Bunny Flat is a great spot to begin a winter adventure for two reasons: first, Mount Shasta and the surrounding area tends to keep snow coverage late into the season; second, the road to Bunny Flat stays plowed through the winter in all but the very worst conditions. Add the fact that there are many different trails and areas to explore and you'll understand Mount Shasta's appeal for everyone from casual cross-country skiers and snowshoers to to those looking for more technical winter climbing and downhill.
The lollipop trek from Bunny Flat to Panther Meadow Campground, from which the loop to the The Gate and Old Ski Bowl/South Gate Meadows* begins, takes one into the backcountry where many other trails and spurs can be added.
This area abounds in use trails during the dry seasons, though during the cold seasons this area remains under deep snow that makes all those trails impossible to follow. Instead, navigating while using prominent peaks and landmarks to determine location becomes the best form of finding your way around. Because any trails are hidden, extra navigational aid would be very helpful here.
To begin, the path follows the main road, Everitt Memorial Highway, past the seasonal closure gate at the end of Bunny Flat, climbing gradually for about 1.75 miles to Panther Creek campground. Leave the road here to navigate in a northeastern direction through the campground to Panther Meadow, which is the splitting-off point of the trails. To the northeast is the saddle between a high ridgeline and Gray Butte; this is where you'll begin tracing several steep ridges north toward the meeting point of the summer trails at the edge of a basin between Red Butte (a prominent volcanic dome of reddish andesite) and Shasta peak known as The Gate. After climbing through forests thick with white fir, the rolling terrain of The Gate is so barren and white with snow that it appears as if one is walking over the surface of the moon. Head west from this point, walking below the slope up toward Shasta's peak until you reach a ridge overlooking the cascading mountains through the upper Sacramento River Valley. From here one can continue west for another drop and climb to come to the top of Old Ski Bowl or drop down into South Gate Meadows following the downhill slope that descends just east of the Old Ski Bowl road until it arrives back at the north end of Panther Meadow.
Dramatic views of both nearby mountain peaks and distant valleys abound throughout this trip. One downside is that you may encounter snowmobile traffic until you head east of the top of South Gate Meadows where the wilderness area begins and snowmobiles, along with other skiers and snowshoers, become few and far between.
From Panther Meadow, retrace your steps down the snow-covered road until you arrive back at Bunny Flat.
*South Gate Meadows was known as Squaw Meadows until a recent rebranding to eliminate the culturally insensitive name.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.