The great outdoors of Northern California is my home, and I love it. There’s several small towns that I like in the area, and that I surely appreciate to visit, but it’s the great outdoors that is my home; the mountains, the never ending National Forests, our National Parks, our volcanoes, our waterfalls, the lakes, the streams, the sky, the fresh air…you get the picture. When other people think of San Francisco, and Sacramento when they think of the northern part of our state, I’m more of the let’s take the backroads kind of girl. If you want to see a smile on my face, take me for a ride on your favorite dirt road, and you just made a new friend. It’s that smile, and that feel-good-feeling that I want to share with you, with my photos, and this post. That’s where I’m taking you on this guided tour.
It would be impossible to get all my favorite places in one post. After a lot of consideration I picked five of my favorites, just for you! It was really difficult to pick just five, I could of easily picked 100, but that would of been a really loooong post. (I didn’t even touch Lake Tahoe, Shasta Lake, Subway Caves, or Yosemite in this post. Places I love dearly.) A couple years ago I actually started to write a book about my favorite places in Northern California; hikes, day outings, small towns, favorite scenic drives, beautiful architecture, ghost towns, vista points etc. One day I might just finish the book, bear with me, and enjoy this post for now. One could easily spend a lifetime exploring wilderness areas of Northern California and still only be scratching the surface.
Faery Falls is located in Ney Springs Canyon, north of Castle Crags (CA.) My daughter and I found Faery Falls on our second attempt to find this beauty. We read reviews, and descriptions of how to get there, even used a trail app on the phone, but we still managed to get lost twice, before actually finding the falls. There’s no signs, and a gazillion different trails. The reviews we’d read had warned us for this. In the end we decided to follow the sound of the rushing water of the 40 ft waterfall. The forest is dense, and the sides are steep, but we finally found the right trail. It’s actually a short hike 1.2 miles from the road we parked at. Next time we will get there in no time. Why I really like this place? The beauty, the tranquility, and the potent air, filled with the scents of the surrounding pine forest. The challenge of finding it only added to the thrill of the adventure. My 5 year old had some opinions of the steep uphill hike on the way there, but those opinions faded away when we actually found the falls. She even found a cave on the right side of the fall, and her day was made.
These are the coordinates that will take you to the trailhead: 41.265953, -122.32439. The trail you’re going to take is the old dirt road, on your right side. It’s only a road in the beginning, it turns into a trail. Keep walking until you pass the ruins of an early 1900’s spa. It’s pretty cool. There was a group of people admiring the ruins as I passed by, I didn’t wan to intrude, so I did not stop for pictures this time. After the ruins, it’s about 1/4 mile to the falls. I suggest taking the second, bigger trail, on the left side to get to the waterfalls. (There are other options as well.)
Burney Falls on the other hand is super easy to find, and you can drive all the way. I visit this waterfall at least 2-3 times a year, to inhale the unearthly beauty deep into my system. I enjoy going here when there’s little chance of meeting other people, on rainy days, and during the off season. During the most popular season it has lots of visitors, because it’s so easy accessible. Here’s a link to my last visit.
These are the GPS coordinates to Burney Falls 41.0107° N, 121.6528° W. You hardly need them though, there’s plenty of signs as you pass the small town of Burney. The falls are located approximately 6 miles (10 km) north of town. It’s really easy to find.
Lassen Volcanic National Park;
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of my absolute favorite hiking destination. You can go for day hikes, or longer multiple-day-hikes in the wilderness (need permit for that.) Above is Lassen Peak, reflected in Manzanita Lake. During winter the park is a popular destination for snowshoeing. During summer there is a road winding its way through whole park, giving you a fantastic experience right from your vehicle. There’s several fantastic vista points that are well marked along the way. The through road is completely blocked by massive amounts of snow 8 months out of the year.
This is one of the roaring fumaroles, a steam and volcanic-gas vent, in Lassen Volcanic National Park. They indicate that the volcanic center in Lassen is active and that there is a potential for a future eruption at some point. Most of the hydrothermal features in the park is a mix of condensed steam, and near-surface ground water. They are extremely hot, near boiling, and one should keep a SAFE distance to them. The ground that surrounds them can give in at any moment. If you’re on the designated trails, and follow signs, you’ll be fine. You can view, and read more about Mt. Lassen here. I usually visit Lassen Volcanic National Park many times every year.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located about three hours northeast of Sacramento. The park is accessed via Hwy 44 (to the north) or Hwy 36 (to the south). Plenty of signs will take you there. Both entrances have visitor centers. During the summer months I recommend entering from one direction, for example Hwy 36, and driving a loop through the park, and when exiting taking Hwy 44 towards Redding, or the other way around. Which way you choose as your starting point doesn’t really matter. It’s a scenic drive, and by entering from one direction, and exiting the other way, you get the most out of your visit. Mt. Lassen is close to Subway Caves, and Burney Falls as well. If you’re in for a bigger adventure!
Castle Lake is a glacial lake located in the Trinity Mountains, in Siskiyou County of northern California. Castle Lake is the deepest and largest alpine lake in the Shasta area. It has quickly become one of my favorite spots, and I’ve returned many times since my first visit last Thanksgiving. You can drive up to the lake and have a nice family picnic, or go fishing. There’s decent restrooms at the parking lot. If you want adventures, there’s several awesome hikes, and amazing photo opportunities. I took this photo of Castle Lake while hiking the Castle Lake Trail (yes, it’s Mt.Shasta in the background,) up to Heart Lake, during one of my first visits, this was in the beginning of winter. I’ve done the same hike up to heart lake when the trail was covered with snow as well. It’s well accessible with good hiking boots. You don’t have to follow a particular trail, just aim for the ridge right behind the lake (while standing at the parking lot,) you will see Castle Lake beneath you as you climb up, when you’re at the top you’ll see Heart Lake. It’s easy to see the heart shape when the landscape isn’t covered with snow. For now, bring your ice skates. Castle Lake is not safe to skate, but Heart Lake often is. I’m not responsible for your safety if you choose to enter the ice! That said, I’ve done it many times. During the weekends there’s often people skating on Heart Lake.
Trailhead address: Castle Lake, Castle Lake Road, Dunsmuir, CA 96025. It’s easy to find the parking lot, the road ends here.
Trailhead coordinates: 41.2303, -122.3816 (41° 13′ 49.07″N 122° 22′ 53.76″W)
Since I mentioned one of our two volcanoes, I feel a need to mentioned the other; Mt. Shasta, also a part of the Cascade Range. Mt. Shasta, and Mt. Lassen are two important landmarks in our part of Northern California. You can see one of them, or both from a distance of hundreds of miles. I took this photo of Mt. Shasta two days ago, while driving back from Castle Lake with some friends. If I walk outside, down the street I live on, I can see Mt. Shasta, and further down the street Mt. Lassen as well. Mt. Shasta has a town with the same name, at the base of the mountain. It’s a beautiful, little mountain village, with friendly, open minded, outdoorsy, mostly spiritual inclined inhabitants. You can drive to town and enjoy amazing vistas of the mountain, and the equally fantastic food at the local restaurants. During summer time Mt. Shasta offers great hiking, and (sometimes) during winter the ski park offers snow activities for the whole family. I actually got a ski pass here for Christmas, but the park have only been open a couple times so far, and I haven’t had a chance to try the slopes yet. I promise an update on the slopes later in the season.
Mt. Shasta is located 60 miles north of Redding, and 60 miles south of the Oregon border, along Interstate 5. It’s impossible to miss if you’re driving along the I-5.
I hope you enjoyed the tour, and will consider another one soon! There’s so many crazy amazing places to enjoy the great outdoors here in NorCal. Feel free to link to this post, share it on your Facebook wall, or with anyone you think could use some ideas for amazing experiences in Northern California. With the exception of Faery Falls, the other destinations are easily accessible, suitable for day outings, and family friendly. For the more adventurous explorer, they could be turned into as big of an adventure as your imagination allows! Follow me on Instagram to check out my latest adventures.
PS. If you’re interested in prints of any of these photos, just click on the photo.
Naturally all your adventures are on your own risk. I am not responsible in any way if you choose to explore any of these destinations. Wilderness areas are amazing, but you need to be prepared for weather, it can change quickly. Our area is known for extreme heat in the summer, and these destinations can be very cold during winter. We have lots of wild life, including; black bears, mountain lions, bob cats, rattle snakes, and spiders. I often bring my German Shepherd on trails where dogs are allowed, but I would never bring a smaller dog. Younger children need to be within reach at all times. I’ve taken my daughter out in our National Forests since she was a newborn, in a baby carrier. I love sharing the great outdoors with her. I also see it as my responsibility to educate her of the potential dangers, and our responsibility towards the sometimes fragile nature we’re enjoying. Follow directions, pack in, pack out. Respect other people, as well as animals we might encounter. Bringing plenty of water is a must, in any weather. It’s very wise to use plenty of sunscreen, and/or a hat/clothes that covers well. The sun is strong. Be sure to know what poison oak looks like, you will see it. I’m not trying to scare you, just doing the best I can to make sure that your visit will be pleasant, and memorable in a good way.