Lake Shasta

Visiting Lake Shasta

Shasta Lake, Shasta Dam and Mount Shasta
••• Shasta Lake, Shasta Dam and Mount Shasta. Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

Lake Shasta is a beautiful body of water in Northern California. It's formed by the Sacramento, McCloud, Squaw and Pit Rivers and held back by the massive Shasta Dam, the second-largest dam in the United States after Grand Coulee.

Thirty-five miles long with almost 370 miles of shoreline, it holds enough water when full to provide about 5,000 gallons to every person in the United States. The lake has a surface area of 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares).

That makes it Californi's largest reservoir. It is also the third-largest body of water in the state: Only Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea are bigger.

Lake Shasta is within an easy drive from San Francisco, Sacramento and Portland for a weekend getaway or vacation.

Reasons to Visit Lake Shasta

Lake Shasta is a big lake, with a lot to do on and around it. It can get busy, but is seldom overrun with people.

Lake Shasta Geography

If you're going to navigate the lake, you need to know about its layout. The three rivers flowing into the lake create three "arms," each named for the river that forms it.

McCloud Arm: The gray rocks that tower above this part of the lake were formed from ocean sediments. While you're in that area, stop at the Holiday Harbor Marina to get a tour of Shasta Caverns.

Sacramento Arm: The busiest and most developed part of the lake, the Sacramento Arm ends at Riverview, an old resort site with the lake's only sandy beach.

You can get great views of Mount Lassen as you cruise upstream from there.

Pit Arm: The lake's longest arm stretches almost 30 miles. It gets its name from the pits the Achumawi Indians dug along it to trap animals that came to water at the river. Standing snags of dead trees make the upper Pit hazardous for boating.

It's also a good place to go fly fishing.

Things to Do on or Around Lake Shasta

Lake Shasta is very popular for all kinds of water sports. It's also a good place for a quiet getaway.

Houseboat Rentals: I think this is the best way to see the lake and an excellent way to spend a relaxed vacation.

Shasta Dam: You'll have to get off the lake to take the daily tours through and under the country's second-largest concrete dam. A maximum of 40 people are allowed on each tour. Get there early to get in with less waiting. No phones, cameras or bags of any kind allowed on the tour. Exit I-5 at Shasta Dam Road.

Lake Shasta Caverns: You'll take a catamaran ride and a bus trip up the mountain before visiting this bit of underground geology. Take I-5 exit 395, or if you're boating, go up the McCloud Arm of the lake to Holiday Harbor Marina.

Lake Shasta Dinner Cruises: Cruises on the lake depart from the gift shop at Lake Shasta Caverns and run on Saturdays from Memorial Day1 through Labor Day2, except holiday weekends.

Lake Shasta Water Sports

Boating: The most popular activity on the lake, boating gives you a chance to get around the lake and enjoy the scenery. You can rent a boat at many of the lakeside marinas.

Swimming: There are no developed swimming areas at Lake Shasta, but you can swim from the shore or your boat.

Water skiing: Water skiing is popular everywhere on the lake, especially the Sacramento Arm and Jones Valley areas. Avoid the Pit River because of submerged debris.

Fishing: Anglers can snag trophy-size bass and three- to ten-pound trout on Lake Shasta, along with bluegills, salmon, bass, crappie, catfish and sturgeon. You can buy a fishing license at most of the lakeside resorts, and some of them also rent fishing boats and fishing tackle.

1 Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May.
2 Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.