Etna, California

The Golden State's last best place

Jan 8, 2004
Outside Magazine
best American towns Etna, California

A 21st-century wagon train along the Salmon River    Photo: Jonathan Sprague

best American towns Etna, California

THIS TIME-WARP RANCH TOWN in the Scott River watershed is one of the last untrammeled outposts of wild California—a well-situated launching point for backcountry rambles on foot or on water. In Etna's quaint one-block downtown, it's not uncommon to spot a cow or a horse shuffling down Main, past the barbershop and the hardware store. And the crime rate is low. "If somebody gets out of line," a resident explains, "the officer takes 'em home."

OUTDOORS: Think Yellowstone minus the gridlock. The Klamath National Forest and the Marble Mountain, Russian, and Trinity Alps wilderness areas are rich with snowcapped peaks, trout streams, and undammed snowmelt rivers (such as the Scott, as well as the Salmon and its forks) with long, plunging rapids and boulder gardens. There's backcountry snowboarding off Etna and Callahan summits, downhill skiing at nearby Mount Shasta, granite climbing routes at Castle Crags State Park, and, about ten miles away, the Pacific Crest Trail.
REAL ESTATE: Equity-rich retirees from elsewhere in California are starting to discover the area, so prices are creeping upward. The housing stock is a mixed bag, everything from exquisite 1870s homes in town to hillside ranches on ten acres a few miles out, for $250,000 to $300,000.
HANGOUTS: The Motel Etna is a good bet (doubles, $40–$50; 530-467-5338). Get generous portions of chicken-fried steak and blueberry pie for cheap while listening to hay farmers griping good-naturedly (sort of) about "goddamn environmentalists" at Bob's Ranch House.