Exploring California’s Lonely Mountain

How a weekend in the Mount Shasta Wilderness can mend your soul.

Caveat: This is for car camping, easy-going outdoor enthusiasts. If you prefer to backpack or camp alone, this is not the article for you.

A friend told me a story about getting lost and winding up at a mystical, mountain retreat. Upon arrival, a man told her that she was destined to end up there. She stayed, meditated, and drank from the mountain’s well. The mountain, she said, produced water so coveted that people would drive from all over the country to collect it for its supposed healing powers. I knew I had to go.

Mount Shasta is a potentially active volcano. The last recorded eruption was in 1786. At an elevation of 14,179 feet, it is the second-highest peak in the Cascades and the fifth-highest in the state. When you drive up I-5, past the lake bearing the same name, and around the Castle Crags State Park entrance, the peak will literally take your breath away. There she stood — tall, breaching the skyline, and somehow snow capped in the middle of July. Hence the reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit.

Mount Shasta has always held a grasp on my imagination. I heard about its spell-binding loveliness and the communities of people were drawn to the mountain as well—the first recorded human settlement being some 7,000 years ago. Then, the gold rushers and railroad builders of bygone centuries. Presently, a mix of Native Americans (Klamath and Wintu tribes to name a few), hippies, homesteaders, and weirdos all pulled by her spiritual magnetism.

Perhaps the reason folks have been drawn to Mount Shasta is that it has been designated as one of the 12 Chakras of the Earth, specifically the base or root chakra, which supposedly is responsible for “Mother Earth’s energy system”. During the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, basically a highly coordinated, worldwide meditation session, participants used the mountain as a “power grid”. Whatever the reason may be, I was hooked and I plan to return soon.

Where We Stayed

Castle Crags State Park

We thoroughly enjoyed the campsite at Castle Crags. We managed to grab a spot that was close to the bathroom and provided a ton of space for our little group of three plus two pups. The biggest complaint was that the Vista Point got extremely crowded — so we weren’t able to get a glimpse of the Crags and Mount Shasta. If you do want to get a peak of that sweeping vista, hike up from your campsite or get there early in the morning or late in the evening.

Places We Want to Stay

Campsite criteria: dog-friendly, bathrooms/running water, close to Mount Shasta, forested and a short drive or walk to water

What We Ate

Thursday — Campside

  • Grilled prawns with garlic butter
  • Piri piri chicken
  • Scallion pancakes
  • Little Gem salad

Friday — Campside

  • Grilled jalapeno poppers
  • Cast iron deep dish pizzas
  • Limoncello shots

As always, one must eat properly after a long day of enjoying the outdoors. Naturally, I prepared our meals as much as possible in advance so that we may cook our meals quickly with minimal preparation. Following the techniques I outlined in an article called The Art of Camp Cooking.

On Saturday, after a pretty steep 6-mile hike through the Crags along the Pacific Crest Trail, we had larger than life burgers from Yaks on the 5 — a welcomed dose of protein. Later, we were still so full from the colossal burgers, so we threw together some grilled cheeses which were followed by a rousing game of Farkle — the premier backpacking dice game. Meal we skipped? Pan-seared filet mignons, cast iron jalapeno and cheese cornbread, with a Little Gem salad.

Sunday, we grabbed beers and Philly cheesesteak bagels before hitting the road from a place in Dunismir called The Wheelhouse.

Places Where We Want to Eat

Tips for Traveling to Mount Shasta

  • Bring a water bottle — for hydration, of course — but at designated sites like the one on main street in downtown Mount Shasta, you can collect water that’s piped down from the mountain spring. It was sweet, refreshing and cold. Also, makes for a cool story!
  • When out exploring, bring a change of clothes — the Mount Shasta Wilderness features a ton of accessible waterfalls, lakes and rivers. We thoroughly enjoyed both Siskiyou and Castle lakes. When we return, we plan to visit some of the waterfalls like Hedge Creek, McCloud, and Mossbrae. Always check with local jurisdictions before letting people or pooches swim as there have been cases in the past of deadly algae blooms in lakes across Northern California. Please note that some of the waterfalls will be dried up in the warmer months (as I learned after hiking to Burstarse Falls or what was left of it anyways…)
  • Bring binoculars — for animal watching and to check out the views from the mountain itself
  • Pack layers — despite being incredibly hot in the summer, the shaded refuge of our campsite got chilly. Hiking mountainside also meant we were taking off and putting back on layers throughout the day due to the altitude
  • As always, download maps and trails in advance. A Google map of the area can be stored on your phone for 14 days. Additionally, AllTrails continues to be my favorite source for identifying less-trafficked, dog-friendly hiking trails

Full Itinerary

Thursday

  • Arrive to Castle Crags State Park, set up camp

Friday

  • Picnic at Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort, arrive 9:00/10:00 am
  • Happy hour in the town of Mount Shasta at Bistro 107
  • Quick sunset hike at Panther Meadows, approximately 1 mile loop

Saturday

  • Hike the Crags to Burstarse Falls, 5.8 miles out and back along the Pacific Crest Trail
  • Burgers and blue cheese tater tots at Yaks off the 5
  • Dip in the alpine lake above Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort, Castle Lake

Sunday

  • Attempted visit to Vista Point within Castle Crags State Park
  • Beer and Philly cheesesteak bagels
  • Leisurely drive back to San Francisco with enough time left in our day to unpack the car and do laundry

Hapa Southerner living in San Francisco | North Beach. Documenting recipes, collecting cookbooks, and writing. Marketing by day.