Surrounded by a million acres of forest and wilderness, the wildly scenic town of Dunsmuir is touted as “the home of the best water on Earth.”  And, indeed, pure spring water from Mt. Shasta glaciers is delivered to the city via lava tubes and then piped to every tap in town.  One of the hamlet’s 10 always-flowing public drinking fountains is in a sheltered spot by the side of the two-lane road through town.  It is reminiscent of restorative fountains seen in small spa towns in Germany’s Black Forest.

The town’s history is the railroad.  At the turn of the 19thcentury, it was a division point on the railroad and a popular resort area.  By the 1920s, things were really booming.  Celebrities stopped here by the trainload, including Clark Gable and Babe Ruth, and the town’s California Theatre was a movie palace.  Then, in the 1950s steam locomotives were phased out, drastically hurting the area’s economy.  And in 1961, I-5 bypassed Dunsmuir–a mixed blessing that allowed the town to retain its charm.

Fishing is good year round on the area’s Upper Sacramento River.

Dunsmuir attractions

Brown Trout Vintage 
5841 Sacramento Ave. 
Located off the main drag, down by the town’s historic rail yard, this gift shop has a stream running beneath it that can be seen and heard through a hole in the floor.  Distinctive, eclectic, pre-owned, repurposed clothing of exceptional quality in perfect condition, as well as vintage jewelry, accessories, and antique items are purveyed at reasonable prices.

Brown Trout Gallery in Dunsmuir, California; image c John Briggs
Brown Trout Gallery in Dunsmuir, California; image c John Briggs

Castle Crags State Park 
Castle Creek Rd., in Castella, 10 mi. S of town.  Free. 
Mile-high, snaggle-tooth granite peaks dominate this 6,000-acre park.  Hiking trails, picnic areas, and swimming holes are available.  For a smashing picnic spot with a view of the crags and Mt. Shasta, drive up the narrow one-lane road leading to Vista Point.  The 1-mile Indian Creek Nature Trail loop has gentle slopes and provides an easy leg stretch.  Campsites are available. 

Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens 
In Dunsmuir City Park, Dunsmuir Ave./near Pioneer Way, (exit 730, turn N and enter park at fountain).  Car access March-Nov.  Free.  Walking trails meander through this hilly 10-acre garden featuring a Children’s Garden, Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden, Kelly’s Garden with white-only blooms.  Picnic tables and a playground are also available. 

Dunsmuir City Park 
Dunsmuir City Park has an excellent view of Mt. Shasta plus the claim to fame that in 1924 Babe Ruth played here during an exhibition game against the local ball team.  Old Steam Engine #1727 is at the entrance, foreshadowing one of the park pleasures—sitting by the river and watching trains rumble by.  A public swimming pool and river access are among the facilities. 

Dunsmuir Hardware 
5836 Dunsmuir Ave. 
The town’s oldest retail business, this historic hardware store has changed its name and location through the years but has been operating since 1894.  It’s been in this 1912 brick building since 1962 and is the place to buy everything from a fishing pole to a Merle Haggard CD (the singer lives in the area).  Nails are still sold by the pound and rope by the foot.  Gold panning supplies are stocked, too.  The store features a high tin ceiling, natural wood floor, and ceiling fans, and a display of antique tools lines the walls. 

exterior of Dunsmuir Hardware store in Dunsmuir, California; image courtesy of venue
exterior of Dunsmuir Hardware store in Dunsmuir, California; image courtesy of venue

Hedge Creek Falls 
On Dunsmuir Ave., at N end of town.  Free. 
The short, easy path leading to this falls follows the Sacramento River.  Once there, it is possible to walk behind the base of the falls, and picnicking is lovely.  A table, gazebo, and one of the town’s free-flowing water faucets are provided at the trailhead.  Legend has it that the notorious Gold Rush-era bandit Black Bart once used the area as a hideout.

Dunsmuir restaurants

Burger Barn 
5942 Dunsmuir Ave., (530) 235-2902.  No credit cards. 
Think decent burgers, good-but-overpriced veggie burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, root beer floats, soft-serve ice cream, and shakes.  Those who are really hungry can order up the Barn Buster special–two half-pound burgers, a giant order of fries, and two drinks.  Sit in the cozy inside or outside on the patio overlooking the town’s quiet main street.

patio at Burger Barn in Dunsmuir, California
patio at Burger Barn in Dunsmuir, California

Cafe Maddalena 
5801 Sacramento Ave.
Located across the street from the old train station, this well-loved restaurant has a cozy interior lined with knotty-pine walls.  The talented chef-owner takes pride in whipping up authentic, well-executed Italian dishes that would be extraordinary anywhere, but seem especially so here, so far from a major city.  Menu choices might include an appetizer of white corn beignets with green onion sauce, and a main course might be roasted salmon with lemon sabayon & asparagus risotto.  Pizzas and pastas are also available.

Cornerstone Bakery and Café 
5759 Dunsmuir Ave.  Delicious housemade baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches, and more are on the expansive menu in this cozy, coffee shop-style spot.  Live entertainment is added on weekends.  All art hanging on the knotty-pine and butter-colored walls is for sale.  Don’t leave without a loaf of freshly baked bread for the road.

Dunsmuir hotels

Cave Springs Resort 
4727 Dunsmuir Ave.  25 units.  Unheated pool (heated in summer); hot tub; 1 tennis court.  Restaurant. 
Situated on the outskirts of town, just above the river, this old-time mountain resort seems like something out of a time warp.  It offers simple motel rooms, cabins, and RV accommodations, and facilities on the spacious, cedar-sheltered grounds include a playground and bocce ball court. 

Railroad Park Resort 
100 Railroad Park Rd., 1 mi. S of town.  27 units.  Some kitchens.  Unheated pool; hot tub.  Restaurant (closed Nov-Mar). 
Guests here can sleep in either an authentic antique caboose or a deluxe, handicapped-accessible boxcar.  Each is furnished with antiques, and some have clawfoot tubs and bunk beds.  Four cabins and some creek-side campsites are also available.  The nearby Cascade Mountains and their granite Castle Crags Spires can be viewed while frolicking in the pool.

Prime rib and seafood dinners are served inside an authentic dining car that is converted into a restaurant.

overview of Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir, California
overview of Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir, California

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)