If you are adventuring in the Shasta/Redding area of California, you should stop off at Lake Shasta Caverns for a fun morning or afternoon of exploring. I now feel that I understand Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on a deeply spiritual level.
Follow the Shasta Caverns Road exit on the freeway down a rather precarious road to the parking lot. The road has a few splits and turns, but there are signs to clearly mark your way.
Start in the gift shop to buy your ticket or buy in advance through their web site. Get there early. You’ll need a bit of time to make your way down the stairs and ramps to the boat landing. Plan to only bring water and your camera. Leave everything else in your car. Some of the cavern passages are narrow and tight.
The caverns are chilly but extremely humid. It felt like 60F and 90% humid. In other words, you really won’t want that jacket you’re about to insist you need. You’ll be a sweaty mess if you insist on bringing it.
Once you’re at the landing, you’ll board a scenic tour boat. The boat will leisurely glide across the gorgeous Lake Shasta to the bus pick up zone. Shasta Lake is man-made, so waves are at a minimum. Be on the lookout for the nesting bald eagle pairs and their young.
I hope you’re not afraid of heights because the bus ride takes you up 800 feet to the visitors’ center and cavern entrance. You get an amazing view as long as you can stand to look down.
Your guide will begin with a short lecture in the visitors’ center. This is your last chance to hit the bathroom and buy water. No food or other drinks are allowed into the caverns to avoid contaminating the caverns.
Be prepared for stairs … a lot of stairs … over 600 stairs inside and outside the cavern. Even though the caverns feel cool, you’ll work up a little sweat between the 90% humidity and the stairs. It’s 100% worth it, though. The caverns are spectacular. The individual cavern rooms aren’t as large as the Carlsbad Caverns, but they’re strikingly beautiful. The limestone and ever-present moisture means the walls sparkle in a subtle way my camera couldn’t pick up well.
You absolutely must stay with your tour guide. The entire mountain is limestone, so you could easily get lost if you stray from your group. You must also never touch the walls or formations until your guide gives you the OK in the “dead” room. The oils on your hands mean that water will no longer adhere to the surface you touch. That means the formation can’t grow any further without the tiny mineral deposits left behind by the water. You will get a chance to touch things in the one area declared “dead” and cut off from the water flow, so have patience.
You do not need to bring any specialty equipment. You will essentially climb concrete staircases and follow clearly marked paths. Just be sure you can handle the physical climb and the partially claustrophobic closeness of the tunnels. Leave any backpacks in your car; several passages are just too narrow for them. Purses are OK, though. I wore a medium-sized cross body bag with no trouble.
Our tour guide was knowledgeable and courteous. Be sure to ask any question that pops into your head, pack some water, have a good camera, and enjoy your hike and tour.
Want to read more posts from this road trip? Click here for the full list of posts from my Oregon Road Trip 2017