Lake Shasta Caverns is one of three known caverns in the deep limestone beds of Shasta County. The beds originated 250 million years ago when the area was submerged and was subjected to folding of the earth’s crust. This ultimately created the Klamath Mountain range. Subsequent submerging, volcanic action and uplifting of the earth’s crust created the perfect environment for the formation of caverns.
There are many theories on how caves are formed. Evidence supports the belief that the hollowing out of mountains begins when ground water flows through fissures in the limestone. Carbonic acid created by decayed organic matter is carried by surface water through the cracks and dissolved the softer part of the limestone. This creates a “swiss cheese” effect inside the mountain. Calcium carbonate is deposited in the voids and slowly accumulates to create calcite formations. These speleothems or formations take hundreds of years to form and come in a remarkable variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The most common formations are stalactities (hang from the ceiling) and stalagmites (grow up from the ground). Discover how many more formations there are, some quite extraordinary and all beautiful!
Discovering Lake Shasta Caverns
The caverns were long known to the Wintu Indians who lived in the area. The cave was first known as Potter Creek Cave. In the 1870’s a fish hatchery and small town were built on the McCloud River (today both reside more than 300 feet underwater) and the cave was named Baird Cave to honor the first U.S. Fish Commissioner in the area. A hatchery employee, J. A. Richardson officially discovered the caverns. His inscription, written in carbon on November 3, 1878 is evidence of his “discovery”. Since 1878 to the present time, only a few hardy “spelunkers” have descended deep into the caverns.
Opened to the public in 1964 as a natural attraction, today Lake Shasta Caverns offers our guests a comfortable ride across the McCloud arm of Shasta Lake and unique visit to the nearly pristine and carefully preserved cavern. To date, close to two and a half million people have enjoyed a visit to the caverns. From tiny cave coral and gravity defying helectites to magnificent cave drapery and columns, there is much to see!