Shasta Lake, or Lake Shasta as it is frequently referred to, is a lesser-known destination in California. Only we Northern California locals usually know about it, thus making it a great place to escape the crowds on a weekend getaway.
Shasta Lake is a hidden gem in Northern California’s Shasta Cascade region, known for its stunning beauty and recreational opportunities. It is the largest reservoir in the state and a hub for outdoor enthusiasts.
I recently visited Shasta Lake for a long weekend getaway from San Francisco Bay Area with my family and was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of activities in and near Lake Shasta. Taking a boat ride on the lake and visiting the Shasta Caverns were the highlights of our trip. Burney Falls was a favorite as well.
I highly recommend adding Shasta Lake and the Shasta Cascade region to your Northern California road trip itinerary. Shasta Lake is also a great stopover on a California to Oregon road trip.
11 Top Things to do in and near Shasta Lake
You will find tons of activities and attractions in Shasta Lake, like house boating and water sports on the lake, cavern tours with unique limestone formations, stunning waterfalls, and a really cool dam.
Let’s explore the top things to do in Lake Shasta and nearby!
1. Shasta Lake
One of the top things to do in Shasta Lake is to enjoy recreational activities and water sports on the lake.
Shasta Lake is a reservoir formed by constructing the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River.
Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in California and one of the key components of the state’s water supply system. Its formation has significantly impacted water management, agriculture, power generation, and recreation in the region.
The lake’s clear blue waters and surrounding natural beauty make it a popular destination for recreational activities like boating, water sports, fishing, and swimming.
Shasta Lake is a favorite among boating enthusiasts with its vast expanse of clear water. Whether you have your own boat or choose to rent one, you can cruise the lake, explore hidden coves, and find secluded spots for swimming and picnicking.
Renting a houseboat is a unique way to experience Shasta Lake. Spend your days lounging on the deck, fishing off the back, and enjoying the company of friends and family while immersed in the lake’s tranquil beauty.
2. Lake Shasta Caverns
Visiting the Lake Shasta Caverns is one of the best things to do in Shasta Lake. It is a unique experience that takes you inside a huge cave to explore intricate limestone formations.
Lake Shasta Caverns is a National Natural Landmark and is around 900 feet above Lake Shasta. The caverns are unique and huge and can only be explored through a guided tour which can be booked at their offical website.
The guided tour is around two hours and includes a boat ride on Lake Shasta to reach the caverns, followed by a bus ride and, finally, a group tour of the caves.
The boat tour on Lake Shasta was really scenic in the calm waters, and the captain provided great information about the lake and the caverns.
The boat drops you at the base of the caverns, where you are seated in a bus that takes you to the top of the hill, where the entrance of the cavern is located.
Once here, you will be asked to join a group tour of the caverns led by a knowledgeable guide. There are a lot of steep stone stairs inside the caves to reach the various rooms, so it might not be suited for seniors or people with knee issues.
Inside the caverns, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking display of stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and other intricate formations that have been sculpted by water and time.
After the tour, you exit on a dirt trail to the side of the mountain, and you have to walk back down to the entrance. The trail had really nice views of Shasta Lake.
3. Shasta Dam
Visiting Shasta Dam is one of the free activities in Lake Shasta and offers stunning views of the colossal concrete structure holding back Shasta Lake.
Explore the Shasta Dam Visitor Center to learn about the dam’s history, water management, and hydroelectric power generation. The Shasta Dam Visitor Center is open on select days of the week.
You can take a self-guided tour by walking on the road across the top of the dam.
Enjoy Lake Shasta views from the top of the dam, learn about its historical significance, and appreciate the architecture of this vital water management and power generation facility.
On a clear day, you can see views of Mt Shasta from the dam! We got lucky to be able to see Mt Shasta from here on the day we visited.
Guided top of the dam tours are available where the tour guide provides insights into the dam’s history, engineering, and powerhouse operations. More information about the tours can be found on Shasta Dam’s official website.
4. Burney Falls
Burney Falls is probably the most spectacular waterfall in Northern California. Burney Falls are located within McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
It’s about an hour to 1.5-hour drive from Shasta Lake and Redding, but the falls are worth the drive.
Various trails within the park lead to different viewpoints of Burney Falls. The most popular trail is the relatively short but scenic Burney Falls Loop Trail, which is about 1.2 miles in length.
This trail takes you to several vantage points to view the falls from different angles. The trail has a downhill climb initially and an uphill climb towards the end.
Once at the base of the falls, you can see the falls really up close. The falls are spectacular, cascading down a 129-foot (39-meter) high cliff. The falls are unique in that they consist of both a main waterfall and a series of smaller cascades.
The water is always very cold here at the base of the falls, so swimming is not advisable. There is a car parking fee of around $10, and it is advisable to come early on weekends and holidays to get a parking spot.
The Burney Falls Memorial State Park also has a general store, picnic tables, and restrooms.
5. Sundial Bridge
The Sundial Bridge in Redding is in Turtle Bay Exploration Park, spanning the Sacramento River.
This innovative pedestrian bridge has a striking design that features a glass deck supported by a single white pylon whose shadow creates a functional sundial.
Aside from its functional aspect, the Sundial Bridge offers stunning views of the Sacramento River and Turtle Bay Exploration Park.
There are several scenic walking trails here, like the Sacramento River Trail. There is a small rocky area below the bridge where you can get closer to the water.
During summer, daytime temperatures in Redding can be in the 90 to 100 degree Fahrenheit range, so evenings are probably the best time to visit Sundial Bridge. The bridge gets illuminated at night and looks beautiful!
6. Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Turtle Bay Museum
Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Turtle Bay Museum are right next to the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a great family-friendly destination with interactive exhibits and outdoor spaces that showcase the region’s natural beauty.
The Turtle Bay Museum, located within the park, provides insights into local history and the environment. The museum has permanent and changing exhibits and also special events throughout the year. Families will like the various animal, bird, and butterfly exhibits.
As you explore the park, you’ll discover well-maintained botanical gardens, picturesque walking trails, a children’s playground, and the iconic Sundial Bridge that spans the Sacramento River.
7. Mt Shasta
You will probably see Mt Shasta peak pop up a lot in your visit to Shasta Lake. The snow-covered peak is hard to miss on a clear day! Mt Shasta is only around a 45 minute drive from Shasta Lake.
Visiting Mt. Shasta offers stunning natural beauty, with its majestic peak, serene forests, and picturesque trails. It is a great hiking destination in summer and skiing in winter.
Consider venturing up Mount Shasta for some invigorating hikes. The Old Ski Bowl offers breathtaking vistas of Mount Shasta and the nearby peaks.
If that seems strenuous, opt for the Greenway trails at the mountain’s base. They provide a gentler path without compromising on the awe-inspiring views.
Another favored option is the Castle Lake to Heart Lake hike. This moderate and relatively short journey spans around 3 miles round trip.
Alongside encountering the splendid grandeur of Mount Shasta, you’ll also be treated to a unique aerial perspective of Heart Lake, charmingly shaped like a heart.
When you’re in the town, there are plenty of lovely coffee shops, breweries, and bakeries that you can check out.
8. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a chance to witness amazing volcanic landscapes, and it is only an hour’s drive from Shasta Lake.
Lassen is a lesser-known National Park in California but a hidden gem. Here you can see different types of volcanoes, such as cinder cones, shields, stratovolcanoes, and lava domes.
At Lassen, you’ll also see steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pots, and colorful hot springs. The park features beautiful meadows, crystal-clear lakes, and scenic hiking trails.
Bumpass Hell trail is the most popular hike here with its geothermal wonders. You can also do the more strenuous Lassen Peak hike and explore the summit of Lassen Peak for panoramic views.
Lake Manzanita is a stunning lake and very popular for camping and water activities. You can hike around the perimeter trail for some stunning views of Lassen Peak.
9. Subway Cave Lava Tube
The Subway Cave Lava Tube is a cool thing to check out in Lassen National Forest, and it is one of the free things to do near Shasta Lake.
You can find it in Old Station on Highway 89, a little bit north of where Highway 44 and 89 meet. It’s only a 15-minute drive from Manzanita Lake and around an hour’s drive from Shasta Lake.
Inside the cave, there’s a path that goes in a loop for about a third of a mile. Bringing flashlights or headlamps is a good idea because it’s dark inside. The ground is rocky, so wearing sturdy shoes is smart.
The lava tube is really interesting to explore! We saw a similar lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park of Big Island while hiking the Kilauea Iki trail hike.
10. Whiskeytown Lake
Whiskeytown Lake is a hidden gem for recreational water activities around 30 minutes from Shasta Lake.
The lake is clear and beautiful, surrounded by mountains with trees, hiking trails, and waterfalls. You can go hiking on several trails in the region. Some trails take you up the hills, where you get a stunning lake view from above.
The main recreational activities here are boating, swimming, and fishing. If you’re into fishing, there are different types of fish in the lake, like trout and bass. Find a cozy spot along the shoreline, cast your line, and enjoy the peaceful moments as you wait for a nibble.
For those who love water activities, you can swim in the lake’s calm waters or rent a kayak or paddleboard. Venture out onto the lake and enjoy the breathtaking views and the calm and serene surroundings.
11. McCloud Falls
McCloud Falls is a series of three beautiful waterfalls located in Northern California, around an hour’s drive north of Shasta Lake in the Shasta Trinity National Forest.
The total McCloud Falls hiking trail is around 2 miles one way from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls, 4 miles roundtrip.
Upon arrival, you’ll find well-maintained trails leading to the three waterfalls. Lower Falls is the first in the series, offering a lovely spot for picnicking and relaxation by the water.
The hike to the Middle Falls is short and well worth it. The hike from the Middle Falls to the Upper Falls has some elevation, and the Upper Falls are beautiful too.
The Lower and Middle Falls are the most spectacular. If short on time, just do the Lower and Middle Falls.
The pools beneath each waterfall are inviting for those who want to cool off, especially during the warmer months. There are several people near the water either swimming or fishing.
Where to stay in Shasta Lake
The Inn at Lake Shasta provides an excellent base for exploring the Lake Shasta region and the Shasta Caverns. The peaceful forest surroundings offer a serene escape. Complimentary breakfast and parking are included.
Redding City is more central if you plan to explore nearby places like Lassen, Burney Falls, and Whiskeytown.
Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge is at a great location right next to Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Sundial Bridge. The hotel has a pool and hot tub. It is within walking distance of restaurants.
This beautiful modern ranch house near Shasta Lake has three bedrooms, two baths, and a pool, hot tub, and game room.
Travel tips for Shasta Lake
Below travel tips will help you plan your visit to Shasta Lake.
How to get to Shasta Lake?
To reach Shasta Lake, you can drive north along Interstate 5. If you’re coming from San Francisco, the drive takes around 4 hours, while from Sacramento, it’s about a 2-3 hour drive.
The nearest major airport is Redding Municipal Airport, which provides flight options for those traveling from farther distances.
How to get around Shasta Lake?
The most convenient way to navigate Shasta Lake and its surroundings is by using a car. This allows you to easily explore the various attractions and natural sites in the area.
When is the best time to visit Shasta Lake?
The prime time to visit Shasta Lake is from late spring through early fall. This period offers pleasant weather, making it ideal for outdoor activities and enjoying the lake’s beauty. We went in April and the weather was perfect.
Summertime can get hot in the Shasta Cascade region and might not be suitable for hiking, but perfect for water sports.
How many days do you need at Shasta Lake?
Planning for a 2 to 3-day trip is recommended to experience Shasta Lake and its nearby attractions fully. This allows you to enjoy activities like exploring caverns, admiring waterfalls, and taking in scenic landscapes without feeling rushed.
If you are also planning to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, add an extra day to your trip.
Final Takeaways: 11 Amazing Things to Do in Lake Shasta
Shasta Lake is a versatile destination with many recreational activities like boating, fishing, and water sports.
From exploring limestone caverns to marveling at the breathtaking Burney and McCloud Falls, the region offers natural wonders that will leave you awe-inspired.
Nearby attractions such as Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay at Redding and Lassen Volcanic National Park further enrich the experience, making Shasta Lake a hub of adventure and relaxation.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or seeking serene landscapes, you will find something at Shasta Lake to enjoy.