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Everything You Need to Know About The Lake Shasta Caverns

Everything You Need to Know About The Lake Shasta Caverns

Around 250 million years in the making, the Lake Shasta Caverns is one of the coolest places to visit in the Golden State.


4 min read

July 12, 2021

California’s coolest caverns are a testament to its rich geological history and beautifully diverse terrain. For the ultimate introduction to a world of grand rock formations and adventures deep in the mountains, plan a getaway to the Shasta Cascade and explore the incredible Lake Shasta Caverns. Around 250 million years in the making, this is one of the coolest places to visit in the Golden State to get a peek into a world unlike any other.

A Guide to Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark

The Lake Shasta Caverns were formerly named Chalk Cave and Baird Cave, named after naturalist and ornithologist Spencer Fullerton Baird.

Lake Shasta Cavern Geology

Nestled within the Shasta Trinity National Forest and perched 900 feet above the crystal waters of Shasta Lake, you'll find the enchanting Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark. This subterranean marvel, aged millions of years, boasts an array of spectacular limestone formations that promise to awe every first-time visitor. Venture inside to marvel at the delicate dance of stalagmites and stalactites, the shimmering limestone draperies, and the whimsical helictites that seem to defy the laws of physics. The caverns also house ancient Jurassic remnants, offering a glimpse into a prehistoric era.

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Among the network of eight known chambers within this cave system, the Discovery Room stands out for its interactive showcase of limestone wonders. Here, visitors can engage closely with the various formations, enhancing their experience. Interestingly, the Discovery Room's unveiling was a stroke of serendipity. During the caverns' preparation for public access, an explosive attempt to connect to the cavern's lowermost section, known as the Basement, inadvertently brought down a barrier. This unexpected event led to the reveal of the Discovery Room, thus earning its name from this fortunate discovery.

The caverns are dated at least 200 million years and were formed by flowing water. Over the years this water drained, leaving the caverns seen today.

Lake Shasta Cavern History

Long before the construction of Shasta Dam gave rise to Shasta Lake in 1945, the land's original stewards, the Wintu Indigenous peoples, were likely aware of the caverns' existence. However, the caves were brought to broader attention in 1878 by J.A. Richardson, a fish hatchery worker, marking the "official" discovery. Visitors today can still spot historical markings at the cave's entrance, believed to be Richardson's own declaration of discovery, made with the soot of a miner's lamp.

The vision to protect and preserve these natural wonders was sparked in Grace M. Tucker, a forward-thinking attorney from Chehalis, Washington. In 1955, Tucker secured ownership of the caverns, which eventually led to their designation as a National Natural Landmark in May 2012.

Although these ancient formations have been evolving over 250 million years, they were only opened to the public in 1964. Since then, nearly three million visitors have journeyed through this subterranean spectacle. A visit to the Lake Shasta Caverns is an invigorating adventure, encompassing a 45 to 60-minute trek that includes navigating around 600 steps to explore the extensive network of caves.

The caves are made of limestone and feature a wide variety of formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, and flowstone.

Lake Shasta Cavern Directions

Embarking on a journey to the Lake Shasta Caverns is an exhilarating experience, combining multiple adventures into one memorable excursion. This unique trip includes a picturesque boat cruise across the serene Shasta Lake, a lively bus journey leading up to the caverns' entrance, and an enlightening guided tour through some of the most stunning limestone caves the country has to offer.

The drive from Redding to the starting point at Shasta Caverns Road is a brief 20-minute journey, more or less. Upon arrival, anticipate allocating approximately two hours for the full experience, encompassing both the boat and bus transportation segments. And if you're keen to browse through souvenirs or pick up a keepsake, make sure to factor in some extra time to visit the gift shop.

Until 1964, Lake Shasta Caverns were seen each year by only a handful of hardy spelunkers who inched their way through steep natural fissures.

What to do Near the Lake Shasta Caverns

Exploring the caverns is an exclusive adventure that begins with a guided tour, including a captivating boat journey across the shimmering waters of the lake, which is an integral part of the experience. Tickets for the Lake Shasta Caverns are available for purchase online in limited numbers, with additional tickets offered at the on-site gift shop. It's important to note that tickets bought in person are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. To enhance your chances of securing a spot for your group, aim to arrive at least an hour before the scheduled boat departure. Ticket pricing is set at $26 for adults and $15 for children aged three to 15, making it an accessible experience for visitors of all ages.

The only transportation to the caverns from the visitor center is a short ride on a catamaran across Shasta Lake.

Catamaran and Bus Ride 

The adventure to the Shasta Lake Caverns kicks off with a scenic journey on a catamaran, navigating the waters of Shasta Lake, a hotspot for houseboating enthusiasts. Your captain, who also serves as your guide, will share fascinating insights into the geography, formation, history, and natural marvels of the Lake Shasta Caverns and the surrounding area as you glide towards the cave's entrance. Keep your cameras ready and your eyes peeled for the chance to spot local wildlife, including bald eagles, black bears, and mountain lions. This brief 10-minute voyage across the lake offers a sneak peek into the expansive 400-mile shoreline of Shasta Lake. For those wishing to delve deeper into the region's natural beauty, the Shasta Cascade area boasts numerous splendid campgrounds for an extended stay.

Upon reaching the eastern shores near Lake McCloud, you'll find yourself on a picturesque peninsula. The next leg of your exploration takes you by bus, winding your way up to the cavern entrance, situated 850 feet above the lake's surface. Opting for a window seat is a great idea, as the route provides stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountain landscapes and a spectacular aerial perspective of the aquatic activities unfolding below.

The Discovery Room, one of eight known rooms in the cavern system, contains all types of limestone rock formation.

Entering the Caves

Stepping through the 300-foot artificial tunnel marks the beginning of an enchanting journey into an underground realm, a stark contrast to the world above. The cool, constant 58-degree ambiance of the Lake Shasta Caverns immediately envelops you, transporting you to an otherworldly setting. Guided by an expert interpreter, you'll delve into the significance of this extraordinary natural treasure. The caverns are a treasure trove of geological wonders, boasting 38 distinct cave formations and ancient Jurassic fossils, revealing new marvels at every turn.

After approximately an hour of exploration, you'll descend around 200 stairs to exit the cave, where a shuttle awaits to ferry you back to the boat.

The caverns stand out as one of California's most distinctive natural attractions. If your thirst for adventure remains unquenched, the Shasta Cascade region awaits with more to explore. From vibrant cities to exhilarating hikes, a plethora of adventures is at your fingertips, ready to be discovered.

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