A Drive up I-5 is a Holiday Treat

MERCURYNEWS.COM: December 3, 2021

Manzanita Lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park, about 45 minutes from Redding, provides its own light show in winter with the water’s reflection and stunning views of snow-capped Mount Lassen in the background. (Ginny Prior/for Bay Area News Group)

A million brilliant bulbs twinkle in the night. Imagine the impact this has on your mood as you stroll through one of the most dazzling light festivals in the country. The Redding Garden of Lights is drawing visitors from across the Pacific Northwest, with its 10 acres of world-class illumination by light artist Tres Fromme. It’s one of many reasons to drive up Interstate 5 in December.

This is the second annual light festival in McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, a short walk over the Sundial Bridge in Redding. The celebrated bridge over the Sacramento River is a stunning piece of art in its own right, connecting Turtle Bay Exploration Park and the Sheraton Redding Hotel to the gardens. And talk about light therapy, the bridge surface is made of glass that glows red and green during holiday evenings.

Light as an art form is popular in winter, when the sun goes to bed before dinner. The Redding Garden of Lights blends a kaleidoscope of color, sound and scent in its holiday-themed displays with light tunnels, a candy cane causeway that smells like peppermint, a polar pathway — complete with a lighted igloo and falling snow — and dozens of illuminated lizards and turtles and butterflies. Oh my!

For overnight visitors, the Sheraton Redding Hotel at Sundial Bridge couldn’t be more strategically placed if it was at the North Pole. With its location next to Turtle Bay Exploration Park, guests often see animal ambassadors in the lobby. This month it’s reindeer that will take a break from their sleigh to nuzzle folks in front of the hotel.

There’s also a popular eatery connecting the hotel and the park — Mosaic Restaurant. The cocktails are hand-crafted and the steaks, seafood and local favorites like their gourmet burger on a pretzel bun make this a must-stop before or after the light show.

On the other end of the spectrum is the raw nature of nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park with its 30-plus volcanic domes and hydrothermal pools and gorgeous mountain lakes. This lesser-known national park is open at both western entrances despite this summer’s Dixie Fire that burned 68% of the park. With snow on the roads in winter, you won’t be able to drive beyond the entrances but there’s still much to see and do.

The northwest entrance is about 45 minutes from Redding with stunning views of snow-capped Mount Lassen as you hike around Manzanita Lake and the Lily Pond. Both hikes are just past the entrance, mostly flat and less than 2 miles round-trip.

The southwest entrance to Lassen National Park has the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, which is open in winter, and there’s also a short hike to the Sulphur Works where you can see several boiling “steam pots.”

On the way to each entrance are bucolic farms and ranches dotted with grazing cattle, goats and even llamas. Off in the distance, you may get a glimpse of Mount Shasta. Her snow-capped peak crowns an area rich in natural resources. Add to that some eye-popping manmade attractions in Redding and you’ve got the perfect holiday road trip.


  • The Sheraton Redding Hotel at Sundial Bridge has several winter packages right now, including the Garden of Lights package (bayareane.ws/GofLpackage), which combines deluxe overnight accommodations and tickets to the Garden of Lights experience. The Garden of Lights runs through Dec. 31 and is hosting an exclusive New Year’s Eve party with live music, a DJ and ball drop along with the light show.
  • For information about current conditions at Lassen National Park, go to go.nps.gov/lavo/conditions.

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