Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Waterfall Challenge—Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Location: Redding, California
Length of visit: half to full day
Major draws: Waterfalls, scenic views, lake recreation opportunities
Strenuosity: 7 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $10 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Steep trails, poison-oak, gravel access roads, poorly marked trails
Description: We accessed the 4 separate waterfalls around Whiskeytown Lake by hiking a total of 11 miles, but it may take longer depending on trail choice and road closures.  Pick up an official Waterfall Challenge passport at the visitor center along with information on the trails.  Gravel access roads are rough, but passable with passenger vehicles.

Castle Crags

Castle Crags State Park
Location: Castella, California
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Scenic views, campground, Pacific Crest Trail access
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $8 per vehicle
Additional considerations: Poison-oak, no long vehicles on road to scenic viewpoint
Description: Great views of granite Castle Crags and snowy Mount Shasta from end of road.  A trail climbs steeply 2,500 feet to top of crags.  Drive west of state park on Forest Road 25 for additional views of Castle Crags.

Catacombs

Catacombs—Lava Beds National Monument
Location: Tulelake, California
Length of visit: 3 hours
Major draws: Lava tube cave, most challenge cave in the park
Strenuosity: 10 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Flashlights necessary, extremely tight passageways require crawling, good map reading skills essential
Description: Complex cave system with multiple layers.  A 2-mile loop route can be completed which requires extensive duck walking and multiple areas of crawling with one-foot high ceilings.  Bump cap and knee pads required past first 800 feet.  Route is very mentally and physically challenging.

Schonchin Butte

Schonchin Butte—Lava Beds National Monument
Location: Tulelake, California
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Fire lookout tour, scenic views
Strenuosity: 5 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Trail may be snow covered in winter, high elevation
Description: 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to top of butte where a fire lookout offers panoramic views across lava flows to Tule Lake, Glass Mountain, and Mount Shasta.

Golden Dome

Golden Dome—Lava Beds National Monument
Location: Tulelake, California
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Lava tube cave, hydrophobic bacteria
Strenuosity: 3 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Flashlights necessary, uneven floor
Description: Hydrophobic bacteria shimmer gold and silver in the beam of a flashlight in this prettiest of the lava tubes.  Many other caves contain them including Thunderbolt and Blue Grotto.

Petroglyph Point

Petroglyph Point—Lava Beds National Monument
Location: Merrill, California
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Rock art, wildlife, geologic formations
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Portions of cliff face are closed due to vandalism
Description: Numerous petroglyphs dating primarily from 4,500 to 2,500 years ago when Tule Lake was high enough that carvers had to access the cliff by boat.  Holy volcanic tuff cliff face provides many nesting sites for birds.

Skull Cave

Skull Cave—Lava Beds National Monument
Location: Tulelake, California
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Lava tube cave, ice floor
Strenuosity: 3 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $15 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Flashlights necessary, entryway may be snow covered
Description: Large cave entrance with high ceilings throughout.  Series of steep stairs take visitors down to year round ice floor formation.  Excellent lava tube for beginners.  Heppe and Merrill Caves are also places to see ice.

Tule Lake

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Tulelake, California
Length of visit: 1 hour (unless you’re a birder)
Major draws: Wildlife, scenic views
Strenuosity: 0 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Bird life changes due to seasonal migrations
Description: Large shallow lake hosts migratory birds throughout the year.  Some photo blinds available along the shore, including en route to Lava Beds National Monument.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park
Location: south-central Oregon
Length of visit: 2 to 4 hours
Major draws: Scenic views, geologic formations
Strenuosity: 4 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free in winter
Additional considerations: Roads icy in winter, high elevation, rapidly changing weather conditions, lake rarely visible in winter, overhanging snow along ledges
Description: In the winter, loop roads around Crater Lake become user-packed snowshoe trails.  Views can be stunning, but often are shrouded in clouds at 7,000 feet in elevation.  We feel lucky to have seen it on a clear morning before the snow blew in.

Paulina Falls

Paulina Falls—Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Location: south of Bend, Oregon
Length of visit: 3 hours
Major draws: Waterfall, scenic views, geologic formations
Strenuosity: 5 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $5 day use fee or America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Roads icy in winter, high elevation, share trails with snowmobiles
Description: Snowshoe through forest 3 miles on snowmobile-packed road uphill to beautiful Paulina Falls for a total elevation gain over 600 feet.