Road Tripping Shasta Cascade in Winter
Road tripping the Shasta Cascade region in the winter should be at the top of every California bucket list. From volcanoes and caves to alpine lakes and waterfalls, I was blown away by all this road trip offered. As California’s fifth highest peak, Mount Shasta already glistens like a beacon visible for miles in the upstate area. However, the Cascades take on a whole new beauty when they are blanketed in snow. Best of all, the main mountain highways are wide and easily navigable in the winter, and the near city of Redding provides a snow-free respite. Here are the top things to do on a winter Shasta Cascade road trip.
The Shasta Cascade Region
For my road trip, I used Redding as a home base and took day trips to explore Shasta, Lassen, and Burney. Each day trip was at least an hour from Redding in three different directions. While the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway does also connect all three locations, I preferred to stay in one place and get to know the City of Redding as well.
Shasta Road Trip
On Day One, I drove part of the Cascade Wonderland Highway and found viewpoints of Mount Shasta, including hiking up Heart Lake. On Day Two, I snow shoed a volcano at Lassen Volcanic National Park. And on Day Three I made the drive up to Burney Falls.
Cascade Wonderland Scenic Highway
The Cascade Wonderland Scenic Highway starts in Red Bluff, California and continues on I-5 to the Oregon border. On Day One, I followed it from Redding to Weed, California where I then took the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway around the backside of Mount Shasta. I stopped at this cutoff to get these amazing Shasta shots. While you are there you might as well drive another 10 minutes down the road to explore Pluto’s Cave. I missed it on my road trip but will definitely be bringing a headlamp to explore it on my next visit!
Once I got my photography fix I drove back down the Cascade Scenic Wonderland Highway to hike Heart Lake trail from Castle Lake. This is where the winter magic of the Cascades really came to life. You won’t expect much as you pull up to the trailhead next to Castle Lake. But as you make the short (and snowy) hike up to Heart Lake you will be rewarded with a stunning view of Mount Shasta, and if you are lucky Heart Lake will be completely frozen over. I happened upon an ice hockey game as Shasta loomed in the distance. Crampons or snowshoes would have been helpful on the upper part of the trail.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is known for its martian landscapes and active geothermal vents and ponds. However, in the winter the majority of the park shuts down and it becomes a playground for winter activities. On Day Two, I drove from Redding to the Lassen National Park entrance and parked at Manzanita Lake. (Once the park shuts down, this is the furthest you can enter the park in a car.) From there I chose the Chaos Crags Trail because it is excellent for snowshoeing. Plus, who wouldn’t want to snowshoe up a volcano? However, if you prefer a more beginner route or cross country skiing, stick to the actual (closed) highway that runs through the park. You will still get incredible views and a wide and flat path to follow. For even more check out my complete guide to snowshoeing Lassen!
Read Next: Road Tripping the Northern California Coast
Upstate California Waterfalls
One thing you cannot miss on a Shasta Cascade road trip is northern California’s waterfalls. While there are an abundance to choose from, the most popular northern California waterfalls are McCloud River Falls, Burney Falls, Potem Falls, and Mossbrae Falls. On Day Three I made the drive to Burney Falls and was stunned by its sheer size. Unlike Yosemite, even in the winter the water still flows strong. Burney Falls was also my first time witnessing water that came out of the ground in addition to the river flowing above. The groundwater flow is what makes the falls so wide even though it flows from only one river. I almost missed these falls because I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the visit, but I am so glad I made time to see them. What some see as ‘touristy’ I see as accessible, and it was amazing to see so many people able to enjoy this wonder. Plus there is plenty of room for everybody to witness the water pouring from the ground. Bring $10 for the park entry fee.
Staying in Redding California
I stayed at the Gaia Hotel & Spa. Unfortunately, many of the amenities that I had booked it for were closed due to COVID. I did love its convenient location and beautiful grounds and would be interested in returning to try the spa and pool. This Shasta A-frame cabin was booked out on my trip but I would definitely consider a stay there next time.
Other places I loved in Redding:
- Theory Coffee Roasters: The eggnog late was amazing and the space was so cozy and aesthetic. I got my coffee fix here every day before my day trip.
- Burrito Bandito: Local fast Mexican. Think Chipotle but better!
- Mosaic: Inspired by the mosaic tiles under the nearby Sundial Bridge, Mosaic has local California cuisine. Take a walk across the glass-bottomed bridge as you wait.
For even more photos and trip suggestions check out my Instagram. If you ever have a question you can always DM me @cassiescompass or drop it in the comments below. What do you think, will you be visiting the Shasta Cascade in winter?