Escape the National Park Crowds and Hit These 6 Trails Near ‘The Sunniest City in California’ Instead

If hot weather, hydrothermal pools, and alpine hideaways are your vibe, you’ll love hiking near Redding, California.

Photo: MBRubin via Getty Images

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There’s no disputing that a trek among the redwood giants in Yosemite National Park and sleeping under a starry night sky in Joshua Tree National Park are some of California’s most magical escapes. The only issue: You’ll have to fight the crowds or get lucky in the permit lottery to do it. But there’s a lesser-known hiking haven where the views are just as epic and the crowds aren’t: Redding.

Dubbed California’s sunniest city, Redding is surrounded by wilderness in every direction. The UV-soaked northern California adventure town sits in the foothills of Mount Shasta. Nearby are Lassen Volcanic National Park, often called “Mini Yellowstone,” and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, an old mining community where you can still pan for gold. Make Redding your next basecamp if you’re up for long hikes through chaparral woodlands, trails that run alongside geothermal pools, and overnights next to remote mountain lakes. These eight less-traveled-to hikes are beyond worthy of your next adventure. Just be sure to pack sunscreen.

PCT: Etna Summit to Seiad Valley

Location: Klamath National Forest

Trail Type: Point to Point

Mileage: 54.9 miles

Get a bite-sized taste of the PCT through northern California’s Marble Mountains Wilderness on this four to five-day trek. The landscape has changed drastically since the McKinney Fire raged through this region of the Klamath National Forest in July 2022. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth hiking. You’ll witness the rebirth of the forest — thousands of tiny white fir, ponderosa, and lodgepole pine seedlings springing up from the scorched earth. The 56-mile route gains over 7,500 feet of elevation and the last third of the trip (beginning around mile 32) descends into the small town of Seiad Valley. Once you arrive, refuel with a famous PCT tradition: the Seiad Café Pancake Challenge. Finish your 5-inch-tall stack of plate-sized pancakes, and your meal’s on the house. 

Butte Lake to Snag Lake Loop

Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park 

Trail Type: Loop

Mileage: 13.7 miles

Ranked as one of the least-visited national parks in 2022, Lassen Volcanic National Park flies under the radar despite its stunning volcanic features spread throughout its 170 square miles. Visit for a chance to hike atop an active volcano covered in bubbling mud pots, hydrothermal pools, and roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic gas vents). The Butte Lake to Snag Lake loop makes a 13-mile circle around the park’s two largest lakes, passing geologic marvels along the way like the ancient frozen flows of the Fantastic Lava Beds. Take a side trip to the top of the 700-foot-tall volcanic remnants of Cinder Cone at the southwest corner of the loop to catch a view of Prospect Peak and Lassen Peak in the distance. You’ll also get a birds-eye look at Snag Lake, the Fantastic Lava Beds, and the Painted Dunes below. 

Shasta Bally Trail

Location: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area 

Trail Type: Out and Back

Mileage: 10.6 miles

Up for a challenge? Give hiking to the top of Shasta Bally a go. This extremely steep 11-mile trail follows a fire road to the highest peak in Whiskeytown—a once-bustling (and notably rowdy) gold mining town that’s now coveted for its quiet trails and hidden waterfalls. While not technical, this trek will challenge even the fittest of climbers. Start at the Sheep Camp parking area and travel up the mountain, switchbacking through the heart of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to gain 4,356 feet of elevation before reaching the summit. Much of this trail is exposed — a result of the Carr Fire in 2018 — but that means more opportunity to soak in sights of the chiseled granite peaks of the Trinity Alps on the horizon and the crystal-blue waters of Whiskeytown Lake below.

Bear Lakes Trail

Location: Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Trail Type: Out and Back

Mileage: 11.8 miles

Fifty miles north of Redding, you can take your pick of five designated wilderness areas within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Mount Shasta, Trinity Alps, Castle Crags, Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel, and Chanchelulla. While each has its own unique draw — from the towering granite spires of Castle Crags to the waterfall-filled foothills of Mount Shasta — we recommend turning a popular Trinity Alps day-hiking route into a one- or two-night stay. Why? You can soak in total solitude during early-morning cold dips in the high-alpine lake, take an excursion to the lesser-traveled Wee Bear and Little Bear Lakes, and revel at the white granite cliffs from the comfort of your campsite. The journey to camp at Big Bear Lake (5 miles out and 5 miles back) hugs Bear Creek the entire route. Snow typically melts here by mid-June, but with late-season storms becoming the norm, expect the snow to stick around longer into July. Be sure to check conditions before hitting the trail and you can call the Shasta-Trinity National Forest HQ to ask for an update. You’ll need a wilderness permit to camp too. Snag one at the Weaverville or Shasta Lake ranger stations.

Boulder Creek Falls via Boulder Creek Trail

Location: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area 

Trail Type: Out and Back

Mileage: 5.1 miles

If you’re looking for a more casual day hike in “Whiskey,” opt for the approachable and beloved hike to Boulder Creek Falls. The moderately steep route through a shaded box canyon follows an old logging road. The trail winds through swaths of regrowing forest full of young pine, sprouting manzanita, and budding fern. You’ll make three stream crossings along the way and enjoy the sights and sounds of cascading waterfalls along Boulder Creek for most of the route. This trail is also known for its firey orange tiger lily and delicate solomon seal blooms during spring. Fun fact: You can test your luck at finding gold in Boulder Creek by purchasing a panning permit for just $1 at the visitor center or online in advance. 

Bumpass Hell Trail

Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Trail Type: Out and Back

Mileage: 2.65 miles

Hydrothermal hot spot, anyone? This can’t-miss Lassen Volcanic National Park dayhike rivals the sights (and smells) of Yellowstone without the crowds. The 3-mile round-trip route flaunts geothermal wonderland features around every corner, like fluorescent-colored hot springs and sulfuric steam vents. At the start, enjoy views of the deep blue waters of Helen Lake and the snowcapped dome of Lassen Peak to the north. Along the way, tear your eyes away from the trail for views of Brokeoff Mountain, Diamond Peak, Mt. Diller, and Pilot Pinnacle. Once you start smelling the sulfur, you know the Bumpass Hell Basin is close. Travel through the otherworldly scenery on the park’s recently renovated boardwalk before turning back to the trailhead. Note: This trail is only open during summer and fall due to harsh winter conditions.

What to Pack

Summer and fall seasons in northern California are especially hot. Make sure to pack sunscreen, sun shirts, and hats for your hike and drink plenty of water on the trail (the general rule of thumb is a half-liter per hour or more of hiking). The wildfires that decimated much of the old-growth forests and hardwoods throughout the region only exacerbated the heat by leaving hikers exposed to the elements. Salt-heavy snacks and electrolyte drink mixes are also a good idea to replenish sodium levels as you sweat. Black bears are also common in this region. Bring bear spray on all hikes and pack a bear canister for storing food in the backcountry on overnights. 

Other Adventures in Redding

Hang out in Redding for some more adventure before or after your time in the backcountry. Favorite local adventures include the 30-mile e-bike ride to Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River Trail, guided fly fishing on the Sacramento River with The Fly Shop, or mountain biking the seemingly endless miles of single-track on the nearby Swasey, Keswick, and Clear Creek Greenway trails. The brand new Shasta Bike Depot in downtown Redding rents bikes. Another option: Take a day trip to the Lake Shasta Caverns to explore inside 250-million-year-old caves that sit 900 feet above Shasta Lake. 

From 2023