Updated: Feb 22
Many say the Pacific Northwest begins in the far northern reaches of California; a place that locals adoringly refer to as the State of Jefferson. Largely disconnected from the population centers to the south, it's a region filled with emerald forests, wild rivers and streams- where the granite monoliths of the northern Coastal ranges meet the lava flows and volcanic peaks of the Cascades.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 257 miles, 3-6 days
Season: Late May - November
Technical Rating: Green (the 2 mile rocky jeep trail to Tamarack lake is rated blue)
Typical Terrain: Dirt forest service roads, some pavement, and a short stint on a rocky jeep trail.
Recommended Vehicle: Truck or SUV with 4x4 and all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage the entire route.
Alternative Routes: Yes! See bottom of route details for info.
Need a Rig?
We partner with respected rental outfitters throughout the continent. If you or someone in your party needs a fully equipped adventure vehicle, please consider one of our partners, and be sure to tell them that Overland Trail Guides sent you.
TopoTerra (San Diego)
In the 1990s and into the 2000s, the US Forest Service in association with the California State Parks OHV Division created the California Backcountry Discovery Trail. In reality, the BDT (backcountry discovery trail) was actually a series of independent overland routes that crossed the public lands of Plumas NF, Lassen NF, Modoc NF, Mendocino NF, Six Rivers NF and Cow Mountain (BLM) that could sometimes be interlinked together. For whatever reason, the USFS abandoned its work, and in some cases the corresponding materials were removed from their websites altogether (Mendocino NF and Six Rivers NF). At Overland Trail Guides, we recognize the good yet laborious work of the USFS in creating the California Backcountry Discovery Trail-- and we plan to pick up where the USFS left off, which brings us to the importance of the Shasta-Trinity Backcountry Discovery Trail. Straddling the coastal ranges to the west and the southern Cascades to the east, the Shasta-T (as locals call it) sits at a key geographical location. We've dubbed the Shasta-Trinity BDT (Backcountry Discovery Trail) the "missing link", as it enables overlanders and off road enthusiasts alike with the ability to interlink the various Backcountry Discovery Trails together creating a network of mostly dirt roads and trails that extends over 1,000 miles. At over 2.2 million acres, the Shasta-Trinity spans a number of unique geological zones. The mostly sedimentary coastal mountains to the south begin to uplift into craggy granite peaks and monoliths as you move towards the Trinity Alps, while to the east, the volcanic soils and mountains of the Cascades dominate the landscape. The 250+ miles of the Shasta-Trinity BDT travels through lush conifer forests that the Pacific Northwest is famous for, drier and rockier alpine forests at higher elevations, and the high desert that surround northern and eastern flanks of Mt Shasta that extends to the Modoc Plateau.
While Shasta-Trinity BDT follows a north-south trajectory, it can be driven in either direction. We recommend running the route starting at the southern end, as this allows the opportunity for Mt Shasta presents as the grand finale along the final leg of the route. The track consists of primarily graded dirt forest service roads (and a short stint on a rocky jeep trail on the way to Tamarack lake), but there is some pavement (backroads and highways) which allows the connection of various dirt backroads and byways. The backroads of the southern portion of the route see very little vehicular traffic, so make sure that you're equipped to handle any potential mechanical issues along the route. As you near Tamarack lake, expect to see a lot more people in the forest. Speaking of Tamarack lake, this is one of our favorite campsites along the route, and if you arrive early, you may be lucky enough to snag the lakefront campsite.
Like Shasta-Trinity National Forest, which is well known for its fishing, swimming, and boating/kayaking, the Shasta-Trinity BDT affords similar opportunities. There is an exquisite swimming hole at the South Fork Trinity River (DP3), and more swimming and fishing opportunities at Tamarack Lake, Gumboot Lake, and the east and main forks of the Trinity River. If hiking is your thing, consider checking out some of the lesser travelled trails near Ruth Lake and Pickett Peak. Mt Shasta (permits required in some cases) and the surrounding mountains near Mt Eddy, Castle Crags and Tamarack lake all feature extensive trail networks as well.
Traveling through a number of diverse ecological and geological zones, the Shasta-Trinity really is an outdoor wonderland. Those that seek solitude will love the emptiness of the southern half of the route. And for those that yearn for the craggy and snow capped peaks of the alpine, the northern section presents astounding vistas of the Trinity Alps, Castle Crags, and Mt Shasta. And if you're looking for something a bit more technical, consider exploring the dozens of miles of jeep trails surrounding Tamarack Lake. You really can't go wrong with this track!
The Shasta-BDT can be linked with the following Backcountry Discovery Trails to create an extended off road adventure.
Dispersed camping is permitted through the national forest, but some of our favorite campsites include:
Pickett Peak Campground (dispersed)
Hobart Creek (just south of the NF campground is a lakefront campsite)
The southern flanks of Mt Shasta (dispersed camping)
DP1 - Pickett Peak Fire Lookout
DP2 - Horse Ridge Fire Lookout
DP3 - South Fork Trinity River
DP4 - Hall City Caves
DP5 - Deerlick Springs Resort
DP6 - Trinity Mountain viewpoint
DP7 - Trinity Lake
DP8 - Castle Crags
DP9 - Tamarack Lake
DP10 - Gumboot Lake
DP11 - Headwaters of the Sacramento River
DP12 - Mud Creek Water Crossing
DP13 - Mt Shasta
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (USFS 2016 Layer, Gaia base layer)
USFS Shasta-Trinity NF paper map
Download GPX files
TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.