Caving at Pluto’s Cave Near Mt Shasta

The Shasta region of California has no shortage of great lava tubes to explore. My favorite is probably the Subway Tube in Lassen National Park, but Pluto’s Cave is a fantastic cave that I stumbled on. A short walk is all that is needed to access the massive cave, and it is a great spot to explore in the town of Weed. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 1.5 miles round trip, more if you go further in the cave
  • The trail is flat, but there are a lot of loose rock in the caves and some up and down portions in the dark
  • Bring a flashlight

Getting There

I would recommend using Google Maps to see where it is and not for the directions. It was showing me the wrong direction to get there, so here is what I recommend. Head out on Highway 97 from Weed. When you reach A12, also called the 99-97 Cutoff, then you will take a left. After a few miles, right after the Juniper OHV turnout on the right, you will see a small dirt road with the words Plutos Cave on the telephone pole next to it. 

Turn here onto the dirt road and continue about a quarter of a mile to the trailhead. This is a rough road, but it was passable with 2WD when we went. Just be careful as there were some large rocks jutting up in the road. The dirt parking area was small, but there was room for a dozen or so cars.

The Trail

There is a trailhead that informs you to have a flashlight and not take anything from the cave. This is good advice, and you should follow it.

The trail is just a flat single track for about a quarter of a mile. There are views of Shasta from here if it isn’t cloudy and views north as well.

The area is sparse with little shade, but it is very unique. After a quarter mile, you will reach the opening of the cave.

Descend carefully as it is loose lava rock and then when you get to the base you can head left first to see the small cave that goes back about 60 feet.

It is very smelly from the bat poop, and there is a lot of graffiti on it which is unfortunate.

After heading back out of that cave the way you came in, go to the right to head towards Plutos Cave.

There is a large rock arch you will walk under and then some shrubs you need to take the path through before you reach the cave opening.

The cave is massive and reminds me a little of Skull Cave in Lava Beds National Monument.

Heading down into it will require you to follow the best trail you see as you climb over rocks and into the cave itself. This is where you will need the flashlight as it gets dark. When you make it to the bottom, you will move from rocks to sand as you make your way back into the cave to the first cave in.

The first cave in is where you have likely seen photos of this cave before. It has a pretty big hole and lets in a lot of light.

Proceeding on from here and you will see the second cave in, that you will climb out of and into the light.

This part is only in the light for a little while before you will head back into the cave again.

We turned around after this entrance as I had read that the cave here goes about a mile in before a cave in stops you from going further, and it is in darkness the whole time. Proceed if you like, but I probably wouldn’t recommend you do that since it just leads to a dead end and is likely to be pretty sketchy in the darkness.

All in all, this is a great, short adventure in the Shasta / Weed area. It is an easy way for a family to get to experience a cave together, but just be sure you bring a flashlight.

Hedge Creek Falls in Dunsmuir

Hedge Creek Falls is a beautiful 35-foot waterfall only a quarter mile walk from the trailhead in Dunsmuir. This waterfall has one unique feature though, there is a large cave carved out behind it, and you can walk behind the waterfall. It’s a great whole family hike, here is all the information.

Details

  • .5 miles round trip
  • 100 feet of elevation
  • Location: 4131 Dunsmuir Ave, Dunsmuir, CA 96025

Getting There

The trailhead for the waterfall is right off North Highway 5 on the Siskiyou Ave exit. You will get off and turn left then a quick right at the first street. You will see the sign for Hedge Creek Falls, and there is parking in the dirt across from it. The parking is relatively limited though so it can fill on busy weekends.

The Trail

Crossing the street, you will be on the single track that will take you down to the waterfall.

The area is beautiful with large shaded trees you walk under.

The trail heads straight for a little while before bending onto a few switchbacks. This will take you down a little bit of elevation until you see the waterfall.

Hedge Creek Falls

When I went in 2017, and it was after a wet year, so the water was flowing like crazy. It was a beautiful waterfall, and there was only one other family there with us on a Saturday.

I took a bunch of pictures, even bringing the tripod out for this one since it was such a short hike. After taking it all in, be sure to walk down the path behind the waterfall.

This is just a cool thing to be able to do, but be prepared to get a little wet if you go when the water is flowing.

When you are done, you can continue on the trail which leads to an overlook of the river, or you can just head back up the way you came.

Hedge Creek Falls is a fantastic waterfall for only a little bit of work. It is a great quick stop on a road trip up Highway 5. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Yaks on the 5 In Dunsmuir: One of Northern California’s Best Road Trip Restaurants

Yaks on the 5 is one of the best restaurants along Highway 5 from Sacramento to the state line. It was even voted as one of the top in the United States when it made the Yelp Top 100 list in 2015, and I have confirmed it myself on multiple occasions. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it is full of unique flavor combinations (lavender ketchup anyone?) and down-home charm. It’s a little pricey though so know that going in; I don’t think you will leave feeling you didn’t get your moneys worth though. Here is all the information.

Details

  • Cost: $13-$18
  • Hours: Daily from 11:30 AM – 9 PM
  • Location: 4917 Dunsmuir Ave, Dunsmuir, CA 96025

Getting There

Yaks on the 5 is located right off the 5 Freeway; you can see it from the road. There is a sign an exit or two away as well, so you won’t miss it.  You will get off on Dunsmuir Ave and there is street parking around, as well as a lot in the back.

The Restaurant

Yaks is almost always busy, from the travelers that have heard stories about it to the locals that swear by its food. I have had to wait a few times, but you might get lucky and get a quick seat. The restaurant has tables strewn around two small rooms, and they do make the food fast, so it never seems to take long.

The menu is traditional American fare with hamburgers, salads, and sandwiches; but what sets them apart is the crazy combinations they add to their burgers. For example, there is a burger where they take their famous sticky buns and put a burger between it. Here is what we ordered after 10 minutes scouring the menu.

Scott’s Tots – Cheesy, savory goodness, it’s like a tater tot, and a mozzarella stick had a baby and then swaddled it in a layer of gooey cheese. We got bacon on the side cause my wife is a vegetarian, but the salty bacon makes the flavor come to life. It doesn’t look as good as it tastes but taste is all that matters, you need to order this to start your meal.

Garlic Burger – The most popular burger on the menu. These burgers are beautifully crafted and stacked high with ingredients. This one is a garlicky beast, but you should have already known that going in. The beef is cooked medium, and it is juicy and full of flavor. Add to that the cheese graciously melted on the home made bun and it’s a burger that is hard to beat. Even the fresh baked bun is a hit here as it is not too heavy and has an almost flakey crust.

Cilantro Veggie Burger – The home made veggie patty is a combination of beans and vegetables which makes it a versatile patty to pair with all the crazy burger options. The siracha lime aioli on this burger adds a nice citrus kick to it and the mountain of cilantro is great if you like that kind of thing. My wife does but not me. She went with the garlic fries but both of us like the chips better.

The burgers are served with a lavender ketchup and a garlic aioli. The home made lavender ketchup is the stand out here it has a subtle lavender taste but an excellent sweetness. I was a huge fan, and I don’t generally love ketchup. My wife even asked for more as it was that good.

Sticky Bun – Lastly, we ordered the most popular dish at the restaurant, the homemade sticky bun. These delicacies have a light bourbon flavor with a warm melting caramelly sauce. It’s so delicious and full of flavor, tasting like it was baked with love just like the sticky buns my grandma used to make. Bourbon, brown sugar and butter, what more do I need to say.

All in all, Yaks on the 5 is a great road trip stop. It is a little pricey, but it is what you would expect when you have so little options, and you use fresh ingredients. Let me know in the comments what you think if you give them a try and I highly recommend that you do.

Headwaters of the Sacramento River In Mt Shasta City Park

The Sacramento River is one of the most impressive natural resources in all of California, and if you are visiting the town of Mount Shasta, you can take this quick stop to visit its humble beginnings. Mount Shasta City Park, on the outskirts of town, features the start of the river and has become an almost spiritual spot for people to visit and drink from. I saw a half dozen people come fill up water bottles while I was there. It is a peaceful place for a quick visit and here is all the information.

Details

  • Free
  • Signs said water was not safe to drink from, but the Shasta City website said it was.
  • Location: Rd No 2M010 Mt Shasta, CA 96067

Getting There

From the 5 North, get off on Lake St and head right. Turn left on Mt Shasta Blvd, and you can take this all the way to the park. There are signs for the park, but it is easy to miss, if you make it to the freeway you went too far. Parking is available around the area, and it is easy to walk to the headwaters.

From the parking area, follow the signs to the headwaters, which are less than 150 feet from most parts of the park.

When you get to the peaceful and serene area, you can grab a seat on the bench or steps to watch the water calmly cascade over the small rocks into the stream.

If you stay for longer than 10 minutes, you will probably see at least a few people come and fill up their water bottles in the creek. The water is said to have healing qualities (if you believe in that type of thing) and people come from all over to drink from it.

I wanted to give the water a try since I was told in the city it was all right to drink from, and I can say it was a very fresh and clean tasting water. My wife and I were both impressed, but I didn’t fill up any bottles.

There is information around the area about where the river eventually runs and about why they consider this the source.

The water here is mainly coming out of an underground stream, so it is pretty cool to see.

After taking about 15 minutes to explore it, we headed back to our car. This is a great quick road trip stop or part of a longer journey in the Mount Shasta area, let me know what you think in the comments.

Lava Beds National Monument Guide: Caves, Buttes & Lava Fields

Lava Beds National Monument is the best park you have never been to. It is so far up in the Northeast part of California that it took me five years to finally make it, but I am glad I did. The monument itself has over 46,000 acres and on that property, it features more than 700 caves. Only 20 or so are easily accessed, but even if you don’t like caving, the park has hiking trails, history and more to get you excited. If it takes you five years to make it there like it took me, use this guide to find some of the park’s best attractions.

Caves

Of course, the reason to go is to explore the caves, and the five below are the best that I saw during my visit. Each one has something unique that sets it apart from the others, so don’t just visit one while you are there.

Skull Cave

Sentinel Cave

Sunshine Cave

Mushpot Cave

Golden Dome Cave

Hiking

Not to be outdone by the caves, there are a couple great hiking trails here. I have only got a chance to check out one, but it was great and provided amazing views.

Schonchin Butte

Lava Fields

While driving through the park, you will reach one particular part that is especially amazing for viewing lava fields, Devils Homestead Flow. This overlook provides a view of lava rock that goes almost as far as the eye can see. You can see it below.

Visitors Center

The park visitor center has information about the area and maps which show you how long each cave is. It is worth stopping by just for this, but if you forgot a hard hat or a flashlight, they were even checking them out from the visitors center if you left an ID.

Highlight Video

This short video shows some of the highlights from my time exploring the park.

Food & Gas

Unfortunately, there are no places for food or gas in the park, so make sure to bring in what you need.

Where to Stay

There is a campground in the park right next to the visitor’s center. Other than that there is nowhere else to stay in the park.

FAQ

Where do I get a map?

You will receive a map with information on the park when you enter. Visit the Visitor’s Center for more information on the caves themselves.



How much does it cost?

Current price is $15 but I always spring for the year pass to all the National Parks which is $80.



What if I forget a flashlight?

Without a flashlight you will not be able to enjoy the park, as the phone flashlight does not cut it. You can usually check one out from the Visitor’s Center though if it is open and they have some available.



Additional Information

My friend Chris wrote a great post about his favorite caves here and check out the NPS site for more info.

Now it is your turn, what did I leave off this list that you love exploring in Lava Beds National Monument? Be sure to leave them in the comments so that others can find them as well.

Sentinel Cave: The Longest Easy Cave in Lava Beds National Monument

As the longest of the nonextreme caves in Lava Beds National Monument, Sentinel Cave is an amazing experience for anyone who isn’t afraid of a little darkness. This cave has you hiking in the dark for about 15-20 minutes and over 3,280 feet. It’s pretty surreal when you do it and make sure to bring a flashlight, here is all the information.

sentinel cave-10

Details

  • 3,280 feet plus a .25 mile back to your car
  • Must have a good flashlight, preferably for all group members
  • Located in the cave loop

Getting There

sentinel cave-1

Sentinel Cave is in the Cave Loop right next to the Visitors Center with many of the other popular caves. The parking is easily marked, but since it is not a loop you will need to park at the upper or lower entrance. I recommend the lower as it gets the quarter mile hike to the entrance out of the way in the beginning, and then you walk downhill when you exit the cave at the end.

The Trail

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Starting from the lower lot you will be walking along a paved trail for a quarter mile.

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This trail is flat and easy to follow. At the end of it, you will reach the entrance to Lower Sentinel Cave.

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This entrance has rough rock stairs that you will be walking to get into the cave.

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About 40 feet from the entrance you are pretty much in darkness the rest of the 3,200 feet.

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The only time this is not the case is when you see a small section where the light shines through a hole in the roof.

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The cave has a better-maintained path than many of the others but it is still rough in parts, and you will need to climb over some larger rocks.

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Towards the middle of the cave, there is an area with metal bars that keeps you from falling into a giant hole in the cave floor.

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Continuing on, there is a metal bridge that takes you across a small chasm you wouldn’t be able to cross easily without it.

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I turned my flashlight off while in this cave, and it was pitch black and silent which was crazy.

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After that, I finally saw a light which noted the exit of the path.

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From here you will climb out on more rough stairs and then take the trail to the road and back down to where you parked.

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All in all, this was one of the most fun caves in the park, I mean how often can you walk for 20 minutes in a cave and exit the other end? Be sure to check it out when you are at the park and read more about the Lava Beds National Monument itself here.

Sentinel Cave: The Longest Easy Cave in Lava Beds National Monument

As the longest of the nonextreme caves in Lava Beds National Monument, Sentinel Cave is an amazing experience for anyone who isn’t afraid of a little darkness. This cave has you hiking in the dark for about 15-20 minutes and over 3,280 feet. It’s pretty surreal when you do it and make sure to bring a flashlight, here is all the information.

sentinel cave-10

Details

  • 3,280 feet plus a .25 mile back to your car
  • Must have a good flashlight, preferably for all group members
  • Located in the cave loop

Getting There

sentinel cave-1

Sentinel Cave is in the Cave Loop right next to the Visitors Center with many of the other popular caves. The parking is easily marked, but since it is not a loop you will need to park at the upper or lower entrance. I recommend the lower as it gets the quarter mile hike to the entrance out of the way in the beginning, and then you walk downhill when you exit the cave at the end.

The Trail

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Starting from the lower lot you will be walking along a paved trail for a quarter mile.

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This trail is flat and easy to follow. At the end of it, you will reach the entrance to Lower Sentinel Cave.

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This entrance has rough rock stairs that you will be walking to get into the cave.

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About 40 feet from the entrance you are pretty much in darkness the rest of the 3,200 feet.

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The only time this is not the case is when you see a small section where the light shines through a hole in the roof.

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The cave has a better-maintained path than many of the others but it is still rough in parts, and you will need to climb over some larger rocks.

sentinel cave-12

Towards the middle of the cave, there is an area with metal bars that keeps you from falling into a giant hole in the cave floor.

sentinel cave-13

Continuing on, there is a metal bridge that takes you across a small chasm you wouldn’t be able to cross easily without it.

sentinel cave-9

I turned my flashlight off while in this cave, and it was pitch black and silent which was crazy.

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After that, I finally saw a light which noted the exit of the path.

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From here you will climb out on more rough stairs and then take the trail to the road and back down to where you parked.

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All in all, this was one of the most fun caves in the park, I mean how often can you walk for 20 minutes in a cave and exit the other end? Be sure to check it out when you are at the park and read more about the Lava Beds National Monument itself here.

Sunshine Cave in Lava Beds National Monument

Sunshine Cave is unique in Lava Beds National Monument as it is one of the few caves that has cave-ins that let in the light. There are a couple of others in the park that have this but what sets Sunshine Cave apart is how big the cave in is and that the light coming through has allowed plants to grow in the cave itself. It’s a short cave, but it’s awesome. Here is all the information.

sunshine cave-1

Details

  • 466 feet
  • Need a good flashlight

Getting There

Sunshine Cave is located at the top of Cave Loop which starts from the visitor center. There is a small parking turnout next to it, but it isn’t super popular so it shouldn’t be full.

The Cave

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From the parking lot, it is about 20 feet up a small dirt trail to the start of the cave. The cave has a short entry staircase which is not as intense looking as the other cave entries are.

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Upon entering, you will need your flashlight as this cave has uneven ground and some areas where you need to watch your head.

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The cave is a relatively straight shot though, and you get to the first sunshine area in about 5 minutes.

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This area is pretty with the light, but the hole is fairly small, so it’s not as impressive as the second one. The next section is dark, and there is a place where you will need to bend over before getting into the second sunlight area.

sunshine cave-6

This one is big, and it is where the plants are growing in the light. It was hard to take great photos here because the lighting was harsh but it was much more beautiful in real life. From here you can head down a metal staircase and explore the back of the cave if you so desire, but it is pretty narrow back there and I didn’t find much to see.

sunshine cave-5

This is and out and back cave, so when you are done, you will head back the way you came. What’s nice about this cave is that it is less popular so there is a good chance you will have it all to yourself when you are there. Let me know what you think about this cave in the comments and check out more spots to explore in the area in this post.

Sunshine Cave in Lava Beds National Monument

Sunshine Cave is unique in Lava Beds National Monument as it is one of the few caves that has cave-ins that let in the light. There are a couple of others in the park that have this but what sets Sunshine Cave apart is how big the cave in is and that the light coming through has allowed plants to grow in the cave itself. It’s a short cave, but it’s awesome. Here is all the information.

sunshine cave-1

Details

  • 466 feet
  • Need a good flashlight

Getting There

Sunshine Cave is located at the top of Cave Loop which starts from the visitor center. There is a small parking turnout next to it, but it isn’t super popular so it shouldn’t be full.

The Cave

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From the parking lot, it is about 20 feet up a small dirt trail to the start of the cave. The cave has a short entry staircase which is not as intense looking as the other cave entries are.

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Upon entering, you will need your flashlight as this cave has uneven ground and some areas where you need to watch your head.

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The cave is a relatively straight shot though, and you get to the first sunshine area in about 5 minutes.

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This area is pretty with the light, but the hole is fairly small, so it’s not as impressive as the second one. The next section is dark, and there is a place where you will need to bend over before getting into the second sunlight area.

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This one is big, and it is where the plants are growing in the light. It was hard to take great photos here because the lighting was harsh but it was much more beautiful in real life. From here you can head down a metal staircase and explore the back of the cave if you so desire, but it is pretty narrow back there and I didn’t find much to see.

sunshine cave-5

This is and out and back cave, so when you are done, you will head back the way you came. What’s nice about this cave is that it is less popular so there is a good chance you will have it all to yourself when you are there. Let me know what you think about this cave in the comments and check out more spots to explore in the area in this post.

Golden Dome Cave in Lava Beds National Monument

Golden Dome Cave is a great lava tube in Lava Beds National Monument if you are feeling adventurous and want to do some more legit caving. This cave has a less defined trail and some areas which require you to bend over to get through, so it feels more intense than many of the other entry level caves in the park. That being said it is a great cave to see as it has unique yellow ceilings from the bacteria that becomes this way from light reflecting off the water in the cave. Here is all the information so you can check it out.

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Details

  • 2,229 feet
  • Must have a flashlight
  • Not recommended for beginners, or at least do a few other caves in the park first

Getting There

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Golden Dome Cave is one of the first caves you will reach when leaving the visitors center on Cave Loop. There is a parking pullout right near the entrance.

The Cave

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The cave is about 10 feet from where you park so you can’t miss it. The entry to this cave is more intense than the others I did. It has a very steep staircase and rocks that get really close to the staircase, requiring you to hug the stairwell since the opening is so narrow.

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Once you drop into the cave, you can go one of two directions, but the left of the staircase is the central area. This cave has a very rough floor so make sure you bring your flashlight and are paying attention.

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As you proceed back, it goes through a series of splits which can be a little scary but just note which way you went and it is pretty much just a figure 8 so you will be going around in a circle more than getting lost if you forget your way.

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I can honestly say that I am not sure if there is one particular section that qualifies as the golden dome here. I explored for a while and saw a lot of the yellow ceiling which was really cool but without markers, I had a hard time finding an exact section I thought fit the bill.

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The cave has a lot of places you will be ducking under as well, which makes it seem more intense and gets your adrenaline going. The good thing is that it’s popular and if you feel lost there is usually other people near you can ask or follow.

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We did find one section near the end that had a lot of the vibrant yellow on the ceiling which was cool. After exploring for about 20 minutes, we connected with another group and headed to the exit.

This is a fun cave to explore, but I would recommend you make it one of the last ones you do as the other caves will help give you a taste of what to expect before diving into the medium level caves like Golden Dome. Check out some of my other favorite caves spots to explore in the park here.