Shasta Dam: A Guide to One of California’s Engineering Marvels

One of the jewels of Northern California is Shasta Lake. Its emerald green depths stretch for miles, welcoming people from all over the world. Houseboats ply its waters year-round, and the fishing is second to none. Swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, diving and camping are just a few of the activities the lake offers. The crystalline waters of Shasta Lake are made possible by one thing – the architectural wonder that is known as Shasta Dam.

Shasta Dam was created mainly for flood control and to supply water to the Central Valley and help irrigate California’s fields during the summer and fall, though it does supply hydroelectric energy as well. When finished in 1945, it was the second tallest dam in America at 602 feet. Today it is the ninth tallest dam, and the second highest concrete dam in the U.S., and still the engineering marvel it has always been. Shasta Dam created a 35-mile-long lake with 365 miles of shoreline and is one of the great recreation spots in America. So here’s a handy guide to help you get there and enjoy the wonder of Shasta Dam.

1. How to get there:

The dam is easy to find. Whether you’re heading north or south on Interstate 5, take the Shasta Dam Blvd exit #685 and drive west about 6 miles on Shasta Dam Boulevard, which is also called state route 151. This is the longer route, but you’re rewarded with a vista point where you can take a picture of the Three Shasta’s: Shasta dam, Shasta Lake, and Mt. Shasta, all in one snapshot. Once you’re finished you can head down to the dam. From Interstate Five it’s about 8 miles.

2. What to do:

There’s plenty of parking at the dam and it’s only a short walk from the lot. Walk along the dam and enjoy the view – from the north side the lake and Mt. Shasta can be seen, and on the south side is the spillway and the Sacramento River. There are free guided tours of the dam. Just head to the visitor’s center and get a ticket. There are certain items you won’t be allowed to take on the tour such as pocket knives, electronics, bags or purses. Cell phones and cameras are OK as long as they are not in a bag. It is recommended you arrive at least a half hour before the tour begins. When the tour starts you will take the elevator down to the bottom of the dam. Listen to the sound the elevator makes very closely. Sound familiar? It’s the sound of the Millennium Falcon’s engines from Star Wars. George Lucas, while on vacation, heard the sound and decided to use it in his new movie ‘Star Wars.’

There are shaded picnic tables and green grass to help you enjoy your time at the dam. The visitor center is open year-round, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, you can call the center at (530) 275-4463.

3. What to take:

You’ll need to take your own food and water up to the dam as there are no services. Restrooms and picnic facilities are available. The summers in northern California can easily reach 100 degrees and beyond so be prepared. Hats and sun screen are a good idea. Bring cameras as the dam and lake are very picture friendly and you won’t want to go home without some of the beautiful images this area offers. The nice thing about Shasta Dam and the visitor’s center is that you can go at your own pace, so you can take as much time as you want. So the next time you find yourself blasting down Interstate Five, take a quick detour to Shasta Dam and take in one of the great sights of the west. You’ll know why the locals consider it a jewel!


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