This Road Trip McCloud Mt. Shasta adventure begins at the intersection of Highways 89 and 299 heading north to Mt. Shasta.
We travel this route frequently to avoid I-5 coming home from points north and Oregon. The real attraction is Mt. Shasta looming in your face, the seemingly boundless forests, the town of McCloud, and the variety of recreational opportunities along the way. At the intersection, you will take 89 towards Mt. Shasta. About four miles ahead, on the left is Clark Creek Dr. This will take you to the Pit River, another of California’s Blue Ribbon streams for native trout.
We found an informative video on the Pit River; you may enjoy it. About a mile in you come to the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) damn that creates Lake Britton. Drive over the damn and take Forest Rte. 37N06 or, if unmarked, the first main road to your left. This is mostly gravel, but a decent road for access to the Pit River. From here on down to Lake Shasta, the river is controlled by PG&E with a series of powerhouses (Pit 4 & 5). Fishing is very good, but access can be tough. Be aware that you are in a very remote area so come prepared.
The river is a tough wade with no flat spots and bowling ball like rocks. Zip your pockets; take a wading staff and better yet, a PFD (personnel floatation device) for safety. You will catch trout and you will get wet. The forest service road can be followed all the way to Big Bend and then on pavement back out to Highway 299 between Burney and Redding.
Ahead, beyond the Clark Creek turn off, is McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park – a real gem. The falls seemingly bubble out of the sides of a shear volcanic cliff fed by springs and the creek above. Last year the creek dried up due to the on-going drought, but I heard that the falls continued to work via spring water.
The newly improved path down to the falls basin is somewhat steep but very doable even for ancient ones (like me). I recommend taking this short hike, particularly on a hot summer day. The misting from the falls is a treat and you can fish the creek down to Lake Britton. The park offers RV sites for rigs up to 32’, sites for tent camping, cabins to rent, a store, group sites, an amphitheater that can be reserved for weddings, etc., access to Lake Britton with swimming beach area, and rental boats and kayaks. It’s basically a resort. Make reservations early in the year for summer at burney-falls.com
For more economical and basic camping, continue on north about a mile to the bridge crossing over Lake Britton. To your right is a PG&E campground on the arm of the Pit River, called Dusty Campground. On the other side of 89 (west) just up from Dusty is another campground, picnic area. The best of the bunch is to the left about two miles ahead on north end of Clark Creek Road. Drive in about quarter of a mile and down to the lake at the North Shore Campground sign. This spot is also PG&E as is pretty much everything in the Pit River basin from Fall River to Lake Shasta. I like this campground. It’s nicely shaded, very near the lake, but strictly a dry camp experience. There are water and vault toilets. Lake Britton is on the warm side and, while there are trout, it is primarily a bass and sun fish scene. Power boats and water skiing are allowed. Kayaking is good with a number small coves and lots of waterfowl. A system of trails makes for good mountain biking. This is one the better ‘party’ lakes around.
Onward on 89, there’s little to do for the next twenty some miles except enjoy the scenery, bug your partner riding shotgun, and pick on the dog. Ahead is Bartle, basically an old bar and restaurant which is now closed. The next recommended diversion, and one of the best side trips, is to Medicine Lake.
Make time to visit this unique area. There are no amenities and it’s a long, bumpy road in; about 33 miles so stock up and figure on dry camping. The road in is to your right just before Bartle. There are signs and the road is formally Forest Rd. 49 or the Medicine Lake Rd. The first half of the drive is home to a number of long abandoned logging camps but as you ascend into the Medicine Lake plateau, you will be entering one of the last expansive pristine National Forests in the state. The lake itself is 640 acres of crystal clear water, shallow to the west and north banks and reportedly very deep in the center. This is a volcanic crater caldera or sink, so it figures. The area has much thermal activity under the surface. Don’t expect any geysers such as in Yellowstone, but both places have similar geological constructs. A few years back some ‘ever after the buck’ energy company planned on installing geothermal power plants. Fortunately, the local Indians consider this area sacred and successfully halted the effort. If you’ve ever been to the Geysers geothermal generators in Lake County and seen the destruction from the release of sulfuric steam you’ll appreciate what I’m saying.
As you enter the lake area there are four campgrounds to choose from. Medicine campground is considered best for RV’s, up to 22’, Hogue for tents and access to the lake. Power boats and water craft are allowed. I believe that ATV’s are also permitted, but best to ask. The fishing can be very good.
Adjoining the lake area is Glass Mountain, an area covered with pumice and obsidian. You are not allowed to remove these, but further down the plateau on the road to Lava Beds National Monument, there are supposedly areas open to harvest. I’ve never been there so ask the Forest Service folks. We’ll deal with the Lava Beds in another road trip.
Go out the same way you came in to continue on to highway 89 and Mt. Shasta. Ahead, perhaps some ten miles, the highway parallels the upper reaches of the McCloud River to your left. There are a series of roads leading to access points with a decent one lane paved road looping from 89 and back to 89. There are undeveloped camp sites and picnic areas worth exploring. The signage is not that great, but look around for what suits you. I don’t know if these upper stretches of the McCloud are currently planted or not. This area, a particularly the small feeder streams, are the last remaining home to a strain of Red band Trout that is clearly endangered.
Further on are the Falls of the McCloud River, some three steps off a lava shield.
They only drop from twenty to forty feet, but are nonetheless well worth seeing. The area tends to get congested in the summer as the pools below the falls are great swimming holes. Notice the Indian rhubarb plants growing in and along the stream. These huge leafed guys have a single, tall pink flower in late spring followed by their leafing. Botanically known as darmera peltata, they are a true botanical anomaly. There’s also a campground at the falls. Bike riding is a popular activity throughout the McCloud area with many paved routes.
For kayak and white water rafters, it’s possible to run the McCloud from below the lower falls – the ‘put in’ – to Lake McCloud. The first stretch is tight with large boulders making it very difficult for rafts. A ways down, springs feed and double the size of the stream making it easy. Aside from the upper part, there’s nothing particularly challenging, mostly long runs.
The highlight of the six hour run is passing through the Wyntoon, the William Randolph Hearst estate. This 67,000 acre property is very isolated and very shut off to the public.
Some of the Bavarian village is right up along the river. Construction began in 1899 and continued until the depression stopped things. Famous architects contributed to the mix of structures. It was reportedly a real party scene in the thirties with Hollywood stars and the wealthy carrying on. Hearst and his squeeze, Marion Davies spent the better part of WWII here as they feared San Simeon might be bombed by the Japanese.
The place is so private that little is really known. Kayaking the river was prohibited for many years until the Hearst Corporation finally conceded that it was a navigable stream and had to allow people to pass through. Don’t think about getting out and walking around. The ‘take out’ is the boat ramp on McCloud Reservoir, a still water paddle of perhaps one mile. Enjoy. Good images of Wyntoon are available on google to wet your appetite.
Ahead on 89 lies the town of McCloud. Many mountain towns like to call themselves ‘Alpine’, complete with the yodeling fat lady and St. Bernard. McCloud could pull it off, the others not so much. It sits at the very base of Mt. Shasta with a well-to-do logging town flavor.
A pleasing mix of small, former mill company houses and restored hotels and timber barrens’ estates, it’s got a lot going for it – restaurants, bars, quaint B & B’s, shops, a golf course, remains of the old railroad, a RV park, and drinking water off the glaciers of Mt. Shasta round out the picture. The chamber of Commerce website gives a good overview.
A couple of side trips worth the mention are to Lake McCloud (McCloud Reservoir 10 miles) and Ah Di Na campground and adjoining Nature Conservancy on the McCloud River. At the intersection of 89 and Squaw Valley Rd. – the only real intersection in town – go left or south past the golf course and turn left on the road to the lake. There’s a boat ramp, but no camping. For stream fishing try below the damn, with barbless hooks only. This is considered a world class trout stream with good reason. For even better access to the river and good, remote camping try Ah Di Na campground. The road in begins at Lake McCloud at the far end and can be very rough. It’s not recommended for trailers and certainly nothing of any size. We’ve taken our twenty footer in without too much hassle but you do need clearance. The campground itself has some 16 spaces and is located on an old homestead site complete with the remains of building foundations. Downstream is the Nature Conservancy with allows ten rods per day – five by reservation at 415-777-0487 and five by walk in. This as pure a wild trout fishing experience as on can get.
Back on 89 at McCloud head west to Mt. Shasta, some ten miles or so further on. About half way there is the turn off, on the right, to Mt. Shasta Ski Park. I no longer ski, but those that do tend to like this place. It’s the only true ski park around these parts with lifts and all the essentials. The prices and people are friendly.
Further on is the town of Mt. Shasta which abounds in recreational opportunities. There’s so much to do in and around the town of Mt. Shasta that we’ll devote a separate posting just to this magical and purported mystical area. This is home to the Lemurians so hone up on your metaphysical powers and let the road trip become a mind trip.