Being big fans of the Sierra, it takes a lot to pull us away from our beloved mountains. But snowy conditions and closed highway passes often push us to the coast for most of the winter as we wait for everything to thaw out. While on the hunt for more fourth season activities, we heard about the region surrounding the southern end of the Cascade Range: Siskiyou County. With storms blowing through the mountains east of us, we decided to venture north and explore this place for ourselves. (Spoiler alert: it DID NOT disappoint)
Siskiyou County runs along the northern border of California and is home to many hidden gems. Since it’s around 3 hours from the Bay Area, the crowds tend to thin, making for extra breathing room on trails and byways. The region boasts a rich Gold Rush era history and so much of the charm from that golden age still remains in its tiny towns with quaint accommodations and eateries. But what makes the area even more compelling is the number of outdoor activities available. Whether you enjoy backpacking, skiing, kayaking or climbing, this county is filled with abundant outdoor adventure opportunities that could rival the richness of any gold claim. On any given day, you can hike to Heart Lake, kayak on Lake Siskiyou, and climb at Castle Crags – all within a span of 18 hours. But our favorite four-season activities remain to be meandering along the McCloud River, and lounging in the sagebrush beneath Mount Shasta at sundown.
The McCloud River winds its way down Mount Shasta, running parallel to the Sacramento river for a little over 77 miles. In spring and summer it teems with myriad of wildlife, drawing fishermen and birders from all other the region to its cool currents. The 4 mile hike up the river to the three sets of falls (lower, middle, and upper McCloud Falls) is passable year-round and great for people of all abilities. The gain to Middle Falls (which is my favorite of the three) is extremely minimal, making it great for young hikers. Being that it’s dog friendly, with numerous spurs leading down to the river, your four-legged family members will love this trail just as much as you will. As it was winter, we were thrilled to find the popular trail completely empty, allowing us to snag front row seats to gaze at the roaring cascades.
Mount Shasta itself stands a stunning 10,000 feet above the surrounding towns that encircle it – making it easy to search out access to the sagebrush plains at its base. We enjoyed exploring the forest service routes off Highway 97 and found most of these dirt roads to be in good shape despite the recent snow and rain. We wandered for hours, stopping constantly to take in new perspectives, and finally settled on a level spot where we pulled out a picnic blanket and settled in for the sundown show. When the clouds aren’t covering its dramatic cone, sunsets at the base of the mountain can’t be beat. Whether you catch subtle glows of pink on its glaciated slopes, or wild bursts of fiery clouds filling the sky – you will always enjoy the last light of day here.
Suffice to say, our time in Siskiyou County was far too short. We’re already scheming on the next time we’ll make the drive up. Maybe in spring to see the wildflowers, or in summer for a swim in the lake. Regardless of when we come back, we know there’s enough untapped magic left to be discovered in here for years to come.
HIKE: McCloud River Falls
STAY: The Inn At Mount Shasta
DRINK: Mt. Shasta Brewing Co.
Visit www.discoversiskiyou.com and dream up your next adventure!