Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark, formerly named Chalk Cave and Baird Cave, sits hundreds of feet inside the McCloud Limestone Mountain Range and dates back 200-250 million years. Over time, flowing water drained through the limestone bedrock, leaving the caverns that are seen today.
Shasta Caverns are made of limestone and feature stunning calcite crystal rock formations like stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, cave bacon, soda straws, columns, helictites, and flowstone. The cave’s Discovery Room contains all types of limestone rock formations.
Exploring California’s Caves and Caverns
We’ve been having a blast exploring caves and caverns over the past year and half. We explored:
- Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave at Pinnacles National Park — these are the caves that got us hooked on underground adventuring!
- Moaning Caverns and California Zip Lines
- Black Chasm Cavern
- California Caverns at Cave City
- Natural Bridges Caves
We have wanted to visit Shasta Caverns ever since we drove past a sign for them off I-5 last summer on our way to Oregon. When wondering what to do for Memorial Day weekend, Shasta Caverns was the perfect choice for a quick weekend getaway — and by staying in Redding, we could check out the Sundial Bridge and the Turtle Bay Exploration Park too!
Touring Lake Shasta Caverns
Our latest family cave adventure began with a visit to the Shasta Caverns Visitor Center and Gift Shop, where they sell souvenirs, snacks, gifts, and clothing, have a pressed penny machine and restrooms, and provide maps and tourist information. There is also a small playground for kids, gem panning flumes, and a picnic area.
Just before it was time for our tour, we made our way down the mountain to the shores of Lake Shasta where we boarded a catamaran for a 15 minute ride across the beautiful, sparkling, blue waters of the lake, surrounded by the gorgeous mountain landscape. On our boat ride, the captain shared facts and history with us about Lake Shasta and the geography of the McCloud Arm of the lake.
We left the boat behind for a new type of transportation — small air conditioned tour buses! We boarded buses for a windy 10 minute ride through part of the Grey-Rock Mountain forest, up a steep cliff, to the cavern entrance at more than 800 feet above lake level. The views from the observation area were incredible!
Because we visited over Memorial Day Weekend, we didn’t go on a regular tour…
- Normally you’re in a group of people with an assigned tour guide, all moving through the caverns at the same time.
- Due to the high-volume of visitors over the weekend, they instead positioned tour guides in each main area of the cave to answer questions and tell visitors about the unique features and formations in that part of the limestone caverns.
- We were left to explore the caverns on our own. Buses and boats were running almost all day, so we could move through the cave as fast or as slow as we wanted — this was awesome because we could wait for big groups to move on and have entire rooms of the cavern to ourselves!
The Shasta Caverns information warns you that the cavern tour is a moderately strenuous 45 to 60 minute cave tour that includes more than 600 stairs leading you through the different areas of the caverns in 95% humidity. After reading this, we expected the tour to be a bit of a workout… but it wasn’t. Because we were moving at our own pace and not in a tour that had to stay on a strict (and short) schedule, no one in our family felt like the tour was strenuous. We were very warm, even in the 58 degree cave because of the humidity, but climbing the stairs didn’t feel strenuous.
We had a blast exploring the underground caves and caverns, including the Discovery Room, the Dome Room, the Crystal Room, the Basement Room, and the Cathedral Room. During our cave tour, we saw a variety of impressive natural rock formations like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, cave bacon, folded draperies, helictites, and flowstone that created small stone waterfalls.
Once we were done in the cavern, we made our way back to the buses for the ride back to the shoreline, boarded the boat for the ride back to the Visitor Center, climbed the stairs back up to the parking lot, and grabbed our ice chest for a picnic lunch in the shade.
Shasta Caverns History
James A. Richardson, an employee of the local fish hatchery, discovered the caves in 1878. You can see the writing on the cave wall where he documented his discovery using carbide from his miner’s lamp.
In 1955, Grace M. Tucker, an attorney from Washington State wanted to preserve the caverns and obtained sole ownership of the property. In 1959, Tucker, along with Roy Thompson and his brothers, formed Lake Shasta Properties, Inc. Until 1964, when Shasta Caverns opened to the public, the caves were only seen by a few brave spelunkers who squeezed their way in through a tiny opening.
To open the caves for public viewing, explosives were used to blast a tunnel from the rock face deep into the mountain. The goal was to reach the lowest known room, the Basement Room, but during blasting a large rock wall was knocked down, revealing the now famous Discovery Room, that is even lower than the Basement room.
The 37 acre Shasta Cavern area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 2012.
Know Before You Go
- Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark is located 17 miles north of Redding at 20359 Shasta Caverns Road, Lakehead, California 96051 in Shasta County.
- Daily tours are given every half hour from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Memorial Day thru Labor Day. In April, May and September, tours leave every hour from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. From October through March tours are given at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 2:00 pm.
- Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas, and during extreme weather.
- Parking is free.
- Tours include a boat ride across the McCloud arm of the Shasta Lake, a bus ride up a steep cliff to the cavern entrance, and a guided tour of the caverns with more than 600 stair steps. If the steps are too much for you, you can exit the cavern at the halfway point of the tour and wait in the Visitor Center, watching a video tour of the cavern.
- Be sure to wear sunscreen or bring a hat for the boat ride across the lake, and wear comfortable walking shoes, because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. It’s also a good idea to bring water for each member of your party.
- If you’re someone who is always cold, you might want a light sweatshirt, but while the cavern is 58 degrees year round, the humidity stays at about 95%, so the temperature feels around 70.