180 mi / 289 km
The jagged spires of Castle Crag Dome mark the beginning of this 180-mile odyssey through the heart of the Californian Cascades. It's on their north side that you'll catch your first glimpse of mighty Mount Shasta itself. Hike the short trail to Vista Point and the hulking 14,179-foot beast of a peak comes into full view. Its snow-mantled top emerging from a halo of ponderosa pines far in the distance.
Before you get closer, make a pitstop in Dunsmuir, a place of brick-fronted saloons that hearkens back to the great Gold Rush and the coming of railroads in the 1800s. Just down the road, there's the option of hiking to Hedge Creek Falls for visions of a ribbon-like cataract crashing through the pine forests. Then it's on to the mighty Mount Shasta itself, where you can embark on the challenging trek up the Old Ski Bowl, a route that passes over scree-covered ridges to vantage points right below the Shasta glacier tongues.
It was here in 1978 that hikers made a remarkable discovery. On several rocky outcrops they stumbled across ancient petroglyphs, revealing the hidden stories of the indigenous Wintu people. The intricate carvings are believed to have been made over the course of several thousand years. The Wintu people have inhabited the area surrounding Mount Shasta since the dawn of time and continue to maintain their cultural heritage to this day.
From here, the route points eastwards, skirting the edge of the Cascades on the impossibly wonderful Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Charming McCloud is on the way. It's a doozy for anglers because it's hailed as the trout-fishing capital of the USA thanks to rich waters along the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers. Not got the rods in tow? No worries…there's a trio of idyllic waterfalls to walk through just up the road, including the natural Jacuzzi baths of the Lower Falls and the mirror-like plunge pools of the Middle Falls.
At this point, the highway bends southwards and plunges into the mountains once again. Take a break at the Burney Headwaters to see crystal-clear waters rolling over the bluffs of the McArthur-Burney Falls. The Pacific Crest Trail passes right by here too, so set aside some time to step on one of America's most legendary long-distance hiking paths.
As you cruise further southwards, the pines begin to thin out and the landscapes transform into a mosaic of chapparal and sun-baked highland meadows. That paves the way towards the otherworldly Lassen Volcanic National Park. It's the great finale of this Cascade drive, which meshes together lush alpine scenery with Mars-like lava fields.
Mount Lassen last erupted in a spectacular display of fire and ash in 1915. The eruption transformed the landscape and drew the attention of scientists and geologists all over the country. Today, Mount Lassen National Park stands as a testament to the volcano's impact, offering visitors a chance to explore its scarred yet captivating terrain.
Don't miss the Bumpass Hell Trail, a boardwalk loop that weaves over bubbling mud pits. And be sure to hike to the Painted Dunes, a region of undulating hills dappled in hues of rust red and ochre under the jet-black outline of Cinder Cone mountain.
As the journey through Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen comes to a close, the memories of awe-inspiring vistas, rugged landscapes, and untamed natural beauty linger in the minds of those fortunate enough to embark on this adventure. The drive through these majestic mountains leaves an indelible mark, reminding travelers of the breathtaking wonders that Mother Earth has to offer.
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