The majestic grandeur and almost other-worldly presence of Mt. Shasta have inspired countless fantastic tales, including some about an underground city located beneath the mountain and populated by a species of wee folk called Lemurians. Access to this fabulous city is said to be, as one would expect, through caves, although exactly which cave and where it is located is a matter of some debate among those who claim to know. One leading contender is Pluto’s Cave, a lava tube formed by an eruption of basaltic lava from a volcanic vent about 8 miles northeast of its mouth. It is certainly mysterious-looking enough, once you get past the graffiti spray-painted around its entrance, to stimulate just about anyone’s imagination.
The entrance to the cave is about 2 or 3 miles from the base of Mt. Shasta, which dominates the skyline. Visitors are often disappointed to find that the cave seems to go back only about 70 or 80 feet. What they don’t realize is that it is blocked by a large cave-in, beyond which it extends for more than a mile, although the Forest Service advises that only the first 1,200 feet are considered safe to explore.
After exploring this first section, if you hike back out and follow an obvious trail that runs to the north, you’ll find yourself hiking through a collapsed portion of the cave with rock walls about 30 feet high. It will take you under a natural arch (an uncollapsed bit of cave) and to the real entrance, a gaping hole 40 feet high. Dress warmly, wear heavy shoes or boots with nonskid soles, and bring a flashlight and backups. Take a buddy with you. The temperature inside will be in the low 40s, and after the first couple of hundred yards it is pitch black, except for a small collapse some distance in that allows a beam of light to enter. Beyond it the cave plunges into darkness again.
Caves have special, sensitive ecosystems. They are delicate, and must be treated with care. Food and drink are not permitted in the cave, nor human waste. There is no entrance fee, and parking is free.
Where: From I-5 in Weed take US Hwy 97, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Hwy, north for about 12 miles to County Rd A-12 and turn left. Follow A-12 for about 3.3 miles to Forest Rd 43N30, a dirt road signposted as the turnoff for Juniper Flat OHV Area. Turn left and go about .2 of a mile to the parking area. (google map)