Have a crippling fear of the dark? Not the biggest fan of bats? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then this cave activity probably isn't for you. Regardless of your phobias or lack thereof, I would recommend bringing a friend or two on this hike, since doing it solo might very well be super creepy.
Before heading out, make sure to have the following essential items: a flashlight or headlamp as it becomes completely dark inside the cave, light layers as inside the cave is quite cool while outside can often be hot, sturdy shoes or hiking boots, water, and climbing gloves if you have sensitive hands. I would also recommend having friends with flashlights or a cell phone as back up if your flashlight goes out. Trust me, you don't want to be stuck in this cave without light.
To reach the trailhead, drive about 25 minutes North East from Weed, CA (yes, that's what it's called) on highway 97. Take the 99-97 cut off and make a left into the trailhead parking area. SUVs are recommended as the lot is a bit bumpy and rocky (my Mini Cooper was not chosen for this afternoon venture).
The desert like qualities that the landscape takes on in this area are due to its location in the Shasta Valley. As storm systems pass through, Mt. Shasta essentially absorbs all the moisture from the clouds before they pass on to the North, leaving a dry, arid swath of land full of juniper and sage bushes that contrasts dramatically with the lush alpine forests found to the south and further north. Follow the obvious trail path from the parking lot in a westerly direction and enjoy lovely views of Mount Shasta to the South. In about 10 minutes or so you will see a gaping hole in the ground to your right.
Pluto's Cave is a lava tube, formed when molten lava moves through hardened lava. This particular cave is only visible to the outside world because part of the lava tube collapsed on itself, leaving the above mentioned opening in the ground. Follow the rocky path down into the hole, on your left you will see an expansive cavern. Although this cavern is blocked off, take a few steps inside and take a whiff of guano, the signature odor of bats.
Step back out of the cavern and continue to the right, where the real Pluto's Cave begins. The opening to the cave is a staggering 40 feet high, accentuated by the downward angle of the ground. Follow the semi obvious path or create your own until you come upon the iconic view of Pluto's Cave (below), where an opening in the roof above creates unique beams of light, illuminating the dust that inevitably gets kicked up with each passing individual.
Descend through another cave-in filled with a cluster of desert vegetation, before arriving at the main portion of the cave. From here on, there are no more breakthroughs of natural light. The rocky tunnel extends about a mile underground. Take your time navigating the rocks (some are quite large) and making your way through the tunnel. If you shine your light up towards the ceiling you will invariably see a bat or two flying about. For the real brave folks, gather your group together somewhere inside the cave and turn off all your lights to get a true sense of the darkness.
After ascending out of the cave, if you fancy a bit more of a walk, you can do another mile or so loop above ground. The pathway is fairly obvious, and again will offer some nice views of Mt Shasta and the surrounding peaks.
PLUTO'S CAVE ESSENTIALS