915, the Diestelhorst Bridge was the first concrete-reinforced bridge for automobiles to cross the Sacramento River in Northern California. Today, it’s been given new life as a pedestrian-only bridge where cyclists and pedestrians can conveniently cross its picturesque structure. Listed on the National Register of Historic places and serving as an important link in the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail, the Diestlehorst Bridge can even boast “award-winning” as a superlative, as it’s received national awards from the Portland Cement Association and the California Parks and Recreation Society.

When you first encounter the Ribbon Bridge, a (very understandable) initial gut reaction might be something like: “Wait, but how??” There aren’t any pillars or (visible) cables. And it’s not exactly a swinging bridge either. Rather, this 13-foot-wide, 418-foot-long concrete-stress-ribbon bridge provides an unobstructed clear span across the entire floodplain and offers a total masterclass in engineering. 

Opened in 1990, the Ribbon Bridge was the first bridge of its kind built in North America. The bridge is supported by a whopping 236 steel cables inside the bridge deck that are drilled into bedrock. The design allows the bridge to have a minimal impact on the natural rock that lines the Sacramento River and avoids the need for piers. It’s visually appealing, ecologically responsible, and recreationally practical… what more could you ask for! 

A few miles south of Shasta Dam, you’ll find a fun and fascinating relic of Redding’s railroad history. (It is a rail trail, after all!) The spot we’re referring to is an awesome little railroad tunnel carved into a hillside on the Sacramento River Trail. Constructed at the turn of the 20th Century in 1906 by the Southern Pacific Railroad, this can’t-miss stop (as in it’s literally impossible to miss) offers a nostalgic glimpse into Redding’s railroad days of yore. We’d say “it will take your breath away”... but aren’t you supposed to hold your breath when traveling through a tunnel?

Built in 1945, the Shasta Dam is easily one of the most legendary spots in all of Redding, and even all of Northern California. This 602-foot-high, concrete, curved gravity dam is not only the eighth tallest dam in the United States, it’s also responsible for creating Shasta Lake—one of the largest recreational lakes in California. In terms of scenery, the views from the dam itself are spectacular, both of the lake and Mt. Shasta in the distance. As it relates to the Sacramento River Trail, this marks either the end of the line and turnaround terminus of the trail, OR the beginning of an unforgettable water-based adventure on Shasta Lake. Whichever option you choose, you can’t go wrong!

E-biking, running, walking, cycling, fishing—the list goes on and on. Traveling parallel with the beautiful Sacramento River through wooded greenspaces, over rolling hillsides, past bridges and tunnels and riparian ecosystems, this trail is simply a must for any trip to Redding. Not to mention the wide, fairly flat, paved surface is beyond accommodating. But the truth is, the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail is much more than just a recreational artery. It’s a vital thread of community! It’s a place where visitors and locals alike can enjoy the unique beauty of Shasta County in all its subtle-meets-striking glory.

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