Year Round Recreation at Shasta Lake & Dam

Photos and story by Stacy Fisher

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Completed on the Sacramento River in 1945, Shasta Dam stores a vast blue reservoir, Shasta Lake, which provides water to 35 of California’s counties and two major watersheds: those of the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River, turning the thirsty heart of California’s Central Valley into one of the most fertile regions in the world, cultivating more than 250 varieties of crops. To the north stands the snow-covered volcanic peak of Mount Shasta.

Rising 602 feet high from its concrete base, Shasta Dam is breathtaking not only for its stunning size, but for its resplendent setting in the Cascades of Northern California. A favorite recreational destination, Shasta Lake, with its immense 365-mile shoreline, is the largest reservoir in the state, and is just a few miles north of the town of Redding.

In addition to providing water for towns and industries and irrigating valley farms to the south, Shasta Dam furnishes hydroelectric power through five electric turbines. Priorities include protecting California regions from floods and the intrusion of ocean water that flows in from San Francisco Bay. Also primary to the dam’s function is to save the Chinook salmon using a multi-faceted Temperature Control Device, ensuring the release of cold water for the benefit of the salmon.

Public Affairs Specialist Sheri Harral says Shasta Dam is keystone to the Central Valley Project, “where we receive about 75% of the state’s rainfall … But the need for the rainfall is down in Southern California, so the whole purpose is to capture the abundant rain in Northern California and distribute it downstream to areas where it is needed most.”

Even though the lake is low due to drought conditions in the state, there’s still plenty of water to enjoy recreational activities, she notes.

Shasta Lake is open year round, but the busiest time is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Sheri says. There are a couple of boat ramps located on the east bank of the lake close to the face of the dam for those who tow in their own boats. Supplies can be brought along or picked up in the City of Shasta Lake. Hiking is also available, but because the water level is low this year, access requires a longer path down to the lake itself.

There are also several marinas that line the shoreline; the largest and easiest access is the Bridge Bay Resort & Marina with convenient fuel dock, where everything from houseboats and fishing boats to jet skis, paddle boards and kayaks can be rented. A full service restaurant, along with a store and a small motel are also located at the site.

“Fishing is huge on the lake,” Sheri shares, “with schools of bass, trout, and catfish,” to name a few. “People can bring their boats, fish, scuba dive or snorkel, as well as enjoy a day of summertime swimming.”

   Shasta Dam is on the Sacramento River, about 10 miles north of Redding, CA. From Redding, take Interstate 5 north to Exit 685. Turn west onto CA 151 (Shasta Dam Blvd.) and follow it to the dam. The scenic route includes a vista point turnoff with views of the dam, Shasta Lake, and Mount Shasta. A visitor center, which offers free tours (9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.), is situated at the dam. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day. The number of tours and times vary with the season. For tour times, call the visitor center at 530-275-4463.