Anyone who has ever driven the I5 freeway north to Oregon knows the feeling of passing through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in awe as Mt Shasta towers majestically over pristine scenery. This best things to do in Northern California road trip guide has manifested following numerous weekends spent in a camper van exploring the incredible beauty of the region. The wilderness, mountainscapes, and scenery of NorCal have inspired some of my favorite photos ever taken.
With lockdowns making travel so difficult, it seems imperative we discover the joy of domestic getaways. In this travel guide, you will discover maps, photos, and all pertinent information on the must-see places for every NorCal road trip itinerary. While I tend to be driving south when I begin my Northern California road trips, I suspect most of you reading will be coming from the south along the I5 freeway.
Accordingly, I have arranged two loose itineraries in the order that you would stop if you were coming from the south. Simply reverse this order if you are visiting from Oregon instead. If you are wondering which to take, staying on the I5 will be the most time-efficient route. However, you would have to make a large detour or altogether miss two of my favorite destinations in Lassen Volcanic NP and Burney Falls.
See the photos in the Things to do in Northern California section to help you make that decision if time is short. The locals will be quick to tell you how infinite the possibilities for scenic exploration are. While it’s true that the NorCal wilderness is expansive and beautiful, I have chosen to include only those destinations that are both beautiful and easily accessible for the sake of a clear, concise list.
One of the least visited and most understated national parks in America is Lassen Volcanic. A variety of unique geologic wonders exist here that you will scarcely find anywhere else in the world, including steaming fumaroles, “mud pots”, and other volcanic oddities. In the spring and early summer months, wildflowers bloom in abundance, adding an impressive pop of color to the scenery.
From the parking area, the walk to the actual Burney Falls is about 5 minutes with a mild descent. In addition to the waterfall, you will find various trails available that meander through the picturesque wilderness of the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial state park. As you drive along the I5 freeway nearing the town of Dunsmuir, you will notice an incredible rock formation looming majestically before you. This intriguing scene is known as Castle Crags.
You will have a few options for exploring the park. Various hikes of differing lengths are available, but most of the short options are fairly underwhelming. If you do not have time to undertake a trek to the crags themselves, your best option will be the Vista Point trail. This casual, half-mile walk delivers you to a large clearing with a gorgeous view of the Castle Crags rock formation. Of course, if time is truly limited you can always just pull of the freeway nearby and photograph from the road. And/or, consider a visit to the Railroad Park resort nearby.