Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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No idea what to do in Mount Shasta with kids this winter? The area is a treasure trove of winter fun for families with older kids, well away from the Tahoe crowds and with spectacular scenery to boot.
Second highest volcano in the US? Check. Ski resort, sledding hill and cool bookstores? Check, check, check. No crowds or lines? Check and double check. Well then, what are the snow bunnies waiting for? Aaaah, I know. It’s the drive, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a long drive up I-5 but wait til you arrive on that lone epic mountain capped with snow surrounded by plains. It’s an amazing sight.
Don’t you feel like staying at a comfy hotel, hopping in the car and being on your skis 10 minutes later? Because that’s what we’re talking about. Almost instant gratification. So ditch your Tahoe and Truckee traffic slog and see what Shasta is all about this winter. To get to know the area, I spent a whole February week exploring Shasta with my family. Here are my tips on activities, lodging and eating.
Photo gallery – click on thumbnail to enlarge:
First things first. Zee ski, ma darling.
Some numbers should get the conversation started: 425 skiable acres, with 32 trails, 1390 vertical feet, 3 triple chairs and one surface lift, 20% beginner, 55% intermediate, 25% advanced. Night skiing on 14 trails. There, you have it. Need I say more? Of course, I’m forgetting some basics. Mount Shasta Board and Ski Park is 5 miles from McCloud and 8 miles from Shasta City so wherever you’re staying, you’ll be in line for your ski lift in a jiffy. Each morning we drove up the mountain, parked the car in front of the ski school building and handed the girls over to qualified (and enthusiast) instructors.
The only hitch with the ski school – yes, Shasta could learn from Tahoe – is it’s only 90-minute group lessons. When I found that out I almost cried and then I found a way around the issue. Since the group lessons for kids are either in the morning or in the afternoon, I booked a private lesson for my girls at the end of the group lessons to extend to a half-day. The rest of the day, my husband took the girls skiing while I waited at the cafe with my computer. That way, they got a full 10am to 4pm on their skis. Neat, right? From the short videos my husband shot with my girls, there was literally nobody on the trails. I don’t even know how that’s possible but they didn’t wait once for their chairs.
Snowman’s Hill is where you take the kids after a full day of skiing because it’s right at the summit of Highway 89 next to the ski park access road. We went there a few times and like the ski slopes, had the sledding hill pretty much to ourselves. We brought our own sled but if you wanted to rent one, Shasta City has stores that rent skis and sleds.
As in, huskies and the Yukon shebang. Dogsled Express is an awesome family-run business that will take you around the mountain on specially groomed trails. Read my piece about dogsledding with children to see my reviews and photos.
We like Bunny Flat on Mount Shasta, a trail that takes you to a Sierra Club hut in 1.7 miles but it’s kind of tough for a first time for children. Instead, we took our girls for a short walk along the McCloud River to the Upper McCloud Falls. Since the road wasn’t plowed, we drove as far as we could, found a spot to park the car and simply followed the trail. The fast-flowing waters of the river fall in thunderous roars at the falls, the first of a trio of waterfalls surrounded by granite. You can picnic at the falls – there are picnic tables – if you want. We took our time playing in the snow before coming back.
Hailed as one of the most picturesque villages of California, McCloud has a lot to offer for such a small town. Starting at the McCloud River Mercantile Company where we were staying (review below), we walked down Main Street to an old log cabin court room/jail, through village streets to a playground with an awesome view on Mount Shasta, on to the Mount Shasta and McCloud Railyard.
It’s a beast of a building that shows just how important the railroad industry was on Mount Shasta and along the McCloud River. The building has been abandoned for years so don’t go in there but imagine. Because I”m a romantic soul, I did go in there to take photos. It was one of the most impressive decaying industrial buildings I’ve ever seen. Wow. To finish your tour, go back to Main Street and peek inside the McCloud trains now sleeping on their tracks.
Should you need some quiet time, I strongly recommend that you take the kids to Village Books (320 N Mount Shasta Blvd, Mount Shasta). It’s got everything a small town bookstore should have – kiddie section with kid area at the back (books and toys), coffee and candy counter up front, good adult books selection, and if you’re spiritually-minded, a large esoteric section. Plus: small tables so you can sip your coffee and read the New Yorker while the kids pick their next book or toy at the back.
For an Old West experience, I absolutely love the old candy store at the McCloud River Mercantile. With wooden floors, dark wooden shelves and vintage counter, the Sugar Pine Candy Company (233 Main St # A) is a child’s dream. My girls can spend half an hour picking $2 worth of treats, checking every single glass jar and lollipop display. When they’ve done their pick, we go to the cafe at the back and I get a hot tea while my girls gulp from the spring fountain in the store. While a spring fountain doesn’t sound like much, I’ll point out that it’s a real spring coming from underground that comes out of the spigot. That’s why it’s always on. What’s not drunk goes into the McCloud River.
Should you fancy a movie night with the kids, Mt Shasta Cinemas (118 Morgan Way) is located in a shopping mall so you can do your shopping and watch a movie too!
In Mount Shasta, we stayed in one of the Craftsman-style chalets at the Mount Shasta Resort. The place had been recommended by the owner of Dogsled Express and I was very happy he did because I normally wouldn’t go for lodging on a golf course. Our chalet was a cozy 2-bedroom cottage with a partial view on the lake, a cozy gas fireplace in the sitting room, a full kitchen and dining area (perfect to cook family meals) and a TV/DVD etc.
Since there were two bedrooms, we were able to put our girls to bed at their regular bedtime hour (a feat during vacations) so we could relax in the couches in front of the fireplace at night. The only down side was the bathroom (no window and average toiletries) but the whole place was very easy to use with children. It’s a little bit out of the way for Mount Shasta but clean, functional and quite roomy.
In McCloud, we stayed at the wonderful McCloud River Mercantile Hotel, a completely unexpected boutique hotel in an old commercial building. Judging by the outside and the local B&Bs I thought it was just going to be another non-descript hotel. Instead, each single one of the suites and bedrooms is tastefully decorated following a theme. No, not quirky themes – historical designs. Our bedroom had a railroad theme and a vintage suitcase sat at the foot at the queen bed. A clawfoot bathtub and long sink in the bathroom were heaven, as well as upscale Gilchrist & Soames toiletries.
I was lucky to be given a tour of the hotel by the owner and completely fantasized on the Shasta Wintu whose bathroom was tiled in smooth black river pebbles. A hoot! One afternoon waiting for my girls to come back from their skiing afternoon with their dad, I spent an hour browsing binders full of fun historical info and newspaper clippings about the area. It was fantastic and I was able to make tea at the common kitchen in the same room, then come back to sit in front of a real wood fireplace that a man restocked with logs while I was reading. No wonder this hotel is booked months in advance.
This ain’t the Bay Area but you can still find some really good cooking. In Mount Shasta, we had a very good dinner at the Trinity Cafe (622 N Mount Shasta Blvd) that serves New American meals and has a good wine list. At lunch time, we had giant burgers and microbrew beers at the Goat Tavern (107 Chestnut St). Service was slow and there wasn’t a lot of room between tables but the kids still had a good time. We also tried Andaman Healthy Thai Cuisine (313 N Mt Shasta Blvd) for dinner. Portions were very generous but the tastes lacked authenticity.
In McCloud, we had a hearty breakfast fit for a lumberjack at the Mountain Star Cafe (you get a breakfast voucher when staying at the McCloud River Mercantile Hotel) and the Mickey Mouse pancakes were a total hit with my girls. My own breakfast was delicious and the place was really pretty. It’s rare to find an organic place that serves good espressos (to my husband’s liking) and good teas (to my liking) in that area. If only we had come back for dinner…
VOILA! I hope you get to visit this beautiful part of California. You can probably tell but I love it.
Disclaimer: I received complimentary lodging at the Mount Shasta Resort and discounted lodging at the McCloud River Mercantile Hotel in exchange for reviews. The opinions expressed in this piece, however, are my own and reflect my true experience.