Woman at Castle Crags State Park
Bikers on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California
Woman at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
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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
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7 Natural Wonders to Explore Around Redding, CA

By Choose Redding | 12/04/2019

Situated near the junction of several natural provinces—the Klamath Mountains, the Coast Ranges, the Cascade Range, the Great Basin, and the Central Valley—Redding, California, makes an awesome jumping-off point for nature enthusiasts. From the Klamath highlands—home to some of the world’s most diverse temperate forests—to the mesmerizing volcanic realms of the Cascades and the Modoc Plateau, you’ll find extraordinary vistas and unique ecologies to explore in Redding’s big, beautiful backyard. Here are eight of the most amazing natural wonders to explore:

Overshadowed by the better-known Mt. Shasta and Lassen Peak, Lava Beds National Monument encompasses a small but astounding part of what’s the most voluminous volcano in the Cascades: the Medicine Lake Volcano, which encompasses more than 140 cubic miles. Compared with the commanding, icy loom of Shasta—a stratovolcano—the Medicine Lake structure is surprisingly subtle despite its enormous bulk: It’s a shield volcano, named for the gently sloping profile.

Lying on the northern flanks of the Medicine Lake Volcano, Lava Beds National Monument serves as an amazing natural laboratory, covered mostly by basaltic and andesitic lava flows. The hardscrabble surface is impressive enough, but the monument’s best known for its hundreds of lava-tube caves: At more than 100,000 cumulative feet, it’s the most extensive concentration of lava tubes in the U.S. outside of Hawaii. The Cave Loop Road offers access to a number of these subterranean realms. One of the caves along the loop—Mushpot—is lit with electricity, while others are explorable by flashlight or headlamp.

Remarkable as the geology is here, Lava Beds is equally a historic landscape: This is the traditional homeland of the Modoc people, and part of the 1872-1873 Modoc War played out in what’s now the monument. Here you’ll find Captain Jack’s Stronghold, where the Modoc chief Kintpuash (“Captain Jack”) and his small band took refuge in the lava beds, using the scabland terrain and strategy to resist much larger U.S. Army forces for some five months.

Before Mount St. Helens cataclysmically burst in 1980, Lassen Peak was responsible for the most recent major eruption in the Cascades, having put on quite the ashy, steamy show between 1914 and 1917—in the midst of which Lassen Volcanic National Park was established. At 10,457 feet and half a cubic mile in volume, Lassen Peak is said to be the heftiest lava dome volcano in the world. It’s just one of the park’s wonders, including several other varieties of volcanoes. You’ll find the eroded remnants of the big stratovolcano Mt. Tehama and some textbook examples of cinder cones. It’s one of the most remarkable concentrations of geothermal features in the Cascades, with fumaroles, mud pots, and steaming pools that resemble Yellowstone. Throw in a number of lovely lakes, and you’ve got one of the country’s most entrancing geological destinations—just a stone’s throw from Redding.

Extravagant limestone formations make a subterranean dreamland at Lake Shasta Caverns, which is perched above the McCloud Arm of the Shasta Lake reservoir. The 270-million-year-old system of caves features stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and fossils, and in 2012, the site was declared a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. “Officially” discovered in the 1870s by a worker at a local fish hatchery, the Lake Shasta Caverns have been open to the public since 1964. Some 60,000 visitors come to the caves each year. The tour takes you on a catamaran across the McCloud Arm and then riding a bus to one of California’s true underground marvels.

Set along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway in the Lassen National Forest, Subway Cave forms a 1,300-foot-long shaft within the geologically youthful Hat Creek lava flow. As this lava sheet advanced across the landscape, its outer layer cooled and crusted while its insulated core stayed molten; those interior channels have since solidified as lava tubes, of which Subway Cave’s the biggest accessible example. Thanks to a long-ago collapse, a surface portal affords entry to the tunnel of Subway Cave, traversed by a half-mile-long trail that’s open from late spring through fall and enhanced with interpretive signage. Armed with a flashlight or headlamp, you can stroll through this lava-flow artery, which includes such evocatively named features as the Devil’s Doorway, Stubtoe Hell, and Lucifer’s Cul-de-Sac.

The third and most titanic of the Redding area’s National Natural Landmarks is Mt. Shasta: at 14,162 feet, the second-tallest peak in the Cascades after Mount Rainier and—with a bulk of about 90 cubic miles—the most massive of the range’s stratovolcanoes. Shasta has built its kingly crown, composed of several overlapping cones, across roughly 600,000 years, with a fairly recent (by geological standards) eruptive event responsible for the distinctive subpeak of Shastina on the volcano’s western shoulders. Covered mostly by a suit of glaciers—including California’s biggest, the Hotlum—Shasta is the undisputed mountain monarch of Northern California, reigning over vast sightlines that extend into Oregon. Magnificent as this fire mountain is on a distant horizon, nothing compares to standing in its great shadow amid the black-rock juniper plains below—let alone hiking up its shining slopes.

An impressive landmark of I-5 in Shasta County, the Castle Crags stand as bold granite spires, pinnacles, and domes rising past 6,000 feet along the Trinity Divide front of the eastern Klamath Mountains. Formed from an igneous intrusion about 170 million years old, the Crags reflect the stunning handiwork of weathering and erosion, creating one of California’s most iconic mountain edifices. It’s yours to admire, up close and personal, in Castle Crags State Park, which features 28 miles of hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty.

The 3,500 liquid acres of Whiskeytown Lake, nestled in the Klamath foothills, form the heart of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area managed by the National Park Service. It’s a magnet for swimmers, anglers, and boaters, but the charms of this mountainscape aren’t restricted to lakeshore rest and recreation. The area is also an incredible reservoir of biological and ecological diversity that any nature buff will love to see. Trails weave through the recreation area’s broad spectrum of ecosystems, which range from riparian communities through chaparral and pine woodlands to mixed-conifer forests. Keep your eyes open for glimpses of acorn woodpeckers, Pacific-slope flycatchers, gray foxes, black bears, to name a few of the area inhabitants.

Written by Ethan Shaw for Matcha in partnership with Redding CVB.

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