I want to go camping this weekend, I found myself thinking one day, despite the fact that I hadn’t been camping in over a decade, and certainly never by myself. Nevertheless, the impulse stuck for more than twenty-four hours, so I decided I would spend my weekend in the wilderness.
I knew I wanted to go up to Shasta Lake for my first solo camping excursion. I had driven by the turquoise waters a couple of weeks prior, and the astonishing beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains had stuck in my head. A brief Google search provided me with a list of campsites along the lake, and since none of the names held any sort of significance for me, I chose Hirz Bay essentially at random.
As I drove through the campground, trying to find a relatively-secluded place to park, I kept wondering why so many people had their boats with them. It wasn’t long before the answer became clear: there was a boat launch very near to the camp, and because of the holiday weekend, more than a few groups wanted to get out on the water. I’m not much of a boating person, myself, but the convenient location of the camp wasn’t lost to me.
I paid the overnight camping fee of $20, ate a light, early dinner, and set about pitching a tent for the first time in my life. Surprisingly, I had a much easier go of it than I expected; either the friends who regaled me with stories about hours fighting with tent poles had much more difficult tents to put together, or I just got really lucky. Once the structure was passably assembled, my extra food was in the bear-proof box that was provided at the site, and all other needs were taken care of, I decided to go exploring.
Along the road that navigates the campground, there’s a large, very visible sign that reads “HIRZ BAY TRAIL”. It’s nice and obvious and cannot be missed, and the path itself is easy to follow. Not far off the campground the trail comes to a fork: straight ahead, you’ll find yourself on the lake, admiring the iron-rich rocky shore and the impossible greenery of the foothills on the other side of the finger of the lake. It’s not much of a hike at all, but if you’re looking to spend some time on the water, it’s easily accessible and takes you straight to the lake.
The path to the left, however, is the one I had much more fun following. This little trail winds its way through the fingers of the lake, and lead me above a multitude of secluded teal coves. The wildlife is abundant along this trail: several lizards darted across the path; a butterfly caressed my cheek as it flew by; an owl flew to its roost on near-silent wings; and I saw some scatty evidence of many other four-legged residents of the area, predators and prey alike. I followed the path for about a mile and a half, enjoying the pattern of up-and-over as I wound my way over a crest and into a gully and back up again. The trail is well-maintained, easy to follow, and clear of thorny bushes and fallen logs, but the carpet of leaves made it a little slick in a couple of spots.
Eventually, I found a little side path that spat me out above another inlet. I wasn’t the first person to find this spot: despite the clear “no burning” signs posted all over the camp, an old fire ring sat at the edge of the minute cliff, overlooking the lake. But for the time being, I was entirely alone. As the sun warmed my back, I scrambled down the rocks to the tiny crest of sand, and plunged my hands into the water.
I was facing East, and the evening sun ignited the rusted-iron color of the shore across from me. The brilliant red banks stood out in stark contrast with the deep green trees that coated the foothills. The transparent waters reflected the pale blue sky, darkening towards the center as night slowly fell. Although the fires of Southern Oregon still raged, the smoke had cleared for a few hours and left me with a view of the lake and hills that looked like something out of a fairy tale. The heady scent of pines and dust hung in the air, with a faint undercurrent of smoke, as if there were a campfire nearby. The occasional breeze rustled the dry leaves, ruffling the otherwise smooth surface of the mere, and although night was falling, the birds continued their melodious twitterings, falling silent only to start up again moments later. The water was warmed by days of basking in the record-breaking heat, and although I haven’t swam in years, I peeled off my clothes and stepped into the tepid waves. Clay clung to my skin as my feet disturbed the silt, and I laughed and dove headfirst into the cove.
Alone save for the occasional boat that roared by, I spent over an hour floating blissfully in the tranquil waters. As dusk fell, I decided it was time to get back to the safety of the campground, though I longed to continue exploring. Bats began to squeak and hidden frogs serenaded me as I found my way to my tent by brilliant moonlight. I spent the night reading by lantern light as the stars gleamed overhead.
Location: Hirz Bay Campground, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Redding, California
Cost: $20USD per campsite (may be more if you’re bringing a large vehicle [RV] or towing [boats])
Activities: hiking, boating, camping