By Jim Dyar
Say you reside outside of the north state and are an avid mountain biker, trail runner, hiker, horseback rider, or, heck É all four. Suppose you just landed a job in the area. Would you be disappointed? Hardly.
In fact, what trail enthusiasts tend to discover about far Northern California is that itÕs nearly impossible to ride, run, plod or trot over every dirt path in the region, even if youÕve got nothing but time.
The trails extend from Shasta CountyÕs towns and cities and can be tied together in networks of loops that provide endless options.
Want a 40-minute loop to do during your lunchtime break? Check. Looking for a multi-day adventure with epic views of the regionÕs mountains and lakes? Check. Need a ride thatÕs mostly in the sun because itÕs cold outside? Got it. Want a hike for a hot day with shade and chances to dip into a chilly creek? No problem.
ÒWe are becoming a destination,Ó says John Stein, a bicycle mechanic at Sports Ltd. in Redding and avid mountain biker and hiker for four decades in the area. ÒPeople are coming to our store wanting to know where they should ride. The great thing is we can ask them what kind of riding experience they want. WeÕve got everything from family fun rides to full-on downhill rides where riders use armored protection. ThereÕs something for everyone.Ó
A nice gateway to the trail bonanza lies right in the center of Redding at the Sundial Bridge, which accesses the paved Sacramento River Trail. The trail loops and spurs in many directions and connects to a myriad of dirt trails. The entire western side of the trail along the river is paved to Shasta Dam.
A bicycle ride from the Sundial Bridge to the top of Shasta Dam and back covers 36 miles and offers excellent views of the Sacramento River watershed including Keswick Reservoir (the controlled section of the river between Shasta and Keswick dams).
On the eastern side of the river, a network of dirt trails snake their way toward Shasta Dam. The Keswick Eastside Trails include the F.B. Trail, Hornbeck Trail and others that add up to 25 miles worth of dirt single track with excellent views from the ridge above Keswick Reservoir. The trails are excellent for beginning mountain bikers and great to ride on cool days. In the dead heat of summer itÕs not ideal terrain, however, because of the direct exposure.
On the banks surrounding Shasta Lake, the options are numerous as well. The Clikapudi Trail is well known to more than just area mountain bikers and hikers. The trail shows up in most guidebooks that refer to Shasta County trails. Located off the Pit River Arm of the lake near Jones Valley, the 7.5-mile Clikapudi trail takes from two-and-a-half to four hours to complete by foot. Many access the loop from the Jones Valley Boat Ramp. It goes over a large ridge to the Clikapudi Arm and back. The trail affords the chance to see the recovery of vegetation following a pair of dramatic Þres that burned in the area in 2000 and 2004.
Aside from Clikapudi, a pair of shorter loop routes that have plenty of charm include the Bailey Cove and PackerÕs Bay trails. The two trails are located not far from each other off exit No. 695 from Interstate 5 north of the Pit River Bridge.
Bailey Cove is a 3.1-mile loop along a mountain peninsula on the east side of I-5 (McCloud Arm). The trail has two personalities between its hotter, dryer south-facing slope and more-shaded north slope.
The Packers Bay trails, located on the west side of I-5, include the Waters Gulch, Fish Loop and East Side trails. The Waters Gulch trail can be done as a loop with a small portion of paved forest service road. Together, the three trails measure just less than 4 miles.
Lakehead resident Al West has begun a 12-mile round-trip Lake Shasta historical bicycle tour with two trips daily. HeÕs also offering bicycle rentals in the area.
A little further north off the Castella exit from Interstate 5 is a popular and incredibly scenic hike in Castle Crags State Park. The 5.5-mile round trip Crags Trail features 2,200 feet of climbing, but also stunning views of the massive granite spires and towers of Castle Crags, not to mention 14,180-foot Mt. Shasta. In addition to the Crags Trail, hikers can also tackle sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, which travels through the state park.
Back near Redding, a series of major trail network systems can be pieced together, which allow hikers or bikers to travel on dirt from Redding all the way to Trinity County.
ÒItÕs amazing; you can ride right from town and find a world-class trail that will take you all the way (out of Shasta County),Ó says Stein, who rode all six of the legendary Whiskeytown Downhill events that took place from 1981-87.
In west Redding, the Westside Trail system can be accessed by parking at Mary Lake and catching the trails off Dillard Road or Kilkee Drive. The Salt Creek and Middle Creek trails off of the Sacramento River Trail also tie into the system. The Westside trails climb along a high ridge and afford excellent views of the Sacramento Valley, Mt. Shasta, Shasta Bally and even the Trinity Alps.
Even further west are the Swasey Recreation Area and Mule Mountain trail systems. These trails -- across Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land -- feature single-track routes such as the Wintu trail, Escalator, MinerÕs trail, and Mule Mountain Loop trail.
Crossing the Mule Mountain divide, a hiker or biker can drop into yet another endless series of trails within the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Downloadable maps and trail information can be found at the BLMÕs website (www.blm.gov) by following threads to California, Redding and recreation.
The Whiskeytown area has long been a paradise for hikers, equestrian riders and mountain bikers. In April, the park promotes its Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge, where visitors can get stamps and a prize for hiking to all four of the areaÕs major waterfalls – Brandy Creek, Boulder Creek, Crystal Creek and Whiskeytown falls.
In recent years, the park has provided improvements like railings, bridges, signs and trailhead bathrooms to enhance the experience of the waterfall hikes. The Peltier Valley area south of Whiskeytown Dam, features trails like the Shasta Mine Loop and Guardian Rock trail.
Trails along the banks of Whiskeytown include the Oak Bottom Water Ditch trail (great for beginning bikers) and the Davis Gutch Trail (hikers and equestrian only). Visitors should bear in mind that the recreation area requires a daily use fee, or annual Whiskeytown or National Park pass.
Whether youÕre accessing the areaÕs trails from town or by driving to a trailhead, itÕs important to bring plenty of water (especially in the summer months), food, a cell phone and sunscreen. Mountain bikers should always bring extra tubes and tools for re-pairs as a break down far from the car can mean a long day of hiking.
Beyond that, itÕs all about exercise, incredible views and the soulful experience of being outdoors.
ÒFor me itÕs just about rediscovery,Ó says Stein. ÒEvery time I do a trail I see something different. Sometimes itÕs just fatigue of age slowing me down and I see something new, but the change is amazing. IÕm very excited to show my grandchildren some of the trails and pass along the values to the next generation.Ó
In Trinity County just north of Weaverville, the Weaverville Basin Trail System offers nearly 50 miles of single-track for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders that can be accessed from town.
Further north (and west) is the spectacular Trinity Alps Wilderness Area which includes 500,000 acres of backcountry paradise -- granite peaks, mountain lakes, streams and meadows. It's one of the West Coast region's top backpacking destinations, however it's not open to mountain bikers.
In eastern Shasta County, there are a number of scenic hikes within Lassen Volcanic National Park (150 miles in total). Some of the most popular trails include the 3-mile round trip jaunt to Bumpass Hell (the largest hydrothermal area in the park), the 3.8-mile Mill Creek Falls trail (highest waterfall in the park), and the 5-mile Lassen Peak Trail (the summit of the park at 10,463 feet).
Many of the trails are snow covered until later in the summer; check www.nps.gov/lavo and click on "plan your visit" and "things to do" for more information.
In the Mount Shasta area, the Castle Lake Trail offers nearly 11 miles of round trip hiking with routes to Heart Lake, Castle Peak, Little Castle Lake, Mt. Bradley and more. The views from the trail are stunning, including Mt. Shasta, Castle Lake and Castle Crags.