This multi-day adventure takes you through the mist-shrouded Northern California coast, featuring the world's tallest redwood trees and verdant fern-covered gullies.  Three national parks, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, and Crater Lake, showcase this area's diverse landscape and geological history.  Numerous state parks, awe-inspiring mountain peaks, and wondrous waterfalls all wait to greet you along the way.  Whether it's a volcano, lake, or towering tree, the sheer and immense beauty of what you encounter along this journey will inspire reverence for the region.

Highlights

  • Visit the Redwood National and State Parks to admire what remains of the massive forests that once blanketed the region
  • Gaze at Crater Lake, the deepest and clearest lake in the country, and learn how it was formed
  • Explore the many waterfalls in the Cascade Range
  • Feast your eyes on Lassen's blackened lava fields and cinder cones
  • Relax in the crystal clear waters of Shasta Lake

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 San Francisco to Mendocino Mendocino
Day 2 Drive the Avenue of the Giants - Mendocino to Eureka Eureka, California
Day 3 Explore Redwood National and State Parks - Eureka to Crescent City Crescent City, California
Day 4 Oregon Caves National Monument and Crater Lake Crater Lake National Park
Day 5 Crater Lake & Wizard Island Boat Tour Crater Lake National Park
Day 6 Crater Lake to Mt. Shasta Mt. Shasta, California
Day 7 Exploring Mt. Shasta and Surroundings Mt. Shasta, California
Day 8 Chasing Waterfalls Burney, California
Day 9 Northern Lassen National Park: Subway Lava Cave & Cinder Cone Hike Lassen Volcanic National Park
Day 10 Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park Redding, California
Day 11 Explore Lake Shasta Redding, California
Day 12 Redding to San Francisco  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: San Francisco to Mendocino

Russian Chapel at Fort Ross (Photo courtesy of wikipedia)
Russian Chapel at Fort Ross (Photo courtesy of wikipedia)

This morning, head across the Golden Gate Bridge to start your adventure along the Northern California coast. We are going to take the scenic road to Mendocino today.  While this adds an extra hour to the drive, the views are amazing and it is worth the time to stop and explore the small towns along the coast.

First, you'll follow 101 to Petaluma, then cut across the rolling hills of Sonoma County to Bodega Bay (67 miles, approximately 1.5 hours). We recommend stopping for fish tacos at The Birds Cafe if you got a later start and you're craving a bite to eat.

From here, the twisting Highway 1 hugs the dramatic coastline of craggy rocks and crashing surf. After crossing the Russian River, be sure to take a break and stretch your legs in tiny Jenner (population 136), a town clinging to the hillside where the river meets the Pacific (10 miles, approximately 20 minutes). Grab a cup of coffee on the waterfront terrace of Cafe Aquatica, or a bite to eat if you didn't fill up on fish tacos in Bodega Bay.

Not far beyond Jenner, Highway 1 begins to climb the Northern Coast Range mountains that rise sharply out of the sea. The views from the top are spectacular, better perhaps than the more famous Big Sur stretch, a few hundred miles to the south. A little further on, don't miss Fort Ross State Historic Park for a little-known piece of California history (12 miles, approximately 25 minutes). This well-preserved fort was established by the Russian American Company in the early 19th century as a fur trading outpost, and was the southernmost Russian settlement in North America. Be sure to spend some time wandering the buildings within the walls of the fort, including its Russian Orthodox church.

When you've had your fill of history at Fort Ross, make your way further up the scenic coast.  Take a peak at Sea Ranch, a modernist planned community along a 10 mile stretch of coast, with architecture intentionally built to harmonize with its beautiful natural surroundings. 

Heading north in the direction of Mendocino, the Point Arena Lighthouse is worth a quick detour (20 miles from Gualala Point, approximately 30 minutes). The lighthouse is perched on a scenic bluff overlooking the Pacific. You probably won't catch any tropical breezes here, but this is the closest point on the mainland to the Hawaiian Islands, located 2,353 miles away. You can take a guided tour here, and visit the small museum explaining the history and importance of the lighthouse on this rough stretch of coast.

Continue onward to the charming hamlet of Mendocino, your home for the night. Located on a point sticking out into the Pacific, its quaint streets are full of charming shops, restaurants, and B&Bs. Take some time to wander the village's streets, and to explore the surrounding bluffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park. If you're looking to relax, head to Big River Beach. This sandy beach where the Big River flows into the Pacific is usually relatively sheltered from the strong winds that regularly blast the coastline.

Once you've worked up an appetite, Trillium Cafe is a good bet for a delicious and locally-sourced Californian dinner.

Day 2: Drive the Avenue of the Giants - Mendocino to Eureka

Glass Beach Fort Bragg (Photo courtesy of californiabeaches.com)
Glass Beach Fort Bragg (Photo courtesy of californiabeaches.com)

Check out of your B&B or hotel and start making your way further up the coast.  Make sure you stop for a coffee  or pastry at Goodlife Cafe and Bakery as you leave Mendocino, and pick up a loaf of bread or some sandwiches for later as well- great for a picnic lunch!  

If you have some time, make a stop at Glass Beach near Fort Bragg.  Much has been written about Glass Beach, the former dumpsite for the town of Fort Bragg.  A visit at low tide on a clear, bright day is a rare opportunity to experience how time and nature can heal man’s disregard to his environment. Take off your shoes and stroll the beach, catching glimpses of light from the tumbled shards of glass that stud the sand.

Continue the journey north towards the Avenue of the Giants and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Before you get there, it's worth a stop in Leggett to see the Chandelier Tree.  This famous tree is approximately 2,000 years old, 16 feet wide and 315 feet tall, and you can drive right through its trunk.  ($5 entrance fee for cars).

The last major stopping point before you hit the Avenue of the Giants is Garberville.  Stop for a bit of lunch at Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro, serving up traditional Louisiana dishes, as well as fresh California seafood with a Cajun twist. Another local favorite and just a short stroll away, is Calico’s Deli & Pasta serving—as the name implies—hearty plates of pasta and large sandwiches, as well as beer on tap. For a higher-end option, the Benbow Inn Restaurant serves upscale American food with a focus on fresh flavors. 

Past Garberville, you enter the Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous scenic drive surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  This area has the largest concentration of coastal redwoods in the world.  As you enter the avenue from the south, you will be rewarded with awe-inspiring forest views.  Your drive through this 31-mile stretch of road can take anywhere from an hour to a full day, as there are plenty of spots where you might want to take a short hike and fully appreciate your surroundings.  It's good to plan 2 - 3 hours to really appreciate the state park and the redwoods.  There are eight Auto Tour signs to stop at along the Avenue of the Giants with interpretive panels. These include short trails where you can experience the magic of the redwood forest up close as well as points of historical significance.  You might not stop at all eight, but we would recommend visiting Stop 3, the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association Visitor Center.  The exhibits will deepen your appreciation for the magnificent landscape you are driving through.

You can experience the wonder of the redwoods without leaving your car, but walking into the woods gives you a different perspective.  The tall trees and insulating ground cover create a quiet, cool, calming space that feels mystical and otherworldly.  There are a few short hikes that you might want to consider. The easy half-mile Founders Grove Loop Trail features the Dyerville Giant, the largest fallen redwood log in the world. Another short and relatively easy hike is the 2.4-mile Drury-Chaney Loop Trail.  It is noted for its dense growth and carpet of redwood sorrel. If you're hungry for more hiking, ask at the visitor center, which has a list of hikes ranging from easy to strenuous along the Avenue of the Giants. 

From here, head to your hotel in the Old Town of Eureka.   The Old Town is one of the oldest preserved downtowns in California.  Take a stroll through the main street and enjoy the feeling of being transported back to the 1800s, with unique and interesting stores and plenty of old Victorian mansions.   For dinner, we would recommend the Lost Coast Brewery, which has always called Eureka home.  Try the Great White that started their grand microbrewing experiment, or one of the seasonals on tap.

Day 3: Explore Redwood National and State Parks - Eureka to Crescent City

Memorial Lighthouse in Trinidad
Memorial Lighthouse in Trinidad

Your first stop of the day is Trinidad (23 miles, 30 minutes), a cute seaside town, nestled on picture-perfect headlands overlooking the harbor. Stop for a peek at the Memorial Lighthouse, a replica of the 1871 original.  With its bright red roof, it can't be missed.  If you are a smoked salmon fan, you shouldn't miss Katy's Smokehouse.  For over sixty years, Katy's has been expertly smoking Salmon (Chinook) caught by hook and line.  Before you leave Trinidad, grab a sandwich for later from Beachcomber Cafe, which will  come in handy on your visit to the Redwood National & State Parks to see the world's tallest trees.

This park is actually made up of the Redwood National Park and three California state parks (Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods).  Nearly half of the world's remaining old-growth redwoods are in this park system, including giants five stories taller than the Statue of Liberty.   For some orientation to the parks, stop by Kuchel Visitor Center to explore the exhibits.  From there, drive on to Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park to see the Roosevelt Elks.  The Roosevelt elks are a major conservation success story.  Hunted nearly to extinction by North Coast settlers, there were only a few hundred animals left when conservation efforts began.  Now, happily, the elk number in the thousands and are being reintroduced to many areas of their original range.   

Another highlight of the Redwood National and State Parks is Fern Cayon.   Steven Spielberg described Fern Canyon as "an unforgettable natural wonder," and chose it for filming parts of Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.

From the Fern Canyon day-use parking area, follow the signs on the trail for the turnoff for Fern Canyon. This level trail of about one mile follows Home Creek as it courses through the forest. This modest stream has, over the eons, carved a deep (50 to 80 feet) canyon through the sedimentary soils. The trail crisscrosses the creek, so expect your footwear to get a little wet- quality sandals are a good option for this walk.  As you walk deeper into the canyon, it narrows to a width of less than 30-feet.  The vertical walls sprout an amazing variety of ferns and other moisture-loving plants and mosses. Depending on the time of year, there can be a constant drip-drip of water trickling down the canyon walls.

You can hike into the canyon and back, or continue onto a stairway that climbs out of the canyon.  At the top, turn left to return along the canyon rim, with fine views into the canyon and other interesting sights.  You will pass by a verdant prairie that is the site of a former mining camp. Once upon a time, Gold Bluffs Beach was, in fact, mined for gold.

Tonight, you will stop in Crescent City (42 miles, 50 minutes), north of the Redwood National and State Parks.  Depending on what time you arrive, you can take a walk to the Battery Point Lighthouse, but be aware, the lighthouse is only accessible at low tide. Built in 1856, with 22 inch thick slabs of granite, the light house is a sight to behold.  Just as famous is the nearby Pebble Beach- while it is quite small, it is full of colorful agates that locals come to collect.  

Wander the shops and restaurants in Crescent City's quaint downtown, and stop by Rumiano Cheese Store to sample the natural and organic products from California's oldest family-owned cheese company. Ask to learn more about Rumiano’s hand-dug cellar, where they age wheels of dry Monterey Jack, as well as Peppato cheese, covered in a special blend of pepper and cocoa powder. 

For dinner, you can't go wrong with brick-oven pizzas, cheese curds, and well-brewed craft beer. You can find them all at Seaquake Brewing’s on-site brewery and taproom, where specialties include a complex blonde ale, a coastal pale ale, and an IPA.

Day 4: Oregon Caves National Monument and Crater Lake

Cave entrance (Photo courtesy of SouthernOregon.com)
Cave entrance (Photo courtesy of SouthernOregon.com)

Today, you will be heading from Crescent City to Crater Lake, a total of 188 miles and just over 4 hours of driving.  Fuel up for the day with a hearty breakfast at the Good Harvest Cafe in Cresent City before you hit the road.  They have all the great American breakfast favorites, as well as some more unique offerings - Snapper & Eggs with Toast, is a local favorite. 

You will break up the drive with a stop in Oregon Caves National Monument, which is around halfway between the two locations, and a great place to stretch your legs while exploring a compelling natural attraction.

It will be best to stop by the town of Cave Junction to grab some lunch, since the only restaurant at the Oregon Cave National Monument is currently closed for renovations.  Buttercloud Bakery & Cafe is a good option for a coffee and to grab a sandwich or salad for lunch.   

Take the unique tour through the Oregon Caves, a trek along an asphalt trail complete with low ceilings, narrow passages, and an occasional tight squeeze. The cave tour includes a 90-minute discussion of geology, fossils, wildlife and bats within the caves with a forest ranger.  Plan for 1-2 hours at the cave including the tour. 

If you are not in a rush, you could spend some time walking the short trails on the surface as well.  The Cliff Nature Trail is a good option- it is just a mile from the visitor center and leads to a panoramic view of the Illinois Valley.  Another option with a bit more time is the Big Tree Trail (3.3 miles long), a great afternoon hike.  Here, a steep climb takes you through mountain meadows and forests to the widest Douglas-fir tree known to exist in Oregon.

After you have enjoyed the cave, your hikes, and your lunch, it's time to take the rest of the journey towards Crater Lake (130 miles, 2 hrs 45 mins).  Settle into your hotel near the Crater Lake National Park, and get a good night's rest, as tomorrow will be a very full day.

Day 5: Crater Lake & Wizard Island Boat Tour

Crater Lake in Summer (Photo courtesy of of NPS)
Crater Lake in Summer (Photo courtesy of of NPS)

Get an early start this morning and head to the Crater Lake National Park.  A good starting point is the visitor center, which is full of great information about the formation of the lake and the history of the park.  After the visitor center, head to the main viewing area, where your first view of the lake will take your breath away. The water is intensely blue and the clouds in the sky cast shadows that seem to dance on the crater walls.   Walk along the pathway that winds around this side of the lake and stop at the Sinnott Memorial Overlook.  The Discovery Point Trail is also a good option to walk around the lake and enjoy the scenery, but don't go too far, as you have other appointments to keep.  After walking a short ways, head back to the car, and grab a sandwich for lunch from the Rim Village Café before you leave the area.You are going to drive to the other side of the island, to the Wizard Island Boat Dock, for your tour this afternoon.  

The drive to the other side is around 30 minutes, but give yourself some additional time to walk down the rather steep Cleetwood Cove Trail (1.1-mile descent) to the boat dock. Your tour starts at 12:45 pm- if you are early, you cantake the time to have lunch at the side of the water. If you are brave enough, you can take a dip in the chilly waters of the lake.

Your program on the boat will combine a tour of the lake's perimeter with a 3-hour visit to Wizard Island.  Wizard Island is a 763-foot cinder cone created by an additional, smaller eruption on the caldera floor after Crater Lake first filled with water and the volcano collapsed. While on Wizard Island, be sure to hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail. This moderate hike is approximately 1 hour to the top of Wizard Island, with a path leading to the 90-foot deep crater at the summit. Total trail length is 2.2 miles round trip. 

Tour duration: 5 hrs

After the tour, if you are looking for dinner, the Crater Lake Lodge offers casual dining with a beautiful lake view setting.

Day 6: Crater Lake to Mt. Shasta

Pumice Castle
Pumice Castle

This morning, take a drive all the way around Crater Lake.  Allow approximately two hours so that you don’t feel rushed as you are taking in the scenery. On the drive, you will find a number of pull-outs where you can park your car, take in a different view and snap some photos. Make sure that you stop at the Pumice Castle Overlook and the Phantom Ship Overlook. Both offer up-close views of two of the park's most famous attractions.

Your final adventure in the park is to visit Pinnacles Overlook. Located in the southeast corner of the park, Pinnacles Overlook is something that many visitors miss.  Take the six-mile detour off of the Rim Drive and park in the small parking lot- the Pinnacles are located a short walk from there. A fascinating sight, you can see the years of wind and water erosion at work.

After your visit, drive to Klamath Falls for a bit of lunch and to stretch your legs.  A good choice is Green Blade Bakery, an artisan bakery delighting customers with its sweet and savory products.  In addition to freshly baked bread, you will also find calzones and sandwiches.  Another great option is Rodeos Pizza & Saladeria, featuring made-from-scratch pizza and salads.

Once you are rested, head further south to Mt. Shasta (80 miles and 1.5 hrs away).  The mountain is hard to miss- as you drive south, you round the bend and, suddenly it's there in front of you in all it's majesty. 

Get settled at your hotel for the night, and grab some dinner at Cafe Maddalena, an elegant Mediterranean restaurant with a small garden for outdoor dining during the summer.

Day 7: Exploring Mt. Shasta and Surroundings

Mount Shasta from Yellow Butte (By Mary-Lynn, CC 2.0)
Mount Shasta from Yellow Butte (By Mary-Lynn, CC 2.0)

There is so much to explore in the Mt. Shasta region that you could spend a month here and not repeat any of the hikes.  However, with more limited time, here are a few ideas for you to get fully immersed in the area's natural beauty.

Maybe stop by The Oven Bakery before your hike.  They serve Northbound Coffee, locally roasted in Mount Shasta.  They also have some mouth-watering pastries and bread, great for breakfast, as well as perfect for lunch on the hike. 

Best View of Mt. Shasta - Climb Yellow Butte

Distance: 3 miles
Elevation gain: 600 ft
Trail type: Out and back

One of the least visited areas in the Mount Shasta region, Yellow Butte is a hidden gem in a valley of great hikes. With very few visitors climbing the butte, you have an opportunity for one of the best views of Mount Shasta and the Shasta Valley, unfettered by other hikers and the pitfalls of well traveled paths. To the north, the valley stretches to the Oregon border, to the south lies the gorgeous Mount Shasta, to the west you'll see the Trinity Divide and the Mount Eddy range, and to the east you'll find the northern regions of the Cascades and Sheep Rock. This short climb is very well worth the time and effort. A sunset hike would be ideal, as it is a bit cooler and will offer an amazing backdrop for the big event. You'll find eye candy on the way up as well- wildflowers abound as you climb the old forest road. 

While you are here, you can take a small detour to visit Pluto's Cave.  These are a set of little known and little-traveled lava tubes.  These tubes were formed 190,000 years ago as Mount Shasta was erupting.  The caves stretch nearly two miles into the final section if you are brave enough and have the proper footwear and light. Please be aware, there is no exit, so you will have to work your way back out as you came in.  There are species of bats that inhabit this area, so make sure not to disturb them as you venture through the caves!

Hiking Mt. Shasta  - Avalanche Gulch Trail 

Distance: 4.5 miles - 6.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1000 ft - 3500 ft
Trail type: Out and back

Ascending Mt. Shasta can't really be done on a day hike, but for those that want to get up close to the volcano, the Avalanche Gulch hike is a good place to start.  The trailhead is 11 miles up the Everitt Memorial Hwy, and the first part of the trail up Avalanche Gulch is called Bunny Flat.  At the trail parking, you will see a healthy mix of day hikers and mountaineers all getting ready to hike up the volcano.  The trail ascends the south side of the mount through open conifer forests to the Sierra Club Hut at Horse Camp.   From the trailhead to Horse Camp and back is 4.5 miles, so this is probably a good distance to tackle if you have kids.  The next section will get much harder. 

Those that are still energized can tackle the next leg, from Horse Camp to Lake Helen.  Journeying to Lake Helen adds another 3 miles (round trip) to your hike, and another 2,500 feet of elevation gain.  Most of the year, you will encounter snow on this leg of the trail, so please be prepared for this.  Follow the footsteps of other hikers that lead the way through the winding gulch.  It is uphill every step of the way, but don't forget to look back! With every step, the view down gets more impressive.  It will be pretty obvious when you reach Lake Helen, as you reach an expansive flat area on your right.  The lake is frozen most of the year.  If you are lucky, and you arrive at the end of summer, you might glimpse some glacier green water.  Here, you will meet friendly forest rangers, checking permits and answering questions. Enjoy some well-earned rest before heading back down the mountain.  

Best Water Falls Hike - Faery Falls (Good for Kids)

Distance: 1.5 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Trail type: Out and back

Nestled in Ney Springs Canyon is the hidden Faery Falls.  The 1.5 mile round-trip hike to the falls will lead you through the old Ney Springs Resort and up the beautiful canyon surrounded by evergreens and crag outcroppings.  

The hike itself begins at the bottom of an old road. After half a mile of walking, you will come to the abandoned Ney Springs resort.  The resort was popular in the late 1800s as a spot for visitors to take the mineral waters. Very little of the resort remains today.  If you are curious, take a walk by the old pools.  The water in the pool is extremely slick and still bubbles up from below.

As you continue up the single track road from the resort for about a quarter mile, you will come upon a trail heading down towards the creek.  The trail will take you to a nice viewing area right in front of and above the falls.  From there, you can work your way down to the bottom.  This makes a truly refreshing late summer or early fall hike due to the mist from the falls.


Best Views of Glacier Lakes - Castle Lake & Heart Lake (Good for Kids)

Distance: 2.6 miles - 3.6 miles
Elevation gain: 400 ft - 900 ft
Trail type: Out and back

Starting from the Castle Lake Picnic Area, the trail is self-explanatory. The first half mile is the toughest on the legs, as it is more vertical, but it is by no means strenuous. This part of the trail itself is rather soft until you level out and reach the saddle at 0.6 miles. From there, the trail can get confusing, as it seems to cobweb up the mountainside in various (wrong) directions. Do not hike directly to the overlook, as you will end up bushwhacking your way out. Instead, keep left as the trail will take you to the easternmost side of Heart Lake.

On the hike up, you will get views of Castle Lake and see Castle Peak in view. Soon, you will be able to spot Heart Lake through a cluster of pines.  The trail comes down to the shore at a point between the two coves that make up this heart-shaped lake.  The trail precedes around the north end of the lake to a fantastic viewpoint.  Look out over a ledge and down at Castle Lake and the green pine-covered valley.  Black Butte and Mount Shasta rise prominently beyond. 

From here, continue west along the ridge.  The beginning of the overlook is only 0.3 miles away after leaving Heart Lake.  After passing through a small meadow, you will reach a narrow trail that climbs through some brush before reaching the small cliffside clearing.  Follow the trail to the peak of the overlook, with a fantastic 360-degree view.

While the trail is short, this trip makes an excellent all-day trip in the summer.  First, spend some time swimming and picnicking on Castle Lake and start the hike in the mid-afternoon.  Take some time to take a dip in Heart Lake along the way, as the shallow waters warm nicely during the summer months.  Try to time your visit to the overlook so that you arrive around dusk and catch the sunset.  The trail is short and easy enough to risk a descent after sunset.

For dinner, visit the Highland House in the Mt. Shasta Resort for a special meal.  Ask for a table near the window for a magnificent view of Mt. Shasta as you enjoy your meal.  

Day 8: Chasing Waterfalls

Upper falls (Photo courtesy of Mt. Shasta Trail Association)
Upper falls (Photo courtesy of Mt. Shasta Trail Association)

The road connecting Mt. Shasta to Lassen is filled with some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. You will be forgiven if you think you've been transported to somewhere in South America... ...  But, before you leave town, stop by the local favorit Mount Shasta Pastry for some breakfast and coffee.  It's a small cafe, so be sure to arrive early, especially on the weekends as it fills up quickly.

Your first stop today is the McCloud River and the three falls here, just outside the town of McCloud and 20 minutes from the town of Mt. Shasta. The Three Falls Trail is a great hike through a mountainous, high desert forest with a wonderful variety of flora along the trail, including redwoods, Douglas fir, orange honeysuckle, and thimbleberry.  

In the summer, the 12-foot tall Lower Falls and its downstream pool is very popular with swimmers.  Rock formations above the pool make for a fun cliff jumping spot.  Head up the trail, past the crowds at the Lower Falls, to discover the far more impressive and scenic Middle and Upper Falls. 

If you are pressed for time, you can also enjoy the three falls from the road, as there are overlooks for each of the falls along the way.  However, we would recommend to take your time, and hike the three falls, and follow the hike up with a picnic lunch by the lower falls and some swimming. 

Distance: 5.3 miles
Elevation: 350 ft

The day of waterfall exploration continues with a visit to McArthur-Burney Memorial Falls State Park. The park's centerpiece is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, but is possibly the most beautiful. Teddy Roosevelt called Burney Falls the "eighth wonder of the world."  It does have to be seen to be believed.  The water from the creek falls over the cliff edge, and an underground river that flows below the creek at the top also feeds the waterfall.  This is what makes the falls so special, as you see water coming out of a dozen holes right in the middle of the waterfall.  Great views of the falls are accessible right from the parking lot.  However, for a more refreshing perspective, take the trail to the pool at the base of the falls and along the stream (1.3 miles).    

The stream from the waterfall flows to Lake Britton, which is worth a stop if you have time.  The 4,700-square-mile reservoir is an ideal spot for boating, kayaking, and fishing. The site also offers great wildlife watching—look for bald eagles, river otters, osprey, and some very large trout. Kayak into Burney Creek or over to the PG&E Britton dam. If you don't have your own boat, the Lake Britton Marina rents canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and small motorboats as well as boat slips.

Head to your hotel after exploring Lake Britton.  For dinner consider The Rex Club in Burney, best described as Gourmet food in a rustic atmosphere.  Don't let it's modest exterior deceive you.  You will enter into a warm country style interior with friendly service and great food.  

Day 9: Northern Lassen National Park: Subway Lava Cave & Cinder Cone Hike

Exploring the lave tube with flashlight (Photo courtesy of @yenyifu)
Exploring the lave tube with flashlight (Photo courtesy of @yenyifu)

Start the morning in with a hearty breakfast at BlackBerry Cafe in Burney.   If you are hungry try for their famous "Mountain Man" breakfast with everything!!  

After breakfast, you start your exploration of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and the fascinating changes in the landscape caused by geothermal activity.  The first stop of the day is just outside of the park, called the Subway Lava Cave.  This self-guided trail is inside an underground lava tube.  It's pitch black inside and the floor is rough and jagged, so don't forget to bring a flashlight and a pair of sturdy shoes.  A jacket is recommended as well, as the cave remains a cool 46 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. 

Distance: 1/3 mile
Elevation gain: none

From the lava cave, we head into Lassen Volcano National Park proper.  This northern section of the park is less visited but has some of the most interesting volcanic landscapes of the whole park.  One of the highlights is the remains of a Cinder Cone volcano, aptly named Cinder Cone.   A 4.8-mile round-trip trail allows you to experience the wonder of Cinder Cone Volcano first hand. This kind of volcano is formed when gas-charged lava is violently ejected high in the air from a single vent. The lava is blown apart into small bits that solidify in the air, and fall back to earth as cinders called scoria, forming a circular or oval cone as they accumulate.

From the Butte Lake parking area follow the relatively flat trail bordered by woodlands on the right. The trail gets steeper as Cinder Cone comes into view. At 1.2 miles, the trail reaches a fork at the base of Cinder Cone. Look to your left here for the first views of the colorful Painted Dunes. Be sure to take a break in the shade of the surrounding Jeffrey Pines before following the trail to the left and beginning the heart-pumping climb to the top of the cone. As the trail slowly circles around to the south side of the cone, Lassen Peak comes into view. The trail then continues to the top where climbers are rewarded with views in all directions. Prospect Peak, Lassen Peak, Snag Lake, the Fantastic Lava Beds, and the Painted Dunes are all clearly visible. A separate trail continues down into the crater of Cinder Cone.

This hike is best done at the start or end of the day because there is no shade to be had as you start the climb on Cinder Cone.  Also, at the end of the day, the sunset creates a beautiful glow over the crater of the Cinder Cone and the Painted Dunes.

Distance: 4.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,043 ft
Trail type: Loop

From here, head to your accommodation inside or near the park, as you will continue exploring tomorrow.

Day 10: Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park

Manzanita Lake in the Fall (Photo courtesy of NPS)
Manzanita Lake in the Fall (Photo courtesy of NPS)

Today, you will be exploring the central section of Lassen Volcanic National Park.  The recommended stops for today give you a taste of the different aspects of the park, from serene alpine lakes to active fumaroles, and from smoking mud pots to jagged mountain peaks. Please be aware that many of the hikes recommended in this central area are at a high elevation, and may still be snow-packed in early summer.  The average opening date is around July 4th, but it depends on the year, so it is essential to check with the national park service before you travel. 

The first stop of the day is the serene Manzanita Lake.  Visiting the lake early in the morning gives you a better chance to capture the still reflection of Lassen Peak in the lake.  Take a walk around the lake as far as you like- there are plenty of opportunities to catch glimpses of wildlife here, from deer to woodpeckers.  You can also visit Loomis Museum to learn more about the park.  Before you leave the area, head to the Manzanita store for a late breakfast, some coffee and to pick up some picnic supplies for lunch, as there are not many food options in the park.

The next stop on your list is Lassen Peak, for which the park is named.  Park at the trailhead for Lassen Peak.  You won't have time to climb the peak today. However, at the trailhead, there are some good displays that show what the area looked like right after the volcanic eruption, and how the landscape has recovered over the years.  This is a good source to learn a bit more about the geology of the park.

Just down the road from Lassen Peak is Bumpass Hell.  The trailhead for Bumpass Hell is near Lake Helen.  You can take a short walk near Lake Helen before heading onto the trail.  Bumpass Hell contains the largest and most interesting hydrothermal area in the park.  With its hot springs, steaming fumaroles, and boiling mud pots, its like walking around in a geology textbook (but much cooler)!  The hike into Bumpass Hell is an easy 3 miles round trip.  You can access the area safely on a boardwalk, and it’s forbidden (and very dangerous) to leave the trail and walk elsewhere in hydrothermal areas. You don’t want to earn yourself a boiled foot as a souvenir from the hot springs...so stay on the boardwalk.

Your final hike for the day is to the Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes.  This trail is a photographer's dream - three crystal clear lakes with contrasting colors situated one after another!  The trail is 4 miles round-trip, with a moderate amount of elevation gain (750 ft).  The first mile is the most challenging, and after that, it's a gradual incline to the lakes.  All three lakes are swimmable, but depending on when you visit, it might be too cold to take a dip.  

From here, it's time to head to your hotel for a bit of R&R.  In Redding, you have a huge choice of restaurants, for a great river view, try View 202. Modern decore, with floor to ceiling windows and a huge deck, it is the perfect place to relax after an active day of hiking!

Day 11: Explore Lake Shasta

Panorama of Lake Shasta
Panorama of Lake Shasta

Shasta Lake, located just 15 miles north of Redding, is the state's largest reservoir.  It has 370 miles of shoreline and five major lake arms, each with its own distinct character.  There is much to explore on the lake, but  your destination today is a paddle up the McCloud arm.

Pick up your kayak from Holiday Harbor in the morning, and head out onto the McCloud arm of the river.  This arm is famous for the grey rocks that rise out of the water.  These rocks were formed from ocean sediments many million of years ago.  They make a beautiful picture against the blue-green water of the lake. Padding can be hot work, so feel free to jump into the lake at any point to cool off. Whenever you are hungry, there are plenty of nice coves to pull out of the river, have a picnic lunch, and enjoy a spot of sunbathing.  There is no rush to get anywhere today.  It is just a day to enjoy the peaceful water, beautiful scenery and fresh air.

Whenever you are ready, paddle back and drop your kayaks back at the marina.  Your last stop of the day is to visit the Lake Shasta Caverns. Thought to have formed roughly 250 million years ago, a tour through the caves provide a fascinating view of beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations.  Also, the caverns are at a constant 58 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter the temperature outside, so it is a great way to escape the heat in summer.  

After the tour, it's time to head back to your hotel in Redding.  For dinner tonight, you could splurge with a visit to Clearie's.   This high-end eatery is a local favorite for its friendly and cozy atmosphere, as well as amazing cocktails - did someone say smokin' martinis? It will be the perfect end to the perfect day.

Day 12: Redding to San Francisco

Old Sacramento District (Photo courtesy of oldsacramento.com)
Old Sacramento District (Photo courtesy of oldsacramento.com)

Today is the last day of your road trip! Enjoy the last morning in Redding and grab a leisurely coffee and breakfast at Evergreen Coffee before heading off on your 3.5 hr (219 miles) drive back to San Francisco.

There are not a lot of scenic stops along the way. However, if you have some time, Sacramento makes a nice detour, and only adds around 30 minutes extra driving time to the route.  While there, you can make a visit to the Old Town to soak up some gold history.  

This storied town was built almost overnight when veins of gold were discovered in the Sierra Foothills in 1849.  A massive tide of humankind, all intent on finding their fortune, raced to the Gold Country.  Sailing as close as they could get to the gold via waterways, they pulled anchor at San Francisco Bay and sailed east on the Sacramento River. The gold-hungry prospectors were forced to pull up at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers.  At this spot, Sacramento was born, with many buildings constructed out of leftover ship timbers and sails.

As you walk through Old Sacramento (now a preserved National Historic Landmark), you can get a sense of the raucous early years.  Take your time to stroll through the cobblestone streets and restored buildings.  Spend some time in the excellent museums, including the Sacramento History Museum which displays Gold Rush artifacts and offers underground tours and ghost tours of the historic district.

Grab some lunch in the Old Town, or inside the restored paddlewheel boat - the Delta King

If Sacramento is too much of a detour for you, the Nut Tree in Vacaville is closer to the route.  This is a great stop for those with younger kids.  There is a small playground with rocking horses, a carousel, and a miniature train that is bound to be lots of fun for the little ones.  Many restaurant options are available at the Nut Tree, if you want to extend the stop with some lunch or an afternoon snack.

Whatever stop you choose, enjoy the drive and embrace the journey home!

Map

Map of California and Oregon Road Trip: Waterfalls, Volcanoes, and the Coast - 12 Days
Map of California and Oregon Road Trip: Waterfalls, Volcanoes, and the Coast - 12 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated May 6, 2020