By Melissa Wynn
Photos Courtesy of Shasta Caverns
Attention rock hounds, water babies and underground thrill seekers! Lake Shasta Caverns offers 3 adventures in one. 1. As the daughter of a hard rock miner, I was drawn to this quest like a moth to the porch light. Upon arrival, the Lost Cabin Mine play area outside the visitors center, took me back to my own childhood. The sluice system allows the kids to sift their little bag of “ore” and find the treasures hidden inside. Rock hounds are challenged to make it past the gift shop, which offers a wide variety of stones, minerals, fossils and even geodes (which have crystals inside.) The lush forest setting, snack bar and available picnic area offer plenty to do as you wait for the next tour. Tours run daily, on the hour, year round. The cost is minimal, considering all that is included, $20 for adults and $12 for kids 3-15.
Leaving the visitor center, we meandered our way down the path, past the fish pond and through the gardens that lead to the Lake Shasta shore where the tour begins. While waiting for the boat, which takes you on the first leg of this great adventure, we had the pleasure of meeting the Stephenson family and ultimately shared our tour with only these other four friendly, interesting people from Anchorage Alaska.
The views from the shores of Lake Shasta are like stepping into a story of a place too beautiful to be real. A misty rain was falling the day of our visit adding to the storybook affect as we watched the tour boat skim its way toward us over the teal green waters. Bill and Tamara both hid giggles as 13 year old Destinie bounced with anticipation. The mixed refreshing scents of rain and lake throughout the boat ride had 15 year old Sadie tipping her face toward sky and breathing it deeply in. What a relaxing experience!
A short bus ride with sunny and chipper driver, Annette Harrell, brought us 800 feet above lake level, to another visitor center. The panoramic view is breathtaking. This offers the perfect place to soak in the best views Lake Shasta has to offer. Some prefer to do just that for the hour or so it takes to tour the caverns inside the mountain.
The cavern part of this stunning tour is not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart. There are many stairs to climb and a few places are quite dark. There is an opportunity, about half way through the tour, to change your mind and return to the visitor center. This opportunity comes before the longest stretch of stairs, giving those who are less fit a chance to opt of the climb. Annette Stephenson and daughter Sadie left us at this point while Bill and Destinie continued with Ben Graham and me to the end. I have been underground many times, with my daddy, throughout my life but somehow the thrill of it never lessens.
I’m sure that the awe and wonder on the face of young Destinie was mirrored on my own throughout the otherworldly cavern trek. Tour guide Danielle Villegas is a bubbly, cheerful and charming young lady who has a real flare in her telling of the tale of Lake Shasta Caverns. She makes it funny and informative at the same time, helping you to remember the names of the different formations with rhyme and riddle. There are several “rooms” along the tour and each is different.
Calcite crystals glimmer in the beam Danielle’s flashlight and flowstone comes from the walls looking like a river turned to stone. Cave bacon and drapery are indescribably beautiful and hide images like a castle with King and Queen in attendance. These hidden images, pointed out by our guide were half the fun. The Lake Shasta Caverns are a natural wonder that I could never do justice in the pages of a magazine. They absolutely must be seen to be appreciated. Just off I-5 near Redding, this close to home attraction offers something you can’t see just anywhere. I say a definite “don’t miss” for locals and visitors alike.