Mount Shasta, Black Butte, Rainbow Ridge and Wagon Creek
Far beneath the lofty summits of Mount Shasta and Mount Eddy, the Strawberry Valley is the tranquil gap between the Cascade and Klamath Mountains, to disparate yet stupendous mountains ranges. While the mighty cone of Mount Shasta forms the eastern fringe of the valley, the western, Klamath side has a much less distinguished, far less spectacular boundary. Rainbow Ridge stretches for five miles from Lake Siskiyou to Mills Meadow. Along its length it forms the western edge of Strawberry Valley. Views of the ridge are ubiquitous from nearly everywhere in the Mount Shasta City area, though it is understandably overlooked because of the looming towers of Mount Eddy and the rest of the Eddy Range. Indeed, the ridge is little more than a footnote at the foot of the mighty Trinity Divide.
However, despite the fact that the highpoint of Rainbow Ridge is one of the lowest summits in the Trinity Divide, it is also requires one of the longest hikes to reach the top. This is due to the mosaic of land ownership around the summit. Though there is a short and lung-bustingly steep route to the summit, there is a brief but necessary crossing over private land that prevents a quick attempt at the summit. This necessitates a far longer hike than is necessary to reach most of the other summits in the Trinity Divide. To reach the summit, one must begin at the southernmost point on the ridge and hike the entire 5 mile length of the ridge to reach the summit. Is the endeavor worth the effort? While this is a subjective proposition, the effort does indeed seem worth it after a long winter and before the high country is clear of snow. The low elevation does mean that the route to the summit is one of the earliest to open up in the Mount Shasta area.
Mills Meadow and the view north from the summit of Rainbow Ridge
As state previously, Rainbow Ridge is a 5 mile long ridge that stretches the length of the Strawberry Valley. Although it averages between 500 to 600 feet of relief above the valley floor, at its summit Rainbow Ridge towers 1,100 feet above the flat land below. Beyond the summit, the ridge is connects to the rest of the Trinity Divide by a narrow neck that abuts the base of Mount Eddy. This neck connects to the main bulk of the mountain adjacent to Wagon Creek’s drainage. A hike to the summit should also include a trip to Wagon Creek. In the spring, the runoff in the creek is ferocious. The ridge also forms the divide between Wagon Creek and Deer Creek, both of which feed into the Sacramento River. Though logged and burned in the past, Deer Creek still has a wild, seldom seen watershed. Attractive meadows cling to the western walls of the canyon.
Not surprisingly, the views from the summit are excellent. If one care rip away from the overwhelming view of Mount Shasta, then one can see the entire southern length of the Cascade Range. From Lassen Peak, Brokeoff Mountain and Crater Peak in the south to the Goosenest and Mount McLoughlin in the north. Black Butte, Spring Hill and the entire Strawberry Valley, including impressive Mills Meadow lie at the feet of the ridge. Lastly, excellent Mount Eddy towers high above to the west. It is true that other, better views are had on the summits of the higher peaks (particularly Mount Eddy) but none can be had this early in the year.
Mount Shasta and Black Butte
Rainbow Ridge Map
Rainbow Ridge environs
Rainbow Ridge connecting to Mount Eddy
There are three ways to reach the summit of Rainbow Ridge. The shortest route is the steepest. This route climbs 1,100 miles in a mile. It goes directly to the summit. Unfortunately, it is necessary to cross over private land to reach the national forest and the summit. If motivated inquire about how to contact the land owner.
The main route to the summit is a 5 mile hiking or mountain biking route along the top of the ridge. The route passes some radio towers near the beginning or the trek but is essentially wild beyond that point. The road is not level but has a constant fluctuation between up and down. Views of Mount Shasta occur intermittently along the entire length of the ridge, though the best are to be had at the upper end of the ridge, at or near the summit. Wagon Creek can be reached by following the trail from the summit west, toward Mount Eddy. Before the trail turns south, an obvious track leads north, over a small rise and then descends steeply to a ford of the creek. The falls are below the ford while the cascade is about 0.25 miles upstream. Rather than bushwack from the for, backtrack a bit and then head steeply up the slope on the west side of the trail.
Snowy view from the summit of Rainbow Ridge
If the other two options do not seem attractive, there is a third route to the summit. One can either hike, bike or drive along a rough forest road on the west side of Deer Creek, on the back side of Rainbow Ridge. The road becomes to narrow for anything larger than a quad 4 miles after passing the last parking area at Lake Siskiyou. Beyond this point the narrow road continues another 4 miles to the summit, passing Wagon Creek en route. A great loop can be constructed from the latter two routes.
Rainbow Ridge routes
The Sacramento River at the southern terminus of Rainbow Ridge
At the central Mount Shasta exit on I-5, head west on Lake Street. When the road dead ends at the fish hatchery, turn left onto Old Stage Road. After 0.25 miles veer right onto WA Barr Road and continue for about a mile. Turn right onto North Shore Road. The route up Rainbow Ridge begins near where the road crosses Wagon Creek. However, it may be necessary to continue along North Shore Road to find a place to park. To reach the Deer Creek route's trailhead, continue on North Shore Road for another two miles to the final parking area on Lake Siskiyou's northern shore.
Wagon Creek cascade flowing toward Rainbow Ridge
Even though Rainbow Ridge is not in an officially designated wilderness area, normal wilderness rules and ethics should be applied. Please be respectful of private property and seek permission beforehand.
A permit is required for campfires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002
Mount Shasta Ranger Station
204 West Alma
Mt. Shasta, CA 96067
A large campground is available at Lake Siskiyou. Smaller but more attractive campgrounds are found near Castle Lake and Gumboot Lake, both of which are accessed off of South Fork Road. Camping is also available at McBride Springs, just outside of Mount Shasta City on the slopes of Mount Shasta and at the KOA in town.
When To Go
The southernmost Cascades viewed from Rainbow Ridge
Due to its low elevation, Rainbow Ridge is accessible year round. Spring, Summer and Fall all offer comfortable temperatures in which to hike or mountain bike to the summit. Summer can be hot at times, but it is still generally comfortable, especially if climbing up to Wagon Creek where it is a little higher and the cool snow melt is refreshing. Rainbow Ridge can also be summited in winter on either snowshoes or skis. However, it is a long trip from the Lake Siskiyou access point. It is much more reasonable to attempt from the access point below the summit but this requires permission from the land owners. Even with this, it is a steep climb to the top.
Current ConditionsNOAA Forecast
for Rainbow Ridge area.
External LinksShasta-Trinity National Forest