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Otter Bar Lodge
LEARN TO KAYAK THE RIGHT WAY: On the west side of the Trinity Alps, the Salmon River cuts through the much-heralded Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School, which boasts world-class paddling instructors and front-porch access to Class IIIIV whitewater. Otter Bar has perfected a seven-day program that will take you from the pond to Class III rapids. And even though the lodge is completely off the grid, it's still home to some of the best meals within 50 miles. 530-462-4772, www.otterbar.com
THE NAME WAS COINED IN 1510 by the Spanish romance novelist Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo, with paradise in mind, and bestowed three decades later by his countryman Cortés upon a new land on the west coast of North America. But in recent years, any mention of "California" and "paradise" in the same breath has been met with an emphatic smirk, if not a good thrashing. The state's glory days, according to the shopworn story, long ago faded in the wake of wildfires, mudslides, smog, and Uzi-toting pot farmers. Well, conventional wisdom be damned. I propose a rediscovery of all that makes the state golden. No other place comes close to matching California's epic variety of sport and spectacle. Let's put it this way: As soon as I hear of another location with 1,100 miles of coastline, hundred-mile mountain ranges, monster whitewater, storied granite walls, huge deserts, redwood groves, gray whales, herds of elk, live oaks, palm trees, Mediterranean weather, and an orange tree in the backyard . . . I'm there.Mike Grudowski
Shasta-Trinity's Backcountry Bonanza
Epicenter: Lakehead, California
Get Misty: A well-guarded secret until last year, Whiskeytown Falls, in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, is a 220-foot-high cascade with three granite tiers that rivals the largest falls in the nation. A two-mile trail to the falls should be completed by this summer. 530-246-1225, www.nps.gov/whis
Ski a Volcano, In June: Near the top of your Shasta-T list should be climbing 14,162-foot Mount Shasta and taking the easy way down. Through late June or early July, you can ski or board 7,000 feet of tasty corn, from summit to parking lot. Join up with North American Ski Training Center for the annual guided Shasta Climb-and-Ski trip, June 24. 530-582-4772, www.skinastc.com
Climb Without Crowds: Grab a handhold on the granite spires, domes, and walls found in Castle Crags State Park, near Dunsmuir, which includes such epic multipitch routes as the 4,966-foot Castle Dome. Compared with Yosemite, Castle Crags is deserted. 530-235-2684, www.parks.ca.gov
Circumnavigate Shasta: The Circle of Mount Shasta is a 50-mile mountain-bike route that starts near the town of Mount Shasta and rounds the peak counterclockwise, taking you past glaciers and lava flows and through dense pine forests and sprawling meadows. Start at dawn and you'll be able to pull it off by sundown. 530-226-2500, www.fs.fed.us/r5/shastatrinity
Rush a Salmon: Late in the summer, professional kayaker/filmmaker Rush Sturges, of Forks of Salmon, suggests freediving the Salmon River. "Don a mask, snorkel, and diving fins and dive some of the deeper pools," says Sturges, whose family owns Otter Bar Lodge. "They'll be packed with 30 or 40 salmonbig ones, like up to three feet long."
The perfect campsite for exploring the area is at the waterfront Minersville or Bushytail campgrounds on Trinity Lake, near Weaverville. The Forest Service recently renovated both campgrounds. 530-226-2500, www.fs.fed.us/r5/shastatrinity
From June to October, stay at the 110-year-old Drakesbad Guest Ranch, deep inside Lassen Volcanic National Park. It offers rustic accommodations (most without electricity), horseback rides, fly-fishing tours, massages, a hot-spring-fed swimming pool, and access to thermal geysers at Boiling Springs Lake. From $134, including meals; 530-529-1512, www.drakesbad.com
In the middle of all the action is Lakehead's 60-year-old roadhouse, Klub Klondike, the ideal spot for kicking back with a Leon's Freon Ale, chicken and ribs smoked on the premises, live bluegrass, and a spring-loaded floating dance floor. 530-238-2009Mark Anders