Redding’s spectacular Turtle Bay offers walkers a wide variety of options: strolling the Sundial Bridge, exploring the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and hiking the Arboretum Loop Trail and the Sacramento River Trail.
Turtle Bay Arboretum Loop Trail Key Data
Distance: 1.5 miles round-trip for the Arboretum Loop Trail, plus several more miles of walking/hiking trails on the Sacramento River Trail on both sides of the Sundial Bridge, including the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: 50 feet
High point: 500 feet
Season: year-round. Can be very hot in summer = over 100 degrees; hike in the morning if possible
Contact: City of Redding Parks and Recreation
Walking/hiking trail map: see map below, plus Redding Area Trails map here
Permit: none needed
Turtle Bay/Arboretum Loop/Sundial Bridge Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 40 35.420 W 122 22.698
Dogs: allowed on-leash on all trails
Bicycles: allowed on all trails
Wheelchairs: trails and Sundial Bridge are wheelchair accessible
Toilets and water fountains near trailhead and on the far side of the Sundial Bridge
Turtle Bay Arboretum Loop Trailhead Directions
In Redding, take Interstate 5, exit 678 if traveling north, or 678B if traveling south. Follow signs that get you onto CA Highway 44 West; they mention downtown Redding, Eureka, Highway 299 West, and Whiskeytown Lake. Go 0.8 mile west on Highway 44 West and take Exit 1. Go right on Sundial Bridge Drive and drive north toward the Redding Civic Auditorium, and then take the first right, which quickly leads to ample Turtle Bay parking on the left.
The Turtle Bay and Arboretum Loop Hike is One of 125 Hikes in My Book…
This post is an expanded version of Hike 6 “Arboretum Loop Trail from Sundial Bridge” in my book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions, which has 125 hikes in total, including trails and walking paths in and near Redding, with dozens more in Lassen Volcanic National Park and the Mount Shasta area.
Explore Sundial Bridge, Turtle Bay Museum, McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
This hike includes three of Redding’s top attractions: the Sundial Bridge, the Turtle Bay Museum, and the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens — and that’s before you even start walking on the Arboretum Loop Trail, which takes you away from the crowds and out into several habitats, each well described by a series of interpretive panels. You also have more walking options along the Sacramento River Trail.
Begin at Turtle Bay Exploration Park
Start this journey beside Turtle Bay Exploration Park. It contains a first-rate museum with permanent exhibitions detailing the natural and human history of Redding and its surroundings, along with temporary exhibitions. Note that there’s an excellent museum bookstore that includes a coffee shop with ample outdoor seating.
Walking the Sundial Bridge
The big attraction here — literally — is the Sundial Bridge. Take in its sleek and unique design as you approach it: funded by the McConnell Foundation, the organization responsible for many of the trails and community projects in Shasta County, the Sundial Bridge was designed by famous architect Santiago Calatrava.
As you cross the Sundial Bridge, note that its design includes no pillars and it blocks very little light, both important for the salmon that spawn in the riverbed below. On the far side of the bridge you’ll find signs that explain how the 217-foot-tall supporting tower serves as a sundial; you can actually see the tower shadow mark time, especially around the summer solstice.
McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
You’ll find the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens on the left on the far side of the Sundial Bridge (donation requested). A main path runs about 0.3 mile, guiding you past numerous side paths that show you the many plants that grow in the world’s five main Mediterranean habitats found in Chile, Australia, South Africa, parts of the Pacific Rim (including much of California), and in and around the Mediterranean Basin.
Walking the Arboretum Loop Trail from Sundial Bridge
Ready to start the actual Arboretum Loop Trail? Leave the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and head back to the Sundial Bridge, the official beginning of the hike, and take the bridge across Sulphur Creek. Go straight at the fork just beyond the creek and reach the interpretive panels at 0.1 mile that signify the beginning of the loop. One of the signs explains that the trail is also known as the Hanson-Sindt Trail, named in honor Terry Hanson, a long-time City of Redding employee, and Brain Sindt of the McConnell Foundation. These two men have been crucial for the development of the Redding area’s extensive trail system.
Head right (counterclockwise) on the wide, paved path. You stay on this path for the rest of the journey, although you should consider exploring the dirt side paths that drop down to the Sacramento River or head off into other parts of the area.
The loop runs near the Sacramento River for the first few minutes and then enters a dense stand of stately valley oaks that provide ample shade. At 0.3 mile a trail from Hilltop Drive comes in on the right; you stay straight on the main route and soon pass a wetlands area filled with cattails and other lush greenery.
At 0.4 mile the trail borders the hillside. Valley oaks grow on the left side of the trail in the flatter area with the deeper, richer soil. Blue oaks, smaller cousins of the valley oak, grow on the right side of the trail in the poorer soils on the slope.
At 0.5 mile you reach open oak savanna. Ready for a little rest? Sit on the shaded bench and enjoy the westward vista of the vast expanse of native grasses. Shasta Bally and South Fork Mountain rank as the most prominent mountains, with the distant meeting of the southern Klamath Mountains and the northern Coast Range much farther to the west.
As you arc around the edge of the oak savanna, note some dead trees that attract the attention of woodpeckers. At 1.1 miles you’ll see rock piles on the right, signs of gold dredging in nearby Sulphur Creek in 1917. The route parallels Sulphur Creek as you continue the last 0.3 mile to the loop’s beginning.
Other Walking Trails Near Turtle Bay
You have two main options for more walking.
Sacramento River Trail: Going West
Walk west on the Sacramento River Trail along the north side of the river for 1.2 miles until you connect the Sacramento River Trail Loop, at Diestelhorst Bridge (Hike 8 in Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions). Look for the trail just west of the Sundial Bridge near the entrance to McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
Sacramento River Trail: Going East
Or explore the portion of the Sacramento River Trail that heads east along the south side of the river and then loops back to near the parking area, a total distance of 0.6 mile. Catch it on the south side of the Sundial Bridge near the Turtle Bay Museum.
About Eric Caldwell, Professional Photographer Specializing in Turtle Bay and the Sundial Bridge
I’m honored to have Eric Caldwell’s professional photographs in this blog post. (The three really good shots here are his!) Redding area locals have likely seen many of Eric’s beautiful photos of the Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay. He’s especially well-known for sunset shots.
Your Take on the Sundial Bridge, the Arboretum Loop Trail, and McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
From the Sundial Bridge to the Arboretum Loop Trail to the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, along with the Turtle Bay Museum, the Turtle Bay complex packs in a lot of natural beauty and opportunities to learn about natural and human history. What are your thoughts, experiences, questions? Put ’em in the comment section below!