Looking for an unconventional Bay Area getaway? 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. 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, 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.
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.
How to Get to Siskiyou County
The shortest drive to Siskiyou County 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, Sixt, or Alamo. 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!).
What to See & Do in 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.
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!
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.
Spelunking & 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. At the last part of the cave, the cave extends over a mile underground and is pitch black. Be sure to bring water, snacks, and lights 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.
Mineral Springs in Siskiyou County
Mr. V was brave enough for the frigid creek!
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.
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 which 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.
A display on Lenticular Clouds at the Mt Shasta Sisson Museum
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.
Dining & Drinking Options in/near Mt. Shasta
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.
- For breakfast/brunch/coffee: 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. I heard rave reviews about The Oven Bakery and Mount Shasta Pastry too.
- For lunch/post-hiking: 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?
- For 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. 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.
- For drinks: Siskiyou 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.
There are also some really interesting ethnic restaurants I didn’t get to try. If you’re craving Indian, Thai, or Mexican food, be sure to research your options – there are plenty.
Where to Stay for a Weekend in Mt. Shasta
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 Airbnb (which you know I love), there are some intriguing options. Again, I haven’t stayed at these, but they catch my eye:
- This bungalow is perfect for families with small travelers. From $72 per night.
- Groups of up to 6 can enjoy this 3-bedroom house for a great price. From $100 per night.
- This vacation cottage was renovated to a nice modern standard and fits up to 4. From $99 per night.
- If you’re seeking the spiritual, this ‘retreat home’ is a great option. From $95 per night.
- This budget-friendly studio is a bit out of town but has stunner views. From $49 per night.
Don’t forget you can get $40 off your first Airbnb booking by clicking my link. Also, if you’re looking for travel buddies, Mr. V and I are totally in!
3 Days in Siskiyou County: Suggested Weekend Itinerary
Right, now you’ve got all the info – it’s time to put it together! Here’s how I’d create the ideal 3-day weekend itinerary in the Mt. Shasta area.
This undisturbed snow was an ideal spot for a winter play photo shoot!
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.
Start your trip with lunch at Bistro 107
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 (Pizza Express is a good quick option), head to Mt. Shasta Ski Park for some winter skiing, or head out for an afternoon hike. 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.
To refuel after a day of playing outside, head to the town of McCloud for dinner and drinks. McCloud Meat Market has protein-heavy options and you can end the night with a nightcap at McCloud Brew Works.
Day 3: Relax & Rejuvenate
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!
Come back into town for brunch or early lunch at The Oven Bakery. Afterward, you can window shop or browse the crystals at any of the eight crystal and mystic shops in downtown Mt. Shasta. In the afternoon, head to Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat – be sure to book in advance as the baths do sell out! Spend a few hours relaxing and detoxing after your hikes and indulgent meals.
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 visiting Mt. Shasta or south Siskiyou County? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks to Discover Siskiyou for hosting me during my stay, as well as the Inn at Mount Shasta for arranging my hotel. This post was produced as part of a partnership agreement, but all of the companies and experiences I endorsed were included at my own discretion.