Babe Ruth came to Dunsmuir, California, in 1924. On a barnstorming tour with Yankees teammate Bob Meusel, he stopped in the little town just south of Mount Shasta to play an exhibition game with some locals. The story goes that one of the two home runs he hit sailed all the way from the municipal baseball field—which is still in use—to the Upper Sacramento River at the bottom of the hill. I imagine a puzzled fisherman, standing in the water downstream, bamboo rod in hand, watching that ball float by.
While Dunsmuir hasn’t hosted an exhibition by the world’s greatest ballplayer since then, it’s still a magnet for anglers seeking wily native trout. But most visitors these days are likely just stopping for gas before they resume blasting their way up or down I-5. That’s too bad because the town is worth a short detour. Stay a little longer, and you might find yourself standing in the middle of the Upper Sac yourself, rod in hand.
Sights and Events
If you’re making a short pit stop to stretch your legs, the Dunsmuir City Park is a perfect place to do it. There’s the Dunsmuir Historical Ball Park, where Ruth hit that homer. Find the plaque commemorating the event at the park entrance on Dunsmuir Avenue. Down the hill, native white dogwoods, Shasta lilies, and azaleas bloom at the Botanical Gardens, and an extensive network of walking trails crisscross the hillside. Below is the river itself, which flows out of Lake Siskiyou at the base of Mount Shasta and is then fed by a series of creeks, springs, and waterfalls. The purity of that water is a point of civic pride; the unofficial city slogan is “Home of the Best Water on Earth.”
You’ll see railroad memorabilia all over town. At one local lodge, you can actually sleep in a converted caboose. That’s because Dunsmuir was once the local headquarters for the Central Pacific (later the Southern Pacific); it’s where they added extra locomotives to push trains up the steep grade north of town. (In fact, the town was known as Pusher.) History is preserved at the Dunsmuir Railroad Depot, which combines the Dunsmuir Museum (exhibits highlight local American Indians, the town itself, and fly fishing); the Railroad Display Room; and a still-active Amtrak station. Note: The museum is open the first and third Saturday of the month from April to October.
For breakfast, you’ve got several solid options: Cornerstone Café dishes morning standards in a light, airy dining room. The chef has a fondness for Hatch chiles, which give the egg scrambles an eye-opening kick. Down the hill on Sacramento Avenue, the Wheelhouse serves an estimable breakfast burrito, plus delicious homemade turnovers: The ham and jam option combines meat with Swiss cheese and a lashing of strawberry jam. Both serve lunch as well, but only the Wheelhouse offers a selection of board games that guests can rent.
Yaks on the 5 is the kind of burgers-and-beers place that serves sticky buns as appetizers. (You can even order a burger on a sticky bun.) It’s also the kind of place that gives everything on the menu a ridiculous name; try ordering the Va Va Voom Burger with a straight face. But the hamburgers at this popular classic—made with locally raised beef and house-made buns—are as delicious as they are enormous. There’s a rotating selection of 20 craft brews, many of them local. Another good option is Dunsmuir Brewery Works, which reopened in early November after undergoing renovations. If you go, try the elk burger.
The fanciest place in town, Café Maddalena—in a low-slung building just down Sacramento Avenue from the train station—offers an eclectic, seasonally appropriate menu incorporating flavors from all over the Mediterranean. Ingredients and wines are as carefully sourced as any place in the Bay Area or Portland. The Spanish-style crispy fish (with potatoes, spinach, chickpeas, aioli, and bravas sauce) is a perennial favorite, but ask about the daily specials.
Castle Crags State Park just south of Dunsmuir has excellent hiking options for just about anyone. The short, wheelchair-accessible Root Creek Trail wends along a forested hillside for a mile to a pretty little creek. The River Trail—across I-5 from the rest of the park—provides mostly flat walking along the Upper Sac itself, crossing two feeder creeks along the way. And if you’re feeling athletic, the Crags Trail climbs 2,200 feet in less than three miles to Castle Dome. It’s strenuous, but the payoff views of Mount Shasta and the Crags’ dramatic granite faces are worth the effort.
There are plenty of cascades tumbling into the Upper Sac, but few are as pretty and accessible as Hedge Creek Falls. A short (0.7 mile) trail leads you down a gentle slope to a fine overview. If you continue along the path, you can actually walk behind the falls themselves. From there, traverse a steep downhill to a lookout platform providing views of the river and Mount Shasta. (Keep an eye out for the poison oak, which flourishes here.)
Oh, yes, about the fishing: There are any number of guides in the area who’d be happy to take you for a morning or a full day on the Sacramento (or the nearby McCloud); most are happy to teach complete beginners and can also arrange rental equipment. The Upper Sac is open to fishing year round. (Its tributary streams and the McCloud follow the more traditional April-to-November rules). If you’re curious, stop by the Ted Fay Fly Shop in town and have a chat with the friendly proprietor.