"When I first caught sight of it over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, I was fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since." That's how famed nineteenth-century naturalist John Muir described Mount Shasta's intoxicating effect on him in 1874.
Muir wasn't the only one who claimed that Mount Shasta is one of the world's most beautiful mountains. When viewed from the north rising above the landscape around it, Shasta resembles Japan's Mt Fuji.
In more mundane terms, Mount Shasta is also the largest volcanic peak in the contiguous United States. It's a towering mountain with one of the highest base-to-summit rises in the world, and a top elevation of 14,162 feet. That's 4,317 meters or 2.7 miles high, only a little shorter than Mount Whitney's 14,505 feet — and Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.
What to See
You can look at Mount Shasta from the distance, or you can climb it. If you're in the area, you'll find a lot more things to do.
For the postcard view of Mount Shasta that some compare to Japan's Mount Fuji: Drive north on I-5 to Weed and then north on US Hwy 97. From this direction, Mount Shasta rises almost alone, with the glaciers on its north side shining in the sun. It's easy to understand why early Californian Joaquin Miller described it as: "Lonely as God and white as a winter moon."
Reasons to Visit
- If you're in the area, you can't help but see Mount Shasta. Many people comment online on how beautiful it is. That may be enough.
- If you want a closer look, drive to the end of the 15-mile paved road from Mount Shasta City. If you have binoculars, you'll be able to tell that white patches at the top are glaciers. Toward the west, you'll also see the Castle Crags poking up in the distance like fingers.
- Some people want to climb it. From the end of the road, it's more than a mile's vertical climb to the pinnacle. It's a challenging hike that requires proper equipment and preparation.
- In a snowy winter, you can go skiing at Mt Shasta Ski Park.
- Many online reviewers also talk about the spiritual aspects of the mountain and think it has especially good energy.
Reasons to Skip It
If you don't want to camp near it, climb it, or go for a hike, there's not much else to do except look at it.
Tips for Visiting
- Bring binoculars to see more details.
- Go on a sunny day if you can.
- The road from town may close when it snows.
Native Americans say Mount Shasta is the Great Spirit's wigwam, and that he made the mountain first of all.
The old-growth incense cedar forests that once covered Mount Shasta disappeared for the most mundane of causes. The wood was so popular that as recently as the 1970s, half the wooden pencils in the world were made from it.
People started climbing Mount Shasta in 1854. In the late 1860s, gentlemen climbers wore coats, and the women climbed in full skirts. Today, the climbers dress differently, and they usually hire a local guide to assist them, but the fascination for reaching the summit remains.
John Muir loved Mount Shasta. You might enjoy his 1877 account of climbing it.
What You Need to Know
Mount Shasta is about 200 miles north of Sacramento. To reach it by highway, exit I-5 on Lake Street at Mount Shasta City, then follow Lake Street east to Everitt Memorial Highway. In summer, you can drive all the way up to the end of the road at about 7,900 feet elevation.