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Looking for an unconventional weekend getaway from the Bay Area? Northern California is calling! It’s easy to get hooked on weekends up in Marin or fleeing to Tahoe whenever you need a break from the bustle of San Francisco. There’s so much more to explore beyond these well-trod paths: one such fantastic destination is Mount Shasta and Siskiyou County.
Note: In this post, I use “Mt. Shasta” to denote the town of Mt. Shasta, CA. I use “Mount Shasta” to refer to the mountain. These terms are totally interchangeable – but I did this so it’s easier for you to understand which Mt. Shasta I’m referring to! Also, don’t confuse these with Shasta, CA (a different community) or Shasta Lake.
I took a recent trip to Siskiyou County, one of the counties along California’s northern border with Oregon. There I discovered an otherworldly landscape shaped more by volcanoes rather than tectonic plates. I found an outdoor playground for those who want to breath fresh, clean air, and a variety of cultural experiences along the small towns that sit in the shadow of towering Mount Shasta.
Based on my experiences from trips in 2019 and 2020, I’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Mt. Shasta and the surrounding communities, including popular hikes, spiritual spots, food recommendations, and more. I’ve also suggested a three-day itinerary to help when you’re planning your trip.
This post was originally published in February 2019, and updated in August 2020 with new sections and photos!
How to Get to Siskiyou County
The shortest drive to Siskiyou County and Mount Shasta from the San Francisco area is about 4.5-5 hours, depending on traffic. It’s a pretty straight shot north along I-505 and I-5 from San Francisco to Mt. Shasta, one of the biggest towns and primary destinations in Siskiyou County.
As Siskiyou County is so large, your travel time depends a lot on where you want to go within the county. For example, it’s a 45-minute drive from Mt. Shasta to Yreka, the largest city in the county. It’s a 90-minute drive from Mt. Shasta to Tulelake in the northeastern corner of the county.
In any event, you’ll need a private vehicle to visit Siskiyou County and to get around. If you want or need to rent a car, I recommend renting from Fox Rent-A-Car or Sixt. They all offer budget rentals and run regular deals and specials. If you’re not sure (or not loyal to any particular car rental company), consider using a tool like Momondo or TripAdvisor to compare a bunch of options (yes, TripAdvisor does rental cars!).
The Best Things to Do in Mt. Shasta & Siskiyou County
For this itinerary, I focus on activities in and around the towns of Mt. Shasta, Dunsmuir, and Weed (the second, third, and fourth largest communities in the county). These three towns all lie in the shadow of Mount Shasta, a massive stratovolcano that dominates the landscape. Aiming for this part of Siskiyou County (the southern part) is the shortest drive from the Bay Area and offers a lot of different activities.
1. Visiting the Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum
The historic Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum is probably one of the most overlooked attractions in town because it’s located a short drive from the downtown of Mt. Shasta itself. This is all the more reason to check it out – you’re not going to encounter any crowds in the museum!
A small but surprisingly dense and educational museum, the Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum offer visitors a look at the history of the town of Mt. Shasta (or Sisson as it was once called) including the various industries that have supported the region. There are also exhibits on volcanoes in the area (Mount Shasta), lenticular clouds (more on that below), and the spiritual beliefs and supernatural mythologies about the mountain.
I love a good ‘small town museum’ (I raved about one in Gig Harbor, Washington, if you’ll remember). The Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum is equally compelling to any I’ve visited, and well worth a stop when you’re in the area – especially if it’s your first trip to Siskiyou County!
2.-3. Skiing or Hiking on Mount Shasta
Depending on what time of year you visit Siskiyou County, you can choose to go hiking or skiing on the mountain. The ski resort, Mt. Shasta Ski Park, is popular with both locals and non-locals looking for a change of scenery from the main resorts in the Sierras.
For hiking, there are tons of options. Here are some of the beginner-to-intermediate hikes of varying lengths, on or near Mount Shasta:
- John Everitt Vista Point: 0.5 miles, 100ft elevation change, 15-20 minutes
- Panther Meadow Loop: 1.5 miles, 400ft elevation change, 45-60 minutes
- Grey Butte Trail: 3.0 miles, 400ft elevation change, 3-4 hours
- Squaw Meadows Trail: 4.0 miles, 200ft elevation change, 4+ hours
- Bunny Flat Trail: 4.5 miles, 1000ft elevation change, 4+ hours
Depending on your interest in hiking and your level of fitness, you can easily find a hike or two that allow you to enjoy the crisp mountain air and scenery.
4. Hiking in Shasta-Trinity National Forest
This is the year I finally started to embrace hiking!
For our 2020 trip, Mr. V had hopes of summiting Mount Shasta herself; when the weather wasn’t cooperating, we decided to try hiking somewhere else. One of the guides at the local outdoors store recommended Heart Lake, an alpine lake in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
It’s a short drive from Mt. Shasta to the Heart Lake trailhead, and the trail itself is not far from the Pacific Crest Trail. While I would classify it as a moderate hike, it’s worth it for the views of Mount Shasta at the end! (Including the picture at the top of this post!)
5. Chasing Waterfalls
On my first trip to Mount Shasta in the winter of 2019, I didn’t seek out any of the areas waterfalls; visiting in summer 2020 I made sure to!
Pictured above is McCloud Falls, the most famous of the waterfalls that run off Mount Shasta and the surrounding mountains. These falls are connected by a trail with parking areas near each of the three (Lower, Middle, and Upper). It’s a great hike that’s mostly protected from the sun and pretty popular – if you want photos without anyone, you’ll need to get creative in how you shoot or show up early in the day!
6. Caving in Siskiyou County
One of my favorite activities that I did during my trip to Siskiyou County was going caving. As Mount Shasta is a dormant volcano that erupted in 1786, there are still lava tubes all throughout the landscape, and some are accessible.
One lava tube system near Mount Shasta is Pluto’s Cave. This hike is both easy and challenging: you’ll be hiking and climbing up and down into the lava tube from points where the roof of the cave has collapsed, and you can choose how far you want to hike. In the last part of the cave, the cave extends over a mile underground and is pitch black. Be sure to bring water, snacks, and headlamps if you plan to go back into that part of the cave.
It’s further away (about two hours from the town of Mt. Shasta), but Lava Beds National Monument is another main spelunking attraction in Siskiyou County. Volcanic activity formed over 700 caves in this area, as a result of the Medicine Lake shield volcano and its fluid lava floes. Lava Beds is National Park Service protected lands and they have great resources on caving in the National Monument if you plan a visit.
7. Mineral Springs in Siskiyou County
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was delighted to learn that there are loads of mineral springs in the region surrounding Mount Shasta. Wonderfully fresh water flows up from the ground or down the slopes of the mountains, and you can harness this mineral-rich water for health and wellness purposes.
One of the most famous spots to tap into the power of the mineral springs is Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat. They offer a mineral springs bath where you go through cycles: you soak in hot mineral water, sit in the sauna, and then dip in the frigid stream outside. These cycles are supposed to help purify your skin and body and give your immune system a boost.
Update: Unfortunately, due to the 2020 pandemic, Stewart Mineral Springs is no longer offering day passes to their mineral spa. You can still stay at the property and enjoy it that way!
8. Seeking the Spiritual on Mount Shasta’s Slopes
Mount Shasta has significant spiritual importance to the indigenous people who lived/live in Siskiyou County, similar to many monolithic mountains around the world. Over the years, less traditional/more new age beliefs have sprung up around the mountain too. A common thread among the beliefs of all groups is that there is a powerful energy that comes from Mount Shasta, and there are particular areas on the mountain where you can tap into that energy.
Discover Siskiyou put together a list of spiritual places on and around Mount Shasta, which includes:
- Stewart Springs Mineral Retreat (which I’ve already recommended!)
- Panther Meadows, on the southern slopes of the mountain
- Mt. Shasta Arts and Healing Center
- Temple Intention of Mount Shasta
There are also crystal and mystical shops in downtown Mt. Shasta that you can visit (similar to Sedona, Arizona, but way less touristy!). No matter how you practice or enjoy the spiritual aspects of Mount Shasta, be aware of trail markers and other signs indicating how to visit respectfully.
If you’re super keen on experiencing the spiritual side of Mount Shasta, I spent an evening with Andrew from Mount Shasta Retreat and he shared a lot about the mountain’s presence and power. He offers a variety of retreats to help you tap into the energy here.
9. Lenticular Cloud-Spotting
Because of its unique geographic profile, Mount Shasta is home to a phenomenon called ‘lenticular clouds.’ These unusual cloud formations are caused by wind passing over the mountain, and they look like hovering cloud disks in the sky above or near the peak of the mountain.
Throughout your trip to Siskiyou County, keep your eyes peeled for this meteorological sight.
What to Eat & Drink in Siskiyou County
I’ll be honest: there’s always a risk when you travel to small towns that you might end up eating okay American diner food three meals a day. Some places just don’t draw the talented chefs and creative restaurant investors that others do.
Luckily, Mount Shasta attracts all types – chefs and restauranteurs too.
There is a surprisingly diverse range of dining options in Mt. Shasta, Weed, Dunsmuir, and neighboring McCloud. Here are some of the highlights. Unless I’ve indicated in parentheses, everything here is in Mt. Shasta.
Seven Suns Coffee is a great choice with delicious breakfast burritos and the best chai I’ve had in a while. Lily’s Restaurant had fantastic brunch options like Benedicts and French Toast.
On my second visit to Mt. Shasta, we did a couple of trips to Yaks Mount Shasta Koffee & Eatery. They do smoothies and sandwiches, including great bagel breakfast sandwiches – but the bagel is definitely not New York Style, just FYI.
I heard rave reviews about The Oven Bakery and Mount Shasta Pastry too.
Bistro 107 was delicious and their burgers/soups/salads menu has loads of options. Pizza Factory (Weed) has slices to-go. Siskiyou Brew Works (McCloud) has pizza and beer; what more do you need?
On my second visit, I also tried a new place, Pipeline Craft Taps & Kitchen right on the main street in Mt. Shasta. They food was fabulous and a good choice for lunch/pre-hiking, post-hiking, or dinner.
Mike & Tony’s is classic Italian in every sense – and their martini is apparently the thing to drink. McCloud Meat Market (McCloud) was delightfully hip and would fit right in on a Portland street corner.
In Mt. Shasta, Casa Ramos Méxican Restaurant is a good option if you want standard Mexican fare. If you’re craving Indian, Thai, or other Mexican food, be sure to research your options – there are plenty.
They were closed for the season so I didn’t get to dine there, but Cafe Maddalena (Dunsmuir) was recommended by everyone and their menu looks fantastic.
McCloud Brew Works (McCloud), as already mentioned, or Dunsmuir Brewery Works (Dunsmuir) are both great for you craft beer fans. The Gold Room looked intriguing, though I didn’t go inside.
One last recent discovery: Handsome John’s Speakeasy. Off the main drag, super cheap drinks, and John himself looks to be about as close to a sushi master as you’ll find in this part of California!
Where to Stay in Mt. Shasta for a Weekend
I stayed at the Inn at Mount Shasta, which as their name suggests is pretty much exactly what you need. This roadside motel has been/is being renovated to modern standards and is ideally placed in the town of Mt. Shasta. The rooms are also super affordable, starting at $79 per night depending on the day of week and season you’re visiting.
There are other motels, inns, and B&Bs in the area, but as I haven’t stayed at any, I don’t know who to recommend.
For vacation rentals, there are some intriguing options. Again, I haven’t stayed at these, but they catch my eye:
- The Chestnut Garden Studio is in the heart of town and perfect for solo travelers or a couple. From $90 per night.
- This small but cozy cottage fits four and is also dog-friendly. From $99 per night.
- This in-town cottage sleeps up to 7 with discounts for longer stays. From $165 per night.
- This vacation cottage was renovated to a nice modern standard and fits up to 4. From $135 per night.
3 Days in Mount Shasta & Siskiyou County: A Weekend Itinerary
Right, now you’ve got all the info of the best things to do in Mount Shasta and where to stay and eat – it’s time to put it together! Here’s how I’d create the ideal 3-day weekend itinerary in the Mt. Shasta area.
Day 1: Get Oriented in Time & Space
If you set out from the Bay Area in the morning, you’ll arrive in Mt. Shasta right after lunch. This is an ideal time to grab a bite to eat at Bistro 107 and then head over to Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum to learn more about the area and its history. They also have an exhibit about spirituality and mysticism on Mount Shasta that’s very interesting – but a little out there.
As the day wears on, consider stretching your legs – you did spend several hours in the car! The John Everitt Vista Point trail is a nice, easy afternoon hike where you can see the peak of Mount Shasta and look for lenticular clouds while you wait for sunset. For dinner, Mike & Tony’s is the place.
Day 2: Explore the Great Outdoors
Fuel up with coffee and burritos from Seven Sons before you head out for the day. No matter which season you’re visiting Mt. Shasta, head to Pluto’s Cave for an easy hike in the morning. Keep your eyes peeled for stunning peek-a-boo views of Mount Shasta while you hike in and out of the lava tube caves.
After lunch (Pipeline Craft Taps & Kitchen is a great casual option with a hearty menu), head to Mt. Shasta Ski Park for some winter skiing, or head out for an afternoon hike, like the one we did to Heart Lake. The majority of trails are located on the south slopes of Mount Shasta, so you can base yourself at Bunny Flat or Panther Meadows and choose a trail that suits the effort and time you want to spend.
You’ve got tons of options for dinner in Mt. Shasta: Casa Ramos if you’re craving Mexican, Handsome John’s if sushi is your post-hike/ski go-to, or one of the many other restaurants in the area!
Day 3: Mount Shasta & Beyond
On your final day, rise early to catch the sunrise from Panther Meadows, followed by a peaceful morning walk. Try to soak up some of the positive energy from the mountain, if you believe in that sort of thing! Afterward, you can window shop or browse the crystals at any of the eight crystal and mystic shops in downtown Mt. Shasta.
For lunch, head to McCloud; McCloud Meat Market is a great spot to fuel up, and you can explore the small town afterward. In the afternoon, head to McCloud Falls. You can hike from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls, which is a nice four miles out and back.
For dinner, drive down to Dunsmuir to end with a culinary highlight: dinner at Cafe Maddalena. Then it’s time for a restful night of sleep before driving back south to the Bay Area.
Have any questions about the best things to do in Mount Shasta, visiting Mt. Shasta, or exploring Siskiyou County? Let me know in the comments!