I love river trails. On a recent visit to Redding, we experienced a rollicking good time around town and on the Sacramento River Trail that runs through the town. We were there visiting clients for our magazine, Cycle California!, on the way home on the last leg of a road trip that included Medford, Ashland, and Klamath Falls, Oregon.
And, as I mentioned, I love river trails, so of course we had to explore the Sacramento River Trail while in town.
Why do I love river trails? They follow the water, meander through the urban landscape, and usually somewhere along their length, offer a bit of wild California to the people who ride, walk, or roll along their path.
Occasionally, river trails offer the chance to see wildlife such as salmon returning to the river to spawn and even beaver creating their engineering masterpieces.
Tales of Trails
The city started work on the Sacramento River Trail in 1983 and by 1991 had completed a loop from the Diestelhorst Bridge to the Ribbon Bridge.
Today, the paved river trail extends more than 20 miles, crosses the river in four places, and includes spur trails to Old Shasta and several Redding neighborhoods.
For our trek along the Sacramento River we rode from Turtle Bay Exploration Park to Heart Rate Hill and back. The thing about Redding: It has 360 days of sunshine a year, and most of the time, that sunshine is hot. So, any riding we did had to be done with lots and lots of water onboard.
Because it was late in the year, the water level was low and steady; we watched as a man let his Black Lab off the leash and the dog raced away down the bank to the water; we heard one bark and a splash as he leapt in to play in the current.
City of Bridges
Redding’s Sundial Bridge, where we started our bike ride, is a world famous, functional work of art designed by the Spanish architect and artist Santiago Calatrava. As its name implies, it is a working sundial. Its gnomon (the part that rises in the air to cast a shadow on the ground as the sun moves across the sky) is 217 feet; it is in a word, spectacular. The bridge’s deck is made up of glass (which makes it very hot in the summertime). We rolled across to start our ride.
The first few miles or so took us along the water under a tall tree canopy. Although the temperature started to climb, it was comfortable along the river. But as the trail rose to climb toward Shasta Dam, the trees began to be replaced by more scrubby bushes and the air got warmer. We climbed toward the next landmark: the Stress Ribbon Bridge.
Upriver from the Sundial Bridge, the Stress Ribbon Bridge connects two stretches of the Sacramento River Trail to Shasta Dam. This also unique structure has a slender deck of only 16 inches and a see-through railing that allows it to blend into the rocky walls along the river. Indeed, from far away, the bridge looks almost invisible, except when someone rolls or walks across it. The bridge’s support comes from steel cables in its concrete deck. These cables are connected to several rock anchors drilled into the solid bedrock on either side of the river.
We really should have started the ride earlier in the morning. We rolled up to the Heart Rate Hill overlook, just past the only at-grade street crossing we encountered, then decided to turn around and pointed our bikes back into town via the Diestelhorst Bridge, for some lunch.
Back at the Sundial Bridge and the parking lot at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, we off-loaded our bikes and walked around the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. These gardens contain 20 acres of display plants that thrive in Redding’s Mediterranean climate; the Arboretum extends for about 200 acres. It includes a children’s garden, a medicinal garden, and two beautiful water features. The botanical gardens are dog-friendly so you can explore with your four-legged family member as well.
The showpiece of the park is the Turtle Bay museum. The wood-and-glass museum contains interactive exhibits and two large galleries for special exhibits, with an eye to delight young families and teach a little about the history and culture of Redding and the surrounding area.
In addition to the family activities offered by Turtle Bay, there are other activities you can do in the area. Your choice of outdoor activity can be tempered by the level of adrenaline rush you prefer. The Upper Sacramento River, to the north of Redding, offers 30 continuous miles of white water on Class III+ rapids as rafters pass through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. There are several outfitters offering rafting experiences on this tributary of the Sacramento.
On the more mild side of water fun, are volunteer-led kayak tours at Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area. These free daily tours float visitors past the quiet coves of Whiskeytown Lake and are about two-and-a-half hours long. They are offered June through Labor Day, two times a day, 9:30 a.m. Monday through Sunday, with 5:30 p.m. tours Saturday through Thursday. For more information, call (530) 242-3462 to talk to a volunteer.
Paddle boards and kayak rentals are available for when you just want to explore on your own. Bring food and picnic on the beach at the Brandy Creek picnic area. Whiskeytown also has camping spots available.
The Whiskeytown NRA is located about 8 miles west of Redding along Highway 299. The 39,000 acres surrounding the lake hold four waterfalls, pristine mountain creeks, 70 miles of trails, and opportunities to learn a little of the history of the California Gold Rush.
Made for Exploration
On the way back into Redding from Whiskeytown on Highway 299 are several freestanding buildings and walls, the remnants of the once-bustling Gold Rush town, Shasta City. Now a state park, Shasta State Historic Park contains the remaining walls of the hotels, barbershops, bookstores, meat markets, and stables of a boomtown prospered from 1850-1890.
The region around Redding has activities year-around: Skiing in the winter on nearby Mt. Shasta, water skiing in the warm summer months on the lakes around the area; hiking and mountain biking the trails around Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and off the Sacramento River Trail, kayaking and river rafting the waterways; exploring the still-standing brick walls of old Shasta City. A local advocacy organization, Bike Redding, has maps of trails for off-road riding on as well as other resources to help you explore the area by mountain bike.
With all these avenues of adventure, you know you want to visit Redding. Make it happen this summer.