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While Redding, California is known to be the home of the some of the most beautiful wilderness in the western United States, there’s also fascinating historic tales that go along with the landscape. From Native American wars to Gold Rush settlements to geologic and volcanic marvels, there’s thousands of years of history in the region.
If you’re looking for a fun history lesson of the area, here are 8 must-see sites for history buffs near Redding, California:
Shasta State Historic Park
In the mid-1800s, the town of Shasta sitting just 6 miles west of Redding, California was the largest town in Shasta County. The mining community was a bustling settlement of Forty-Niners looking for their shot at the millions of dollars in Gold Rush riches from the 1850s to 1880s. At its peak, 3,500 residents shared a blacksmith shop, general store and courthouse near what is now the beautiful waters of Whiskeytown Lake.
Today, the ruins of the once vibrant Gold Rush town remain in “Old Shasta,” with restorations allowing visitors to take a walk through Northern California history in what was once called the “Queen City” of California’s northern mining district.
The grounds of Shasta today are incorporated in the Shasta State Historic Park, which include a courthouse museum, 19th-century brick ruins, a post office, a church, a cemetery and the historic bakery. Walking through this site will give you a unique glimpse into the past of Northern California, and you can enjoy it during a brief afternoon or immerse yourself in its history for an entire day.
Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark
A tour of the Lake Shasta Caverns reveals not only a history of humans in the area, but also 250 million years of cave formations.
The Wintu Tribe knew used the cave as a cultural site for at least hundreds of years, as it sat in the hills well above the Sacramento River before Shasta Dam was constructed. In 1878, an employee of a McCloud River fish hatchery discovered the cave, becoming the first settler to ever see the cave.
In 1964, the caverns opened to the public, showing tours of the beautiful cave formations and providing a history of the area to visitors. While the cave is developed to create a lasting experience for tour groups, it also includes relics of the cave’s exploration throughout the 1900’s.
Here’s our trip to the beautiful and historic cave along Shasta Lake:
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Snow-capped mountains, boiling hot springs and volcanic eruptions may be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Lassen Volcanic National Park, but the hundred year park history is written in both story and stone. Humans have intertwined their legacy with the geologic story that makes up this rugged place.
For thousands of years, the area that is now Lassen Volcanic National Park was frequented by four American Indian Tribes – the Yana, Yahi, Atsugewi and Mountain Maidu. Today, the Mountain Maidu and Atsugewi are still thriving cultures surrounding the park. One group of Atsugewi still come to the park every year for a celebratory tribal run in the shadow of Lassen Peak. In more recent years, American settler traversed the northern boundary of the park along the Nobles Emigrant trail in search of better lives for themselves.
Not only is there a long human history in Lassen, but it’s also home of the violent eruption of Lassen Peak just over 100 years ago. It was the late-afternoon of May 22, 1915 when Lassen Peak exploded in a powerful eruption that blasted rock fragments and pumice high into the air and sent a column of gas and volcanic ash 30,000 feet into the air. It’s a reminder of the volatile volcanic activity in Northern California.
William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park
For just 22 days in 1846, California went under the name California Bear Republic, as proclaimed by William B. Ide. Adjacent to the Sacramento River in Red Bluff sits the William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park memorializing the bold proclamation and remembering the bustling Gold Rush in Northern California.
Today, visitors of the park will learn about the hardships of settlers in the 1800s with ranch buildings and educational programs. You can learn how steamboats trekked down the Sacramento River and the ferry programs of the time that helped travelers cross the mighty river.
In 1938, thousands of hardworking people arrived in rural Shasta County to build a dam and a dream. Shasta Dam brought much needed work during the Great Depression. It meant renewed pride for the builders and the country desperate for reprieve from its financial struggles. The construction of Shasta Dam provided work for 2,700 people, and drastically changed the economy of rural Shasta County.
Not only did the building of Shasta Dam alter the natural landscape of the area, it also put a historic boomtown under 400-feet of water. Kennett, California once prospered in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with numerous stores, saloons, a hotel and a schoolhouse. Now, it sits at the bottom of Shasta Lake. And while the artifacts of this town are now lost to the 400-feet deep waters of the lake, the photos and stories sit in the experience of Shasta Dam.
If you want to learn more about the dam’s history, construction or Kennett, there is a visitor center with helpful information where you can sign up to take a two to three hour tour of the structure. Find out how the dam changed the landscape of California with a tour of the impressive structure.
Lava Beds National Monument
Although this destination is about a 3-hour drive from Redding, it sits as one of the most fascinating historical sites in California. The Lava Beds National Monument is a land of turmoil, both geologic and historic. According to the National Park Service, the area is one of the “longest continually occupied areas in North America.”
A visit to Lava Beds can give you a glimpse into its 20 developed lava tube caves that are open to the public. But for history buffs, a trip through the history of Native American culture in the area, including the bloody Modoc War, is the best part of the trip. At several locations in the Monument, petroglyphs can be found, including Petroglyph Point which has been carved into for generations and some believe the carvings are 6,000 years old.
Whiskeytown began much like most other 1849 Gold Rush mining communities – as a modest collection of shabby tents. Young trailblazers, mostly men, manned the tents in the evening and scoured nearby creeks and earth for gold during the day.
Then on September 28th, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy traveled to Redding to dedicate the Whiskeytown Dam, which formed a beautiful lake for outdoors adventurers. Just seven weeks later, JFK was assassinated in one of the most shocking events in American history.
Today, you can learn about the history of the park, including its early mining days and the creation of the lake, in its visitors center. Or you can take in the beauty of the park, which includes the stunning lake and four waterfalls.
Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park
Probably the most unique park on this list sits in Weaverville, where the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California sits. The Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park is a functioning Taoist temple as well as a State Park, and it shows the culture of the Chinese immigrants who came to NorCal in the 1800s to find gold and build the railroads.
Today, The Temple among the Trees Beneath the Clouds looks the same as when it was built in 1874 (the original temple, built in 1849, burned down) and shows the culture of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants living in NorCal in the 19th-century. Visitors will see Chinese art objects, pictures, mining tools, and wrought iron weapons used in the 1854 Tong War. Every Chinese New Year and Fourth of July, a lion dance is performed for visitors.