Sightseeing on Shasta Lake...
Shasta Lake's many arms and inlets make it a paradise for explorers and boaters alike. The four major arms of the lake offer spectacular
scenery as well as unusual geologic and historic areas of interest. Much of Shasta Lake's 29,500 acre surface area is accessible only
by boat. This brief guide will point out some of the most outstanding features in and around each arm of the lake...
and a little underwater history
The Sacramento Arm...
This is the busiest and most developed arm of Shasta lake. The historic route of the Oregon Trail and the Central Pacific Railroad lie submerged below
its surface. Interstate 5, the Oregon Trail's modern replacement, provides easy access to most of the areas on the Sacramento Arm.
Shasta Dam, at the lower end of the arm, is the highest center spillway dam in the United States and one of the largest concrete structures ever built.
The 602 foot high dam is 3/3 of a mile wide and contains 6.3 million cubic yards of concrete.
The vista house near the dam offers films and displays showing highlights of dam construction during the 1940s. Visitors can also see many of the
side benefits provided by Shasta Lake, "Keystone" of the Central Valley Project.
Directly north of the dam and under about 400 feet of water lies the copper mining town
of Kennett founded during the gold rush of the 1850s. Kennett's population boomed to
nearly 10,000 residents in the early 1900s due to the high demand for copper which
was more prevalent than gold in the surrounding hills. Sulphur damage from the town's
five smelters destroyed nearly all the vegetation within a 15 mile radius of the town and,
combined with declining copper prices after World War 1, led to the demise of the town
after 1925 and the closing of the smelters.
The aftermath of the denudation of the steep hillsides in the area was a mammoth
erosion problem which still persists to some extent to this day. Over a million check
dams were built and millions of trees were planted in an attempt to restore the natural
appearance of the area. The rehabilitation efforts can be readily seen in a cruise up Big
Backbone Creek Inlet.
Near the convergence of the Pit and Sacramento Arms is Slaughterhouse Island, so named because the slaughterhouse for Kennett sat in the saddle
between what is now Slaughterhouse Island and the island to the south of it. Elmore Bay was named for the Elmore Ranch which was inundated by
the rising waters of Shasta lake.
From the Goosenecks north, watch for red volcanic looking rocks, called basalt, lining the shoreline. It occurs particularly on the west shore. This is
lava from the Mt. Shasta area which was cut through by the erosive action of the historic Sacramento River.. In some areas near Antlers the basalt
forms crude columns similar to those found at Devil's Postpile National Monument.
At the north end of the Sacramento Arm are the Lakehead/Lakeshore area resorts and campgrounds. Gregory Creek got its name from the Gregory
Ranch and Antlers was originally a railroad stop at the hotel adorned with deer antlers. Across from Antlers Resort is Indian Creek and a short way
up the creek is a cool waterfall... a popular side trip on a hot day.
The Sacramento Arm of Shasta lake ends near Riverview, an old resort site. Now a day use area, this site has one of the few sandy beaches on
The McCloud Arm...
The McCloud River, from which this arm of Shasta Lake takes its name, was named for Alexander R. McCleod, a Scot fur trapper who was snowbound
along the river in 1829. Little of the land along the McCloud River was ever developed. In 1872 Livingston Stone established the first West Coast salmon
hatchery near the confluence of the McCloud and Pit Rivers. The facility, which grew to resemble a small town, was called Baird in honor of the first
commissioner of fishing. Seven years later, a trout hatchery was established at Green's Creek farther up the river. Rainbow trout from this hatchery
were transplanted all over the world and most strains of rainbows are descendants of the McCloud River trout.
Above the McCloud Arm are towering grey limestone mountains, formed
from ocean sediments that accumulated 200 - 300 million years ago. The
Grey Rocks, as they are called, are full of the fossilized remains of corals,
snails, clams and other sea creatures that existed in prehistoric times.
Water running through cracks in the formation have slowly opened up two
fairly well known caverns within the mountains.
Local Wintu Indians knew the caverns well and told Livingston Stone about them.
Livingston was the first European to visit the caverns. Commercially
operated, Shasta Caverns are open to the public with guided tours every hour on the hour between 9:00AM and 4:00PM (summer schedule). Private
boats can join the tour on the east shore where the ferry ties up.
Samwel Cave, also known as the "Cave of the Lost Maiden," is located about two miles south of the McCloud Bridge (across the lake from Ellery Creek
Campground). The cave was believed to contain magic pools in which the Wintu Shaman (medicine men) would bathe.
It is also known for its treasure of Ice Age fossils which were found at the bottom of a
70 food deep pit. Also in that pit were found the skeletal remains of the "Lost Maiden"
which lent credence to the old Wintu stories. The variety and quality of remains excavated
from the cave are surpassed only by those from the La Brea Tar
Pits in Los Angeles.
A self guided trail leads up to Samwel Cave from Point McCloud. All but the first room is closed to the public because of the danger of falling to the
bottom of the deep pit inside the cave. Spelunkers can explore the inner reaches of the cave by obtaining a special permit issued by the Shasta Lake
Several small ranches were once located along the upper McCloud River. The Ellery Ranch lies below the Ellery Creek Campground and extended
up as far as the McCloud Bridge Campground. Fruit trees, berries and sweet peas, found in the McCloud Bridge Campground, are a reminder of the
valley's agricultural past.
The Squaw Creek Arm...
From its confluence with the Pit River Arm near Silverthorn, the Squaw Creek Arm of the
lake is rugged and remote. Gravel beaches and numerous fingers reach out into the
channel making it one of the lake's most popular houseboating areas. For the first
several miles up the arm the shoreline is less steep than elsewhere on the lake and many
desirable undeveloped campsites dot the
This arm is also home to a large concentration of wildlife. Eagles, osprey, otter, bear and Rocky Mountain Elk are likely to be seen. Some shoreline
areas are closed to protect critical habitats... please respect these closures by staying out of designated areas.
The Pit River Arm...
This is the longest arm of the lake. From its confluence with the Sacramento Arm, near Shasta Dam, it stretches nearly 30 miles east to its upper end
at the base of Pit Reservoir #7 near Fenders Flat.
The lower part of the Pit is a wide basin with grand vistas. Mt. Shasta is visible to the north and Mt. Lassen and the Lassen Range backdrop the views
up the Pit throughout much of the lower portion. Bass Mountain to the south and O'Brien Mountain to the north of the channel are examples of volcanic
mountain building processes. Each is a 400 year old volcanic plug. About 50 million years after the formation of these peaks, sea deposits began
accumulating around them. These deposits were later compressed into the limestones which now form Grey Rocks. These formations flanks both sides
of the Pit River just east of its confluence with the McCloud.
At the bottom of the canyon lies the remains of the Sacramento Valley and
Eastern Railroad - a line built at company expense to link the mines at Bully
Hill on the Squaw Creek Arm, to the Southern Pacific lines along the
The largest inland marina on the West Coast is located at Bridge Bay. High
above Bridge Bay and the Lake is the Pit River Bridge, the highest double
decker bridge in the United States. This bridge replaced the Lower Pit River
Bridge which was inundated by Shasta Lake. Early day travelers crossed
the river via ferries.
At the Silverthorn peninsula farther east, the Pit turns sharply south and begins to narrow. This is called the Upper Pit. After passing Jones Valley Inlet,
there are no services and camping is limited to three primitive boat access only campgrounds. This is Shasta Lake's "outback." It is home to eagles,
osprey, otters and bear. It is considered by many to have the best bass fishing on the lake. Dozens of coves and inlets line the forested shores offering
quiet, secluded campsites.
The Upper Pit was not cleared prior to the completion of Shasta Dam. World War II broke out about the same time as the clearing crews got to the
confluence of the Pit and Squaw Arms and most of the men on the clearing crews left for the war. Dead snags sometimes lend an eerie appearance
to the shoreline here and they can be a hazard to boaters. Because of this, waterskiing has been prohibited above Arbuckle Flat.
Near the upper end of the arm, the channel becomes very narrow and the canyon walls are extremely steep. At Bear Creek, on the south side about 3
1/2 miles above Stein Creek Campground, a short hike leads to a double waterfall known as Bear Creek Falls. Potem Falls, a larger waterfall, can be
found on Potem Creek near Fenders Flat. This fall can be reached by trail from the lake or seen from Fenders Ferry Road.
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