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Everything You Need to Know About The Lake Shasta Caverns
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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.

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5 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

Deep in the Shasta Trinity National Forest—900 feet above Shasta Lake—is the Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark. An underground world that’s millions of years old, the beautiful limestone caves feature enough natural wonders to satisfy any adventurer visiting for the first time. Once inside, you’ll find eerie, spindly stalagmites and stalactites, glistening curtains of limestone, and gangly, gravity-defying helictites. Jurassic fossils are also found here; you’ll be transported to a whole new world. 

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One of eight known rooms in the cavern system is the Discovery Room, which contains all types of limestone rock formations you can see, touch, and explore. But can you believe the most fascinating room of them all was discovered accidentally? Before opening to the public, workers blasted a tunnel from a rock face deep into the mountain with explosives, hoping to reach the lowest known room, the Basement. However, a large rock wall was also subsequently knocked down revealing the Discovery Room; hence the name.

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

The Indigenous Wintu Native Americans most likely knew of the caves way before the Shasta Dam created the lake in 1945. But, a local fish hatchery employee by the name of J.A. Richardson is recognized with the honor of “officially” discovering the Lake Shasta Caverns in 1878. You can still clearly see legible writing on the wall as you enter the cave done with carbide from a miner’s lamp, which is said to be Richardson’s claim to the discovery of the Lake Shasta Caverns.

Many years later, the idea of preserving this natural phenomenon first came to Grace M. Tucker, an attorney from Chehalis, Washington. In 1955, Tucker obtained sole ownership of the caves, and the site was declared a National Natural Landmark only in May of 2012.

Although the Lake Shasta Caverns are 250 million years in the making, they have not been available to the public for nearly as long. But, since its opening in 1964, this amazing natural wonder has educated and enthralled close to three million people. Inside, it’s a moderately strenuous 45 to 60-minute visit altogether, with around 600 stairs accessing different parts of the labyrinth-like 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

Getting to the Lake Shasta Caverns is as much of an adventure as exploring it. In fact, a trip to the caverns is known to be three adventures in one—a scenic boat tour across Shasta Lake, a quick and fun bus ride to the cave entrance, and, of course, the information-filled tour of one of the most beautiful limestone caves in the nation.

The driving time from Redding to Shasta Caverns Road usually takes about 20 minutes, give or take. Once you get there, get ready to spend about two hours for the entirety of the tour, including boat and bus rides. If you’d also like to explore the gift shop, put aside enough time to do that as well.

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

The caverns can only be accessed by guided tours that include a boat ride across the sparkling blue lake—and that’s half the fun. The Shasta Lake Caverns tickets are available online in limited quantities, but the majority are sold at the gift shop on-site. However, keep in mind that the offline tickets are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, so get there at least an hour before the boat is scheduled to depart for a better chance of finding seats for you and your crew. The price for the Shasta Lake Caverns tickets is $26 for adults and $15 for children between the ages of three and 15.

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 Shasta Lake Caverns tour starts with exploring the lake—an extremely popular destination for houseboating—on a catamaran with a captain who doubles as a guide. The captain will inform you about the geography, formation, history, and natural wonders of the Lake Shasta Caverns, as well as their surrounding regions while you float across the lake and towards the entrance of the caves. Keep an eye out for local wildlife such as bald eagles, black bears, and mountain lions. The 10-minute trip across the lake provides a small glimpse into the 400 miles of shoreline that Shasta Lake has to offer. If you feel like staying a little longer and exploring the area on foot, you have plenty of awesome campgrounds in the Shasta Cascade to choose from.

Once you reach the east side of Lake McCloud, you’ll find yourself on a peninsula. Then, you’ll continue the second portion of your journey on the road by bus, heading towards the cavern entrance, 850 feet above the lake. Grab a window seat if you can, as this scenic ride offers breathtaking views of the mountain ranges surrounding the lake and a bird’s eye view of the water activities below.

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

Entering the Caves

Upon entering the 300-foot man-made tunnel, you’ll be transported to a subterranean wonderland with a completely different feel to that of the outside world. The Lake Shasta Caverns’ cool climate takes you to a different world almost immediately—it has a year-round temperature of 58 degrees. You’ll be accompanied by an interpreter, who’ll talk about the significance of this remarkable natural resource. You’ll see plenty of breathtaking natural features and new discoveries on every turn inside, from 38 different cave formations to Jurassic fossils.

After walking for about an hour inside, you’ll need to walk 200 or so stairs down to the mouth of the cave to board the shuttle that takes you back to the boat. 

There’s no denying that the caverns are one of California’s most unique natural wonders. If you’re not done exploring the area, enjoy discovering the rest of the Shasta Cascade. With awesome cities and thrilling hikes, you have plenty of fun adventures to look forward to.

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