The Trinity Divide is not a mountain range that is known for spectacular canyons. While the seldom-visited canyon of the North Fork of the Sacramento could possibly characterized as such, most of the canyons in the range are simply forested gorges with attractive creeks. At first glance, Ney Springs Canyon would fit this description but beneath the bland veneer of trees on a slope, the canyon harbors some surprisingly fine hidden gems. Namely, the canyon boasts a beautiful waterfall, some fascinating ruins, a roaring creek, and an excellent, well developed climbing area that is accessible in winter, when most other crags are out of reach.
While the canyon itself is not a spectacular gorge, the eye is still drawn to it because of the striking pinnacle of rock piercing the horizon above the canyon. Castle Spire is visible from throughout the Mount Shasta City area. Though not part of the canyon, this towering formation, the high point of the Castle Crags, is a useful landmark in identifying the location of the canyon. Less prominent though still easily visible is a small peak that some refer to as “Little Castle Peak”. The cliffs of this peak constitute the headwall of Ney Springs Canyon. At the foot of “Little Castle Peak” is Little Castle Lake, which is the source of Ney Springs Creek. The lake is surrounded by some attractive meadows and the area has great views of Mount Shasta. While this is part of the canyon, it is not accessed via the same route as the lower section, where the aforementioned falls, ruins and crags are located. Rather, Little Castle Lake is accessed via the Castle Lake Trail, climbing out of the Castle Lake basin en route to Mount Bradley.
The upper portion of Ney Springs Canyon is within the boundary of the Castle Crags Wilderness. Beyond the wilderness area the canyon retains its wilderness character with the exceptions of two crossings by seldom used Forest Service roads. This section of the canyon is fairly precipitous, dropping 2,200 feet in nearly 3 miles.
Aside from Little Castle Lake and the Castle Lake Trail in the uppermost parts of the canyon, most interest is focused in the last miles of the canyon, before Ney Springs Creek joins the Sacramento River. Here is found Faery Falls, an attractive 40 foot waterfall and the ruins of the Ney Springs Resort, a late 19th century mineral springs resort that is now a mysterious, overgrown ruin. Between the falls and the ruins, a trail climbs up the side of the canyon and reaches the base of a crag where local climbers have developed a series of routes.
Ney Springs Resort
Several resorts centered on springs were founded in the Mount Shasta area in the late 19th century. The most well known was the Shasta Springs Resort, located just north of Dunsmuir. Though not as large, the Ney Springs Resort still boasted an extensive complex and drew guests for many years. John Ney discovered the springs in 1887 and within a few years the resort had been established. At its height, the resort boasted a hotel that could accommodate 50 people, a bathhouse, and various outbuildings including a barn and a carriage house. Water was also piped into small structures to house the spring water. Boardwalks were reportedly constructed through the forest as well.
Today, little remains of the resort. The forest has reclaimed the site, leaving little of the resort’s remnants visible to the naked eye. The most obvious sections are a large retaining wall that once housed a fountain and another retaining wall leading down to a stone platform next to the creek. The platform holds a couple of cisterns. Some of the pipes used to transport the spring water can still be found and in places they have broken and the water continues to flow out of the breach. A hundred yards or so below the primary ruin, a level, raised area created by piling rocks can be discerned. Though unconfirmed, this was probably the barn or carriage house. There seems to have been little effort to uncover more of the resorts ruins. The way the forest has reclaimed the area gives it an attractive, eerie quality.
Access to the falls is simple. The old road passes through the resort area. The old fountain is on the north side of the road. The cisterns are on the left, south, side of the road, down by the creek.
A short distance from the Ney Springs Resort ruins is Faery Falls, an attractive, 40 foot cataract. Today, the falls is what draw most people into Ney Springs Canyon, though its proximity to the resort suggests it was equally popular to the canyon’s guests in the 19th century. The fall has two tiers. At the top of the second tier, the creek splits in two and fans out over the rock. In low water half of the fan disappears.
To reach the falls, continue past the resort ruins for 0.25 miles. Pass a cairn-marked use trail leading down to a small fall on the creek just after the ruins. Beyond this point, note an old road turning right off of the main road. Just beyond this junction another cairn-marked use trail heads down to the creek, the falls now being quite audible. There are several good vantages for the falls and it is possible to climb all the way to the base.
Ney Springs Climbing
A well developed climbing area has been established at some crags on Ney Springs Canyon’s northern wall. The area has a couple dozen routes. The Ney crags are an excellent option for climbers during winter. Being on the north wall of the canyon, the crags get a full days sun, which keeps them free of ice and melts the snow off quickly after a storm. Furthermore, the area is relatively low elevation snow does not build up too much on the access routes. If the road to the springs is impassable, which is atypical, it is also possible to access the area by rappelling down from above. To do so means parking on Castle Lake road and hiking a short distance cross-country. The only drawback to this option is that it means a short jaunt across some private land.
To access the crag from the canyon, hike past the resort ruins. Just before the falls, an old road branches off to the right and begins climbing. A hundred yards or so off the main road there will be a large clearing on the left. Head into the clearing and look for the use trail heading uphill to the left. There are usually cairns marking this spot but the trial is pretty obvious from the clearing. Eventually the use trail will split, leading to different sections of the crag.
More detail on climbing at Ney Springs can be found here.
Views of climbing area
From the town of Mt. Shasta, head west on W. Lake, crossing over I-5. At the stop sign, turn left onto Old Stage Road. After 0.25 miles, veer right onto WA Barr Road. Continue south, crossing over the dam that impounds the Sacramento River and forms Lake Siskiyou. Just past the dam, make a left hand turn onto Castle Lake Road. Immediately make another left turn onto gravel, well maintained, Ney Springs Road. Continue straight at 1 mile, passing the turn to the Ney Springs/Cantara Wildlife area. The road will turn to the west. After another 0.5 miles there is a large clearing on the left. Park here and hike up the road on the right. It is possible to continue driving up the road and some do, but it seems sensible to leave the car at this point, as the road degrades significantly beyond the clearing.
Part of the Ney Springs Canyon, specifically the area around and below Little Castle Lake, is in the Castle Crags Wilderness. Normal wilderness rules and ethics apply. It is also important to respect the Ney Springs Resort ruins. It is uncertain if they have the same legal protections given to Native American sites but that should not impede a healthy does of respect for the ruins.
A permit is required for campfires.
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002
Mount Shasta Ranger Station
204 West Alma
Mt. Shasta, CA 96067
The nearest campground is located at Lake Siskiyou. A smaller, attractive campground is located 7 miles up Castle Lake Road. There is dispersed camping in and around the canyon, though not on state property at the Ney Springs/Cantara Wildlife Area, which one must pass through to get to the canyon. There is a really nice campsite just below the main ruins on the pad for the resorts barn or carriage house. It is level, well shaded, with a large fire ring and close to springs and the creek.