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Hiking: Northern California

Inspired by Granite Spires

August 20, 1995|JOHN McKINNEY

Soaring above the upper Sacramento River Valley are the skyscraper spires of granite called Castle Crags. Wind, rain, ice and even some small glaciers have shaped the granite into distinctive spiky peaks that can be seen from the highway but are best appreciated from a trail.

Castle Crags Wilderness, established in 1984, protects 10,500 acres of sculpted rock, mixed conifer forest and alpine lakes. The wilderness is part of the Klamath Mountains, an ecologically and geologically complex range that extends 130 miles between the Coast and Cascade ranges.

The mountains are composed primarily of volcanic and sedimentary rock; the Crags, however, are granite formed during the Jurassic period, about 190 million years ago.

Complementing the Crags is water--seeping from springs, flowing in creeks and plunging from falls. Turn-of-the-century resorts were built around mineral springs discovered by miners. Burstarse Falls, a 40-foot snowmelt-fed cascade, is particularly dramatic in the spring, but well worth a visit any time of the year. The deeply shaded area around the falls is a lush and tranquil retreat.

The Pacific Crest Trail extends 19 miles through the wilderness, and offers many scenic vistas of the Crags. This walk begins on Dog Trail, which soon connects with the Pacific Crest Trail for a moderate climb to Burstarse Falls.

Directions to trail head: The Dog Trail entry to Castle Crags Wilderness is located off Interstate 5, about 25 miles north of Lake Shasta and six miles south of Dunsmuir. Take the Castle Crags/Castella exit and head west on Castle Creek Road for 3.2 miles to the large, unsigned parking area on the right side of the road. Unsigned Dog Trail departs from the northwest side of the parking area.

The hike: Dog Trail enters a stand of knob cone pine, passes a sign welcoming you to Castle Crags Wilderness, and begins a steep climb up brush-covered slopes. A long, half-mile ascent brings you to a junction with Pacific Crest Trail. (A detour right on the Pacific Crest Trail soon leads to grand views of the Castle Crags; the trail then descends half a mile to shady Sulphur Creek.)

Go left on Pacific Crest Trail, which meanders through a mixed forest of black oak, pine and fir. A mile's walk on the path leads to maple-shaded Popcorn Spring, and another three-fourths' mile to the first crossing of Burstarse Creek. You then cross manzanita-lined and misnamed Ugly Creek, and continue a short distance to where the trail does an about-face just above Burstarse Creek. Leave the trail, carefully descend the rocky slope (dodge the poison oak) to the creek bank and hike 100 yards on a faint creek-side path to Burstarse Falls.


Dog, Pacific Crest Trails

Where: Castle Crags Wilderness, Shasta Trinity National Forest.

Terrain: Pine- and fir-forested slopes, granite peaks.

Highlights: Inspiring Castle Crags views, waterfalls.

Distance: From Dog Trail head to Burstarse Falls is five miles round trip with a 900-foot elevation gain.

Degree of difficulty: Moderate.

For more information: Mt. Shasta Ranger District, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, 204 West Alma St., Mt. Shasta, CA 96067; (916) 926-4511.

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