Tucked away in Northern California's Shasta County is the charming town of Redding, which over the years has worked diligently to become one of the premier trail destinations in the West. The pride of Redding's trail system is the Sacramento River Trail, an extensive network that runs along the banks of the Sacramento River, offering stunning views of the river and nearby mountains, and a close-up look at one of the most breathtaking bicycle/pedestrian bridges in the country.
The Sacramento River Trail holds court as a favorite for many California rail-trail enthusiasts. From the Court Street (Benton Drive) trailhead, you travel west along the Sacramento River. A wooded section quickly gives way to an open area with striking views of the Trinity Mountains. During the spring, the river maintains a glacial deep-blue hue from melted snow flowing down from the mountains. The river powered mining operations during the late 1800s, and interpretive signs along the trail explain the hydraulic mining operations. You'll also see remnants of the line operated by the Central Pacific Railroad that once carried ore as far north as Portland, Oregon.
At the 3-mile mark you come to the Sacramento River Trail Bridge, an impressive 418-foot stress ribbon bridge. Opened in 1990, it was the first bridge of its kind built in North America. The bridge is supported by 236 steel cables inside the bridge deck that are drilled into bedrock. The design allows the bridge to have a minimal impact on the natural rock lining the Sacramento River and avoids the need for piers. You can cross the bridge and head east on the other side of the river or continue another 0.5 mile to the Keswick Dam western trailhead and return.
While the southernmost 3-mile section of the trail has a gradual grade, the northern portion—which is not a rail-trail—is more undulating, with short climbs and dips. The trail meanders through an upscale neighborhood here and has a variety of local access points. The trail has a very smooth surface most of the way and gets plenty of use by walkers, runners and cyclists.
Near the 6-mile mark, you come to the old Diestelhorst Bridge. Completed in 1915 and now used exclusively by bicyclists and pedestrians, it was originally the first bridge across the Sacramento River built for automobiles. You can return to the original trailhead by crossing this bridge or you can continue east along the river, where several visual treats await. One is the lovely McConnell Arboretum, an impressive garden complex surrounded by 200 acres of riparian forest and oak savannah. It features butterfly, children's, medicinal and Pacific Rim gardens, among others. A paved perimeter trail encircles the scenic property, home to birds, turtles and other wildlife.
Next to the arboretum is a masterpiece of functional art and the highlight of this trail: the Sundial Bridge. Designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2004, the bridge is surfaced with translucent structural glass that is illuminated from beneath and glows at night. The bicycle/pedestrian bridge is also a functional sundial, the largest in the world.
On the other side of the bridge is the Turtle Bay Aquarium and Exploration Park, which has a trail connecting across the river near State Route 44 to the Mount Shasta Mall. At the trail's western end, the Sacramento River Trail also connects to the Sacramento River Rail Trail, which continues from Keswick Dam up to Shasta Dam. Both the Stanford Hills Trail and Middle Creek Trail offer additional brief side trips off the main trail.
To reach the Court Street (Benton Drive) trailhead from Interstate 5 in Redding, take the exit for State Routes 299 and 44. Head left (west) on SR 299 toward Eureka. The highway leads into downtown Redding. Signs mark the route of SR 299, as it winds through town, first heading west on Shasta Street, then right (north) on Pine Street, then left (west) on Eureka Way. Stay on SR 299. At Eureka Way, follow Eureka Way/SR 299 to Court Street. Turn right (north) on Court Street and go 0.5 mile to the parking lot on Middle Creek Road. The lot is on the left (west) side of Court Street just before it crosses a bridge over the Sacramento River.
You can also access the trail near Keswick Dam, at Turtle Bay Exploration Park or near Mount Shasta Mall at the intersection of Hilltop Drive and Dana Drive.