Mount Shasta towers over Northern California right now like a giant ice diamond. After an epic winter, the 14,179-foot peak is glazed with a layer of deep white snow.

It’s also the centerpiece of one of America’s greatest regions for adventures, getaways and vacations. The landscape for outdoors recreation here spans 10 million acres across national forests, parks and wilderness areas, with hundreds of lakes, streams and mountain peaks, where you can venture out to hike, camp, boat, fish, raft, bike and climb.

This year, however, as the region gears up for prime time for tourism, it finds itself balancing the soggy weight of a historically wet winter with the anticipated pressure of another brutal fire season.

Last year wrought the “Summer of Smoke,” marked by the most destructive wildfire season in California history. Nearly 2 million acres across Northern California burned. For nearly two months, smoke was so thick that even giant Shasta was obscured from view from near Interstate 5. Locals of the Far North cringed when tourists pulled out their lighters.

The following winter tipped the scales in the other direction. The region received 122 inches of rain and snow as measured at Stouts Meadow on the Upper McCloud River. In April, rangers measured a snowpack as high as 30 feet in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Snow like that isn’t going to melt out overnight, and is slated to stay put well into summer.

The benefits are far-reaching. Mountain biking, for instance, is a sport that thrives on firm, moist trails.

“We’re looking at really tacky, wet dirt,” said Dante Rodriguez, a bike mechanic who has already covered 200 miles of riding since April. “We’re going to have really awesome dirt. Moist dirt hooks up with the tread on your tires. That’s what we live for. With all this snowmelt, I think we’re good well into July before it goes to dry dirt and dust.”

The best bet is to climb aboard something that floats. The surprise storm that swept across California in May was a late-season bonanza that topped off the lakes and may help alleviate the early-season fire outlook. The one exception is in valleys and foothills, where once-flourishing grasslands will turn brown and dry by July.

Across the Shasta Cascade — the all-encompassing moniker for the area of California above Redding — here is a breakdown of what to expect this summer for lakes, streams, national forest and high-country wilderness.

Lakes

Imagine the vision of a warm afternoon where you cruise in a boat on a full lake, kayak in a mountain pool or cast a fishing line for trout or bass. Shakespeare might call it “A Midsummer’s Day Dream.” But in this play, it is you who can be the star performer.

The major recreation lakes in the Shasta Cascade are Shasta, Trinity, Almanor and Whiskeytown, plus smaller venues that include Bucks, Butt Valley, Britton, Big, Siskiyou, Lewiston and Antelope. The lake levels are near the brims at all. It looks to stay that way deep into summer, when the lakes will be fed by the melt-off of a big snowpack in the high mountains.

Shasta Lake, with 370 miles of shoreline when full, is the showpiece of the region. It has plenty of room for anybody: 1,200 campsites, 21 boat ramps, 11 marinas, 35 resorts and 450 houseboat rentals. With a boat, you can venture to one of the four developed boat-in campgrounds, or scout out a shoreline flat, often on secondary points in coves, where your can create your own boat-in site.

“We’re looking at a sensational year, the best summer in so long, and it will put us back on the map,” said Harold Jones at Sugarloaf Resort on the shore of Shasta Lake near Lakehead.

A sidebar this spring is the giant trout at four lakes. Special net pen projects — where trout were grown to large sizes, often 3 to 5 pounds, over winter and then released in May — were successful at Shasta, Almanor, Siskiyou and Lewiston. A bonus at Shasta is the high catch rates for bass, often best on Ned Rigs. At Siskiyou, a first-ever Youth Fishing Day, with bonus plants and huge trout, was hosted last Saturday, and for summer, a youth swimming beach with an array of climb-on inflatable structures on the water will be in place.

Another story is the continuing revival of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, largely vanquished last summer by the Carr Fire. The lake is full with 30 feet of clarity. Two boat ramps and a campground are open, and in early summer, rangers hope to open the Brandy Creek Recreation Area on the western shore, one of the few areas to emerge largely unscathed from the fire.

Rivers

The whitewater season for rafting is setting up to be outstanding, perhaps spectacular, all through summer on the Klamath and Trinity rivers. In something of an irony, there was too much water for the spring seasons for white-water rafting, kayaking and flyfishing, outside of a few experts. That will be made up for with the chance of an exceptional summer.

White-water flows on the Upper Klamath River at Hells Corner will provide the No. 1 pulse-pounder rafting run in the Shasta Cascade. In succession, you pass through Caldera and Satan’s Gate, which leads into Hells Corner, a Class V, and then beyond to Devil’s Toenail and Scarface. Downstream, the more benign Class I section below Iron Gate Dam to Tree of Heaven Campground, will be ideal for inflatable kayaks.

The Trinity provides one of the best low-cost runs out of Big Flat (put-in is upstream), ideal for families, with Class II and III whitewater. On the Upper Sacramento River, the whitewater season is often over by mid-May, but this year will likely be extended through June. On the Lower Sac, flows are guaranteed all summer for the party float on an inner tube or small raft (wear a PFD, expect cold water) from the Posse Grounds in Redding on downstream to your choice of takeout.

Across the region, the best flyfishing for trout has been on Fall River upstream of Island Bridge. This is for experts delivering soft casts with long leaders. Most believe that the hexagenia hatch in the Fall River Valley (just like the name of the beer) is imminent. As the rain finally diminishes, the Upper Sac could be excellent for float/flyfishing trips in June. The color of the river has remained green, not muddy, even in the section that runs past the burn zone from the Delta Fire, from Lamoine to Dog Creek.

Also, the three waterfalls on the McCloud River are attracting visitors from around the world and provide a great, easy day hike, with nearby lodging and campsites available.

Mount Shasta

Everywhere you turn, there is an opportunity to find a gem, from the famous to the hidden.

The most famous is Mount Shasta, on the verge of the best climbing season in 15 years. The best surface conditions for climbing Shasta are when a deep snowpack lasts into summer. The surface softens by afternoon and then freezes by night to create a giant ice block. With crampons, which poke holes in the ice surface for a sure grip, you can then walk right up in the early morning. The big stoppers, wind and thunderstorms, often turn benign after mid-June.

“All the snow on the mountain means the climbing season will last into July, and the lakes and rivers will stay in great shape for swimming, boating, kayaking and fishing,” said Jeff Williams, co-owner of the Fifth Season in Mount Shasta. “In theory, all the moisture should push the fire season out a little. Plus, after the fires in our backyards last year, we’re all due for a break.”

A growing cycling event, the Castle Crag’s Century, promoted as “California’s most beautiful century,” is scheduled for June 22 with five routes available out of Mount Shasta (the town).

Forests and trails

The region is so big that it has five national forests: Klamath (1.7 million acres), Lassen (1.1 million), Modoc (1.7 million), Plumas (1.9 million) and Shasta-Trinity (2.2 million). I have located 300 campgrounds, plus hundreds of primitive sites along small lakes in the wild, accessible by four-wheel drive or overnight hike. Many of the latter are in the Trinity-Divide and Plumas National Forest, which is projected to be accessible starting in mid- to late June. You can then get access to dozens of gemlike lakes with campsites; some accessible by car, many by four-wheel drive, others with a hike.

One area that will be off-limits all summer is the backcountry of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which includes the park’s waterfalls. After the Carr Fire, rangers say that dangers from falling trees, blocked trails and the potential of flash flooding from mudflows from thunderstorm runoff remain hazardous.

As June arrives, much of the high-county wilderness across the Trinity Alps, Shasta-Siskiyous and Lassen Wilderness looks something like a new Ice Age has taken hold.

The Lassen Park Highway will likely not open until mid-July and the park’s most popular trail, to the Bumpass Hell geothermal area, not until August. The road out of Chester to beautiful Juniper Lake could be impassable until late summer.

The north state has 15 wilderness areas, where many are connected by the Pacific Crest Trail. These include the Trinity Alps, Russian and Marble Mountain Wilderness, lined up in a row, where the best estimate is that trailheads will be accessible by mid-June, but hikers will run into snow-covered trails into July.

If you go

Lodging, camping

Lodging: Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, 530-365-7500, http://shastacascade.com

All campgrounds: See Moon California Camping, www.amazon.com

National Parks/Recreation areas

Shasta Lake: Visitor Information Center, U.S. Forest Service, 530-275-1589, www.fs.usda.gov/stnf; Shasta Lake Info, www.shastalake.com

Lassen Volcanic National Park: Visitor Center, 530-595-4480, www.nps.gov/lavo

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area: Visitor Center, 530-246-1225, www.nps.gov/whis

National Forests

Klamath National Forest: Yreka headquarters, 530-842-6131, www.fs.usda.gov/klamath

Lassen National Forest: Susanville headquarters, 530-257-2151, www.fs.usda.gov/lassen

Modoc National Forest: Alturas headquarters, 530-233-5811, www.fs.usda.gov/modoc

Plumas National Forest: Quincy headquarters, 530-283-2050, www.fs.usda.gov/plumas

Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Redding headquarters, 530-226-2500, www.fs.usda.gov/stnf

State parks of note

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park: Visitor Center, 530-335-2777, www.parks.ca.gov

Castle Crags State Park: Entrance kiosk, 530-235-2684, www.parks.ca.gov

Tom Stienstra is The Chronicle’s outdoors writer. Email: tstienstra@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @StienstraTom Facebook: www.facebook.com/tomstienstraoutdoors





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