, Shasta Lake, Shasta County, California
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Lake Shasta: Houseboating and fishing mecca

By Gary Heffley
Lake Shasta is known by many as the “Houseboating Capital” of California and for its outstanding fisheries. It is the largest manmade lake in California with 365 miles of shoreline at full pool. The lake abounds with boating and water sport opportunities of all kinds from luxurious houseboats slowly exploring the major arms of the lake to ski boats and personal water craft speeding across vast open water.

Shasta Dam, Shasta Lake, Mt. Shasta,
Shasta Lake is formed by the Shasta Dam which holds back the waters of the Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers, Squaw Creek and other small tributaries. 
The quiet backs of large coves, canyons and inlets may find kayakers or sunbathers and swimmers lazily floating on the water. The lake has outstanding year around fishing for bass, trout, land locked king salmon as well as many other warm and cold water species. Wildlife abounds on the shoreline and hills and mountains surrounding the lake. Many hunters use the lake to access great deer, bear and wild turkey hunting. The lake also has interesting off the water side trips such as touring the dam and visiting Lake Shasta Caverns, or even driving down to Redding for some nightlife and entertainment. This lake offers the visitor something different every trip with seasonal and water levels changes that makes each visit a unique experience.

The lake is subject to seasonal draw downs as water releases supply much of the agricultural and urban needs of communities downstream and into Southern California as part of the Central Valley Project. The lake is filled from rain and snow runoff from the vast watershed of these rivers. Even in years of little rainfall there is always plenty of water to enjoy this vast lake. Even at 50% capacity this lake boosts around 200 miles of shoreline to navigate and explore.

Shasta Lake, Shasta County,
Fishing is one of the major attractions at Lake Shasta where bass and trout/ salmon are the primary targets.

The bass fishing is excellent and almost every weekend on the lake there is a bass tournament of some size and shape. Lake Shasta has been the site of many major BASS and FLW tournaments. Many Northern California Bass Clubs also hold multiple tournaments here. Bass are located in the main body of the lake and in every arm of the lake as they are drawn to the varied sub-surface structure that is provided in this impoundment.  

The quality of the Trout and Salmon fishing on Lake Shasta would make the lake a fishing destination on its own. More Shasta Lake Fishing

But the outstanding fishing is not the only reason to visit Lake Shasta. Many people come to relax and enjoy the other aquatic pleasures of the lake. Skiers, wake boarders, tube towers, wave runners, jet skiers, speed boats, slow boats all find a home on the lake. With miles of open water there is room to enjoy just about any type of water sport. During the summer the lake is full of every kind of boat or floating device imaginable.

Many visitors, families and groups chose to use a houseboat as their home base for their lake enjoyment. During the summer the lake is dotted with houseboat’s cruising the lake as Shasta has nine marinas which rent these luxurious homes on the water. 

The summer and early fall months provide great swimming and water sports as the lake surface temperature is at its highest and is very comfortable for any water contact. At first glance the cost of houseboat rental may seem steep but consider that multiple families usually share in the costs and all of your amenities are aboard. Some of these amenities may include fireplaces, hot tubs, large screen TV’s, nothing that would be considered roughing it while ‘camping.’ Many visitors tie their “toys,” ski boats, fishing boats, wave runners alongside and cruise to find a quiet cove to call their own. 

water skiing, houseboating, Lake Shasta,
If the house boater does not have their own “toys” many of the marinas offer many forms of boats and personal watercraft for hourly, daily or weekly rental fees.

One of the best bargains on the lake is to rent a houseboat during the off season. Drastically reduced prices from those of the seasonal summer rates can be found. Granted, during this time, the lake surface temperature makes any body contact with the water a very awakening experience; it’s downright cold, but you can have the lake virtually to yourselves. For those who enjoy fishing, a spring houseboat trip is the thing to do. Wildlife abounds along the shoreline, small waterfalls and creeks pour into the lake at every inlet and cove, and the fishing is often fantastic. It is an experience everyone should do once. There are few places where one can experience securing the houseboat for the night across the cove from an eagle's nest and then watch the eagle fly back and forth often catching a fish dinner right in front of you. It's also common to be awakened by deer grazing on the bank 20 feet away. How about watching a bear grubbing out of an old downed log 50 yards away or having turkeys gobbling on the slope above you.

Campground, Lake Shasta, Shasta Recreation Company,
There are 26 National Forest Service campgrounds surrounding the lake ranging from developed with on-site water and flush toilets to primitive sites with vault or portable facilities. 

There are also some boat-in campgrounds such as Arbuckle Flat on the Pit Arm. These campground facilities are managed by the Shasta Recreation Company, 14538 Wonderland Blvd. Redding Ca. 96003. Their phone number is 530-275-8113. The Shasta Recreation Company can also provide annual launch ramp passes for Shasta Lake. Shasta Recreation Company also manages the ramps and campgrounds at nearby Lewiston and Trinity Lakes.

Numerous privately run campgrounds and RV parks are found on the Upper Sacramento River Arm around Lakehead as well as just south of the lake bordering the I-5 corridor.

remote campsite, Shasta Lake, Shasta Recreation Company,

Many boaters and house boaters will find a nice spot around the lake to pitch a primitive rough campsite in many coves and inlets around the lake. For those who do…please use caution with campfires, following all rules, regulations and make sure to check with the forest service for required permits and to check restrictions. Also, take care to remove all litter and evidence of your lakeside stay. This way others can enjoy the same unspoiled visit that you enjoyed.

Rental cabins are also available at 13 sites in the Lake Shasta Area and these offer some of the best options for visiting both the lake and the surrounding area. There are numerous locations around the lake such as up the Sacramento Arm at Tsasdi’s Resort and Sugarloaf Cottages. Some marinas like Silverthorn Resort offer cabins as an alternative to the houseboat rentals.

I have stayed multiple years at Sugarloaf Cottages on the Sacramento Arm and give it my highest recommendations. These clean, fully equipped cabins provide an excellent setting to enjoy the lake. If you have a boat, a dock is available on site for visitors. From places such as this, you have access to visit Redding or other areas as you are less than 10 minutes from I-5. Many evenings after a full day of fishing, we have jumped in the car and driven to Redding or just up the road to the Basshole Bar and Grill for dinner, being too tired or lazy to fire up the bar-b-que.

There are many homes especially in the Lakehead area that are open to rent and offer walk to or short drive to access to the lake. Another one of a kind vacation can be found at Coran Guest Ranch just south of the Dam itself which offers access to both the lake and river below the dam. This fully appointed guest ranch offers among other amenities horseback riding on miles of beautiful trails overlooking both lake and river scenery. 

Shasta Dam was built between 1938 and 1945.  Like another curved gravity dam (Hoover Dam), it was a continuous pour concrete project, and in its day, ranked as one of the great civil engineering feats of the world. The dam is 602 ft (183 m) high and 3,460 ft (1,055 m) long, with a base width or thickness of 543 ft (165.5 m).

Shasta Dam, US. BOR,
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation offers tours into the interior of Shasta Dam. 

After visiting the Visitor’s Center adjacent to the dam which offers an historical and functioning perspective of the building and workings of the dam. You are able walk along the top of the dam to the middle where an elevator takes you into the heart of the dam, where you are able to walk through this massive structure that supplies a large amount of the life bloods of the state: water and power. The history, and sheer scope of the dam is truly amazing and is a must see for any visitor who has not taken the tour. A fantastic view and photo opportunity is found on the road leading to the dam, where at the lookout point, the dam, lake and Mt. Shasta can be viewed on a clear day. 

Another highlight to the area is Lake Shasta Caverns

Shasta Caverns, Shasta Lake,
The caverns are dated at least 200 million years, and were formed by flowing water. Over the years this water drained leaving the caverns seen today. The caves are made entirely of limestone, and feature every type of possible formation, including stalactitesstalagmitessoda straws, columns, and flowstone

The area surrounding the lake is rich with hiking trails and evidence of the many mines that dotted the area prior to the dam being built. Gold, copper and other minerals were found in the surrounding hills. When hiking be aware of a few things as poison oak dots the landscape around the lake and rattlesnakes also call this area home. But if you keep your ears and eyes open there are miles of trails to explore and enjoy safely.

Shasta Lake has plenty of space and activities for everyone, whether your visit is for fishing, houseboating, water-sports, exploring or just relaxing looking into the clear night skies and watching for shooting stars in a star filled sky.

Shasta Lake is also just short drive from the city of Redding, which offers a wide range of accommodations and dinning selections as well as cultural attractions and entertainment. Although divided into an old and new section by the Sacramento River and the construction of I-5, Redding has emerged all the better with bright new shopping centers packed with leading merchandisers on the east and a delightful cultural section on the west. The city has enjoyed significant growth in the past three decades and has become a magnet for those who have tired of crowded metropolitan areas in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. More Redding.

Come and enjoy, Shasta Lake!

Photos by Robert Holmes (; Silverthorn Resorts, Gary Berdeaux (Shasta Caverns);  Shauna Rule, (Shasta Recreation Company), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Redding Visitors Bureau and Steve Breth


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