California weekend getaway: Serene loafing on Shasta Lake

May 2011 News Cary Ordway -

If you've driven Interstate 5 just north of Redding, you no doubt have marveled at the beauty of Shasta Lake, with its miles and miles of scenic shoreline - all with the backdrop of Mt. Shasta, one of California's most recognizable landmarks. And you've probably noticed the clusters of houseboats as you cross the bridge over Shasta Lake.

We've driven that route many times, and each time crossing that bridge, we were reminded that someday we wanted to rent a houseboat on Shasta. Well, we finally did. And what a great family adventure it turned out to be.

We reserved our 56-foot houseboat with Seven Crown Resorts, which has a fleet of them docked right there at the Bridge Bay Resort, where I-5 crosses the lake, about 10 miles north of Redding. We chose spring break, even though the weather usually is not as warm as it is during the summer, and the water temperatures are in the high 50's and not especially good for swimming. The big advantage is that the houseboat companies and marinas are just awakening from their winter slumbers and the chances are, you'll be almost by yourself on the lake.

For us, the added bonus was we actually did get summer weather - well, almost - with temps reaching the high 70's and lots of sunshine.

They say you can sleep 15 people on a 56-foot houseboat and we pretty much put that to the test. Our extended family included four adults and eight kids ages ranging from two to 15 years of age. If you've been around boats, 56 feet sounds like a big boat, but it can seem a bit small with that many people aboard. Fortunately, the boat's layout includes a penthouse upstairs, where the smaller kids can go play and take some of the noise with them. But a houseboat trip is also about being in the great outdoors, so the reality is that much of our four days was spent hiking, exploring, playing on the beach and sitting around the campfire and doing other things off the boat.

If you've never rented a houseboat, you should know that the Seven Crowns boats are about as easy as houseboats come. They're powered by a couple of outboard motors (generally about 70 horsepower each) and have enough power that, unless you get a lot of wind, they are easy to maneuver. You probably won't be doing a lot of docking - most times you'll simply be beaching your houseboat, a very simple procedure in which you drive your boat's pontoons at a very slow speed right onto the beach and then tie up to a couple of stakes to hold the boat in position. Shasta Lake has beaches and protected coves almost everywhere you go, so it seemed to us that even in the busiest season, you wouldn't have any problem finding an easy and secure place to tie up for the night.

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