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On a hot day, visiting the caverns, which maintains a very comfortable ~68 degrees, is a welcome change.
When we arrived, it was probably close to 100 degrees outside. We were told by Redding locals that it might get cold in there, so we wore jeans and brought sweatshirts despite the heat outside. We shortly found that there was no need for the sweatshirts…oh, well.
There is a very narrow and twisty road that leads from the exit off I-5 to the caverns. But once you arrive, there is a large parking lot. It could easily fit RVs (we saw some smaller ones), but Ryan and I agreed we would never want to drive anything larger than 20-25 feet long on that road! Nonetheless, some people brought their rigs. Parking is free. There are some very nice, shaded picnic tables outside. They sell food, but we brought some of our own. At the turn-off before the caverns is a place called Holiday Harbor. They have a café and we bought some french fries and a salad, which we ate after we bought our tickets.
Tickets are $26 per person and include a boat ride, bus ride and tour of the lake. The whole tour is really not handicap-accessible. You must be able to walk (a lot) on uneven ground, up and down stairs, in dimly lit areas, on wet ground, and adapt to changing weather. I would recommend comfortable shoes. I wore my hiking boots with nice thick soles and treads. I would say if it’s cold outside then bring a light sweatshirt and maybe wear long pants, but between all the walking and the temperature inside the caverns, you probably won’t get cold.
To get to the caverns, you travel from the gift shop down the hill to the lake first. There is a combination of stairs and a paved walkway to get there. I can imagine on busy days, the line stretches the whole way. It’s nice to have shade from the surrounding trees!
At the bottom of the pathway, you walk down a dirt ramp to wait for the boat. The boat is also covered, which was much appreciated. And the fine spray coming off the water felt so nice!
The boat goes nearly straight across the lake. Then there’s another short hike up a hill. There’s an additional gift shop where you can buy little trinkets, water or some snacks. There may have been restrooms there too…I can’t remember at the moment.
From there you get picked up by a shuttle which climbs a hill on yet another narrow, winding road. At the top of the hill there are some spectacular views. I’m still trying to figure out how that guy drove the bus and gave the tour at the same time…I’d have to concentrate on driving so much that I’m sure I’d forget what I was saying and my voice would trail off.
At the top there are restrooms, the visitor center and of course, the caverns themselves.
The cavern tour is about an hour long, and was guided by a very informative young man who later revealed that this was his first job, ever, and he started it about 4 days prior to our tour!
Inside the cave, there is some lighting both to help you see and illuminate certain areas of interest. I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but where the lights pointed, moss would grow. Who knew that you could grow plants with regular spotlights??
After finishing the tour, you head back down some stairs to wait for the shuttle. Here’s the view from the top:
Then you do everything in reverse: take the shuttle back down to the boat, take the boat back across the lake, and hike back up the stairs to the gift shop. At which point we got a change of clothes out of the car (shorts, tank top and flip flops for me!) and changed. And drank a lot of water.
There are other activities at the lake. I believe they said there are a total of 7 harbors. You can launch a boat, rent one (it’s said to be the houseboat capital of the world!), or get a bite to eat. I believe they also have space for tent camping, some resorts, cabins and RV camping (hopefully off better roads than the one we took).
Tired of pictures? Want to feel more like you were there with us? Then watch this video! But be gentle, it’s my first video ever, shot from my old Android phone. We’re going to get an actual video camera someday soon, we just haven’t found the right one yet. I’ve also started a channel on YouTube (found here), where I’ll be posting additional videos. Subscribe for updates, as I may not post all the videos to the website.