By Lee Foster
The Redding/Shasta Cascade area of Northern California has emerged with renewed tourism vigor, partly due to the remarkable Sundial Bridge (opened 2004) and adjacent Turtle Bay Exploration Park, both of which epitomize the best traits of the region.
For a long time the area has benefited from its blockbuster Volcanic National Park, Lassen (see my separate write-up on Lassen), and its immense recreational and fishing lake, Shasta, behind a dam that is one of the great engineering feats, making California a land of relative water wealth and prosperity.
The Sundial Bridge
The Sundial Bridge in Redding is both a destination artifact of bridge architecture, commissioned from Spanish artist-architect-builder Santiago Calatrava, and a 24-hour 300-acre park, Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which could easily occupy a day of a visitor’s time.
The Sundial Bridge is especially lovely in the morning freshness when the sun hits the structure. You can promenade across this wide footbridge accompanied by hikers, dog-walkers, and stroller-pushers. Below you is the trout-rich Sacramento River, with drift boats of catch-and-release fly fishermen meandering by.
But the Bridge is equally beguiling at night because both the bridge landmark structure and the promenade, a wide footpath, are lit, with light coming up through glass panels in the pathway, lending a romantic air to the place, especially during a full moon. The night will be cooler in summer, with tree frogs providing a symphonic background as swallows and bats dance about in search of insects. Couples snuggle and families parade in the long summer twilight.
The drive up from the Bay Area to see the Redding region and the Sundial Bridge takes you through the fecund rice-growing farmlands of the upper Sacramento Valley, showing just what food wealth impounded water can yield when married to the fertile soil of The Great Valley, as the Central Valley of California is sometimes called. There are pleasant roadside rest stops to break the trip, such as one at Willows.
Ide Adobe in Red Bluff
If you want to see a historic and salubrious riverside homestead, stop on your drive north at the historic state park known as the William Ide Adobe in Red Bluff along the Sacramento River. The adobe homestead has been carefully restored. There is some doubt whether William B. Ide actually owned the property. Ide was president in 1846 of the fanciful, brief, and independent Bear Republic in the uncertain time as California passed between Mexican and Unites States’ control. Ide had a vision of California as a special place, and his vision was correct. But even Ide could scarcely have imagined that California would become the sixth largest economy on Earth.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park
At the Sundial Bridge, on the north side of the river, there is a large arboretum to explore. The McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens has several imaginative displays of plants. You can also rent a bicycle or have Bob Frost of Sundial Pedicab drive you around if the distances seem too long. Hiking/biking trails along the river are inviting. The trail on the south side of the river going downstream from the Sundial Bridge provides appealing views of the structure in the morning.
On the south side of the bridge, be sure to stop in at the Turtle Bay Museum, which has a stream profile showing the anadromous fish, trout and salmon, of the Sacramento River, plus displays on the Wintu Native Americans and other tribes. One celebrated Indian was Ishi, the last member of his tribe, whose poignant life story is recorded in a book about a vanishing era. A replication of a bark Wintu dwelling is the centerpiece of the museum. Further displays give information about the triumvirate of regional prosperity—mining, lumber, and the Shasta Dam.
Beyond seeing the Sundial Bridge area, the next main impulse in this region is to get out on the vast Shasta Lake to experience the watery legacy up close. This is easier to arrange than you might suspect.
Drive north on Interstate 5, the north-south freeway in the region, to the last turnoff south of Shasta Dam. There you’ll find the Vista Point giving a clear view of the dam, which has the highest overflow spillway in the world, at 602 feet. Backed up is a huge lake with a 370-mile shoreline, which shows to best advantage when the water level is high.
Then drive the scenic back roads eastward, through a classic California landscape of grasslands and oaks at the lower altitude, giving way to conifers as you climb higher. Search out the typical marina, Jones Valley Resort, on Shasta Lake. There you can take out a day boat, a pontoon boat that any city slicker could maneuver, and cast your eyes on the lake, the mountains, and the more lavish houseboat culture around you, which is the big business here. The Jones Valley Resort folks can be helpful as they fix you up with a fishing pole and some bait or lures if you want to remove trout, crappies, or largemouth and smallmouth bass from the ecosystem. The empty niche will soon be filled with another finned quarry in this nutrient- and oxygen-rich lake. Chances are that a day out on a stable, pontoon day boat will get you thinking of a 10-12 sleeper houseboat for a 3-7 day interlude. Someone at the resort had the foresight awhile back to register the domain name real estate, www.houseboats.com, on the Internet.
After getting out on the lake, chances are you will want to go to the source, Mount Shasta, and view the white-headed lord of this region. Shasta is the intact regional mountain. Lassen lost part of its top in dramatic 1914-1917 eruptions. Shasta has a regal white mantle all year, although the hair thins a bit by September until the replenishing rains fall as snow on the mountain.
Like a Wintu Indian of old, pay homage to the white Shasta, the goal of many travelers in this area, by viewing the mountain from various perspectives. Possibly lodge west of Shasta at the Mount Shasta Resort, enjoying a cabin-like condo. While waiting for late afternoon light to be optimal on nearby Castle Lake for a view of the mountain and its reflection in the water, enjoy a glass of wine on your deck and observe the families of deer that inhabit the area. Inhale the crisp, pine-scented air, look over Siskiyou Lake, and witness a little of the rusticity that the region offers. Then drive out to Castle Lake for a celebration of the view of Shasta at sunset. The next morning, drive east along the south side of Shasta, perhaps to indulge in the volcanic pleasures of Lassen Park. In morning, the view of Mt. Shasta from the south and east will require a few stops to savor the moment.
One further perspective on Mt. Shasta and a joyous world unto itself is Castle Crags State Park, just south of the mountain along Highway 5. Views of the Crags and then of Shasta from the Crags is the quest here. The drive-to lookout is appealing. For the athletic, there is a climb of 2.7 miles with an elevation gain of 2,200 feet to the top of the Crags. I have done this, in an earlier decade, to enjoy the view. I remember hurtling back down the switchback trail and encountering the largest rattlesnake in all of my California travels, coiled in the middle of the trail, and not wanting to be disturbed. I carefully skirted the snake then and was happy to hear, recently, from the current ranger, Brett Mizeur, that the scaled reptilian population here remains healthy.
The small ranger station at Castle Crags has a lovely display of the local fauna, mounted, with a mountain lion and a bear, as well as several smaller critters. All these animals had unfortunate encounters with automobiles, but their appearance survives with taxidermist enhancement for later generations to appreciate. The ranger station also has a choice selection of nature and hiking guides appealing to all ages.
Prices in the Redding area for food and lodging are moderate. At Redding’s Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott, for example, a clean and fresh room, with ample breakfast and Internet included, doesn’t break the budget.
The Fly Shop
But Redding is also a lyrical place. The pilgrimage spot to experience this is The Fly Shop, dedicated to all things trout (or, rather, fish). You might meet the founder, Mike Michalak, or one of the perpetuating visionaries, Tim Fox. These are people who delight in having well-tied flies named after them. It helps that the shop is located in a region with some of the prime trout waters in the world. The shop is part retail, selling everything from tied flies to tie-your-own materials, plus the rods, reels, nets, gators, and total paraphernalia for the avid fisherman. Beyond the visible store, there is the invisible world of the 300,000 annual catalogs going out to armchair and actual fishermen, who engage the ordering experts at www.theflyshop.com. From this shop, you can get a local guide and boat, good for two fishermen, one fore and one aft. The boat might drift through the public waters of the Sacramento River or the private streams to which the shop has access. Sport fly fishing reaches out globally from this store, with trips possible to Patagonia or New Zealand for trout and maybe the Bahamas for bonefish. The ethic and culture here is mainly catch and release, especially in the streams with only wild, native trout.
When you add the Sundial Bridge to the other notable experiences, such as Lassen Park, Lake Shasta, Mount Shasta, and Castle Crags, this Northern California area has compelling travel pleasures to offer.
Redding/Shasta Region: If You Go
For Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay Exploration Park info, see http://www.turtlebay.org.
The area has two primary tourism information sources.
The Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association promotes the entire north state region of nine counties. See them at http://www.shastacascade.com.
Redding’s Chamber of Commerce represents the largest city in the area at http://www.visitredding.com.
One major player in houseboating on Lake Shasta is Jones Valley Resort at http://www.houseboats.com.
For a world-class fly fishing shop, either in person or online, see in Redding The Fly Shop at http://www.theflyshop.com.
Two free publications widely available on the region have lots of info. They are 101 Shasta Cascade Things To Do and Shasta Lake Visitor Guide.
One upscale lodging with chalet-like condos set in the woods, adjacent to a lake, is the Mount Shasta Resort at http://www.mountshastaresort.com.
An example of good value and convenient lodging along Interstate 5, with modern and clean rooms, plus breakfast and Internet, is the Fairfield Inn in Redding at http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/rddre-fairfield-inn-and-suites-redding/.
For a thorough discussion of Lassen Volcanic National Park, see my write-up at http://fostertravel.wpengine.com/californias-lassen-volcanic-national-park/.
This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s new book Northern California Travel: The Best Options (February 2013). See the book online at www.fostertravel.com by clicking on Norcal in the black bar at the top of the page or use Search Lee’s Writings for Norcal.
The book can be ordered on Amazon or through other retailers as a printed book or ebook. The ebook version is also available in the Apple iBook Store and the other ebook stores for B&N Nook and Sony Reader. Lee’s books/ebooks on Amazon can all be seen together on his Author Page. See the Lee Foster Author Page