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Visit the Lake Shasta Caverns in Northern California

Updated on June 23, 2017

Lake Shasta California

Lake Shasta in Northern California is known for its beautiful blue waters and long, warm summer days. Many people travel to recreate in the area year round - from houseboats to camping, fishing, hiking and bicycling - there are so many opportunities for outdoor fun.

The lake itself is artificial; it was created by construction of the Shasta Dam in the mid-1900s over the Sacramento River, Pit River and McCloud River. The giant reservoir that resulted is the state of California's third largest body of water with an impressive surface area of 30,000 acres.

If your vacation takes you to California this year, don't miss the Lake Shasta Caverns, about 15 miles north of Redding, California. This tour is a great learning experience for young and old alike, and well worth the price of admission.

We visited the caverns in June, on our way up I-5 back to Oregon. As my photographs attest, this is one travel excursion that our family will never forget.

Stalactites covered with flowstone deposits in the Lake Shasta Caverns (c) Stephanie Hicks
Stalactites covered with flowstone deposits in the Lake Shasta Caverns (c) Stephanie Hicks
Traveling across Lake Shasta
Traveling across Lake Shasta
About 1/2 mile above Lake Shasta near the caverns' entrance
About 1/2 mile above Lake Shasta near the caverns' entrance

What to Expect in the Lake Shasta Caverns Tour

The tour of the Lake Shasta caverns takes about 2 hours from start to finish. After paying your admission, head down towards the lake and board the catamaran. You’ll be able to enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Shasta during a 15-minute crossing. Be sure to look up and scan the skies for a possible Bald Eagle or Osprey sighting. In June, we were courted by butterflies flitting about near the shore and delighting my daughter!

After the boat docks on the opposite shore, you’ll walk over to a 30-passenger bus that will drive you up more than 800 feet above the waters to the entrance to the caverns. The road is quite narrow and winding, which gives you the feeling that you are right there in the natural forests. Keep your eyes out for jackrabbits, deer and other wild animals. As you ascend the mountainside, the tour guide will describe the magnificent sights out the window. You’ll see the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Bridge from a distance, and also get up close and personal with a huge rockslide that occurred hundreds of years ago, wiping out a significant portion of the mountain. If you are afraid of heights, be sure to sit on the upslope side of the bus (behind the driver on the way up, opposite the driver on the way down).

After another 10 minutes, you’ll reach the station at which all passengers will disembark. The views from the top are stunning. Huge limestone rock formations erupt from the green forested hillside. The waters below are crystalline blue. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera!

The tour allows about 5 minutes for you to use restrooms, drink some water and assemble at the door to the caverns. All tours are directed by a professional guide. Not only will this help you learn about the fascinating cave formations, but don’t have to worry about getting lost!

Cameras and water bottles are allowed, but no other food and drink. The caverns are about 10-20 degrees cooler than the outside air, so you may want to bring a sweatshirt or jacket.

I will admit that I was a little concerned about touring the caverns since I can be a bit claustrophobic. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that the “rooms” inside are… well… cavernous, and I wasn’t at all anxious. The entire experience includes paved walkways and concrete steps and handrails on the inside, as well as interior lighting. Be prepared to do some climbing up some steep stairs. The day after our tour, my calf muscles were quite sore!

About to enter the door to the Lake Shasta caverns
About to enter the door to the Lake Shasta caverns

Inside the Caverns

When you enter the caverns, you’ll walk about 25 yards to the first “room.” The tour guide will stop and allow the group to assemble before starting his instruction. Each guide carries a flashlight which is used to direct attention around the rooms. You’ll be reminded not to touch any of the formations because natural oils on your hands could disrupt or even stop the growth of the stalagmites or stalactites.

The guides are extremely knowledgeable about the geologic formations. You’ll learn that the ones that grow from the ceilings are called stalactites because they hold “tight” to the top, and the ones that grow from the bottom are stalagmites because they “might” reach the ceiling one day. We learned about flowstone deposits, stone draperies and how they occur, and marveled at the sparkling crystals that light up the room when the flashlight is shined on them. Among other things, we heard about “peanut brittle” which occurs when a false floor breaks and the pieces fall on the cavern’s true floor. Considering the fact that it takes 100 years for the formations to grow a single inch, it is nothing short of amazing to witness the columns that are 8-10 feet in length!

Geologists agree that the Lake Shasta Caverns is one of the most beautiful and amazing limestone and marble caves in the nation. It’s the perfect science field trip for your children, and a wonderful learning experience for you as well.

Strange and beautiful geological formations inside the caverns
Strange and beautiful geological formations inside the caverns

Legends of the Caverns

Our tour guide explained how the Lake Shasta Caverns were discovered in 1878 by a federal fisheries employee, James A. Richardson. However, according to Wintu Indian tribe lore, the caverns have been known for many hundreds of years longer.

We learned about the laborious task undertaken by the Thompson family to create each of the hundreds of concrete steps inside the cavern and then to transport them up the mountainside in the 1960s. As the task wore on, the steps became smaller and smaller. One of the steepest, narrowest climbs inside the caverns is called the Tinkerbell staircase.

Perhaps the most fascinating story we heard during our tour was how, many years ago before the caverns were opened for public tours, Freemasons held initiation rituals inside. Men would venture deep into the caverns and then would be instructed to find their way out with only a few provisions. Some would literally emerge naked many days later, having used their clothes to burn for torches. Certainly, others did not even make it out!

Today, there's very little chance of you getting lost in Lake Shasta Caverns! While the caverns are privately owned, a portion of the tour is over property used in accordance with a use permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Shasta Trinity National Forest. As for the Masons, rumor has it that they continue their rituals in other lesser known caves and caverns in the area....

Peanut Brittle - broken pieces of a false floor
Peanut Brittle - broken pieces of a false floor

Touring the inside of Shasta Caverns

You won't get lost in the caverns with the knowledgeable tour guides
You won't get lost in the caverns with the knowledgeable tour guides

Details Regarding Lake Shasta Caverns

Get There:

Its easy to get to the Lake Shasta Caverns. From I-5, take exit 695 - its about 15 miles north of Redding, California. You will follow Shasta Caverns Road about 2 miles to the parking lot. Its narrow and windy, so you'll have to take it slow.

Admission:

Parking is free, which is great. Particularly because the tour itself is fairly expensive. For an adult, admission is $22, and children ages 15 and under are $13. Kids under 3 years of age are free. Lake Shasta Caverns also offers annual passes for $55 (adults) or $33 (children).

If you have a larger group, be sure to call 1-800-795-Cave in advance of your visit for reservations and possible group discounts.

Hours:

The caverns are open every day of the year, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours vary depending on the time of year. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, tours leave every 1/2 hour from 9:00 - 4:00. In April, May and September, tours depart on the hour from 9:00-3:00. From late fall to early spring, there are three departures at 10:00 a.m., noon and 2:00 p.m.

How to Get to Lake Shasta Caverns in Northern California

Bubbling and splashing water inside the caverns creates lovely formations
Bubbling and splashing water inside the caverns creates lovely formations
This stalagmite and stalctite are about 200 years away from meeting
This stalagmite and stalctite are about 200 years away from meeting
Curtains hang in rocky formation
Curtains hang in rocky formation

© 2010 Stephanie Hicks

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    • profile image

      Anon Forrest 

      5 months ago

      Appreciative of the SHASTA CAVERNS reviews. Thanks.

    • lisa42 profile image

      lisa42 

      5 years ago from Sacramento

      I was just there last weekend with my son. Definitely a fun trip for the whole family!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Marlene,

      Time to play tourist in your own backyard? Hope you get to the caverns to visit sometime soon! Best, Steph

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      6 years ago from USA

      Your pictures are very attractive. I can't believe I live less than an hour away from the Lake Shasta Caverns and have never visited. After reading your article, I think now I will make plans to take a trip down to see this interesting place.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      That's a good way to remember them too - c and g! Thanks for the comment. All the best, Steph

    • profile image

      stessily 

      6 years ago

      Steph, This mnemonic device for differentiating stalactites from stalagmites is charming: "the ones that grow from the ceilings are called stalactites because they hold 'tight' to the top, and the ones that grow from the bottom are stalagmites because they 'might' reach the ceiling one day." My childhood mnemonic device was "c" in stalactite for ceiling and "g" in stalagmite for ground; those phrases still echo through my mind every time I see caves or look at photos of caves!

      Mount Shasta caverns are beautiful!

      Not only are you an interesting travel writer, but you are also a wonderful travel photographer.

    • Zakmoonbeam profile image

      Michael Murchie 

      7 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Amazing article, pleaase accept a thank youand a rate up :)

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Yes, yes - that bus ride was definitely "hair raising!" I am a bit afraid of heights, so there were parts that I just closed my eyes and said a little prayer. :)

      We really did love the Shasta Caverns. I think my children (and I) learned a lot. Nothing like getting out into the real world for some fantastic experiences!

      Cheers, Steph

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      8 years ago from Oakley, CA

      WOW--what a great hub! I've never been to these caverns, but know people who have, and described that bus ride as "hair-raising."

      As an amateur geology buff, I've long known the difference between stalactites and stalagmites--but had never before heard of that particular mnemonic device for recalling which is which. Very clever.

      Nice photos, and nice camera work on the video as well.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you rugsdynamic and MisCook - I agree that the photos are not even close to the experience inside the Lake Shasta caverns. It is a very fun adventure! From the boat ride to the trip up the mountain and of course the guided tour inside the caves. Thank you both!

    • MisCook profile image

      MisCook 

      8 years ago

      If anyone is reading this hub and has not been to these caves, you are missing out on a great adventure. Next time don't just drive past, stop-you won't regret it.

      Thanks Steph for posting this hub.

    • rugsdynamic profile image

      rugsdynamic 

      8 years ago

      Haven't been to CA for a couple of years, but last time I was down I did give the caves a visit.

      This hub is fantastic but nothing compares to actually being inside those caves, so for all of you heading that way you should definitely make a stopover-you will never forget the experience.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi MsFran - it is definitely worth the slight detour to see the Lake Shasta Caverns! Have fun - Steph

    • MsFran profile image

      MsFran 

      8 years ago from Here and There, Everywhere

      Thanks for posting this hub, some great info. Planning a trip down that way in a couple of months and will definitely make a detour to visit these caves.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Denise! We really enjoyed our visit to the caverns. California is a fun state! ;-)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow Steph, what a great hub! I think you should be the spokesperson for Lake Shasta. I sure miss CA! and this just reminded me even more of that. I voted it up.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Peggy - this was from the heart. I truly enjoyed the tour of the caverns, and I'm glad that came through in the writing and photos. Best to you, Steph

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a gorgeous hub you created! The writing and the photos are superb. Getting to ride across the lake as well as viewing the caverns...what a great destination of beauty in abundance. Thanks!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Well, when you get over to the W. Coast to visit, we'll take a drive down to see the caverns. Truly, a lot of geological formations and cool stuff to see out here in the wild west. ;-)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      8 years ago from Central New Jersey

      This looks amazing-- there is so much variety in California that it kind of boggles the East Coast mind-- but I love the hub and the pix and the video. All wonderfully imformative

    • profile image

      hamburghotels 

      8 years ago

      That lake is really horrible..........& dam cool

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi suziecat, habee and creativeone - thank you so much! The Lake Shasta Caverns are truly a wonderful place - if you get a chance, try to visit for yourself! Thanks again- Best, Steph

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      8 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you for a senastional hub, withgreat pictures, thank you for sharing it. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Neat place! I wanna go!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 

      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I had the privelege of living in that area for quite a while. Though I never visited the caverns (my loss) I enjoyed so much the beauty of the area. Thanks for this wonderful Hub.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Nifty! I love writing and photography, so I just knew when we did the tour a few weeks ago that I'd create a hub about the experience. Glad you enjoyed it ;-)

    • nifty@50 profile image

      nifty@50 

      8 years ago

      You should be very proud of this hub!I feel like I just took the grand tour and didn't have to duck my head or wave the bats away! Voted up & awesome

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