Samwel Cave

Cave of the Lost Maiden - Cave of the Magic Pools

Useful Information

Open: Entrance area: No restrictions.
Cave: MAY to SEP, permit and key required.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave. Permian limestone, 200-300Ma,
Light: bring torch
Guided tours:
Bibliography: S. Watkins, et al. (1972): Shasta Speleological Society Studies of Samwel Cave, Ms. 10 pp.
Address: Shasta Lake Visitor Information Center, 14225 Holiday Road, Redding, Ca 96003, Tel: +1-530-275-1589.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1874 cave discovered by Livingston Stone.


Samwel Cave was named with a term of the local native Americans, the Wintu tribe. Samwel is a Wintu word meaning holy place. There are numerous other names for the cave, but Samwel is a unique term, so there is no danger to mix it up with another cave, so we think its a good name. There are several Wintu legends about the cave which lead to other names.

This cave is also called Cave of the Lost Maiden, named after a Wintu girl named Olchanolmet. She was fleeing from Yreka Indians into the cave and accidentally fell to her death. Her bones were recovered just before Lake Shasta was filled with water and buried in the Central Valley Indian Cemetery. Lake Shasta is a reservoir below the cave, which was a canyon of Sacramento River before the dam was built between 1935 and 1945. The area was searched for archaeological remains before the lake was filled in 1948 and so the cave was also searched, although it is located 50 m above the level of the lake.

During the excavations numerous palaeontologic remains were discovered. The bones of scrub oxen (Euceraterium collinum), horse (Equus sp.), dire wolf (Canis dirus), ground sloth (Nothrotherium shastense), and giant short-faced bear (Arctodus pristinus) were found.

The cave is also called Cave of the Magic Pools, because it contains several pools. Wintu medicine men bathed in the water pools to get magic strength.

The Wintu Indians called the cave Sa-Wal (Grizzly Bear Cave) because they believed that grizzly bear spirits lived in the cave. Because of the bears the cave was a holy place. Wintu men went to the cave to pray to the Spirits of the Great Bear for strength or bravery before a hunt or a fight.

Another legend, which is said to be an old Wintu legend, tells about three girls who went to a wise old woman to ask where they could find good, strong men. The old woman told them to go to Samwel cave and bath in the pool, obviously a good idea if the above legend is true. They went into the cave, but one of the girls fell to her death in the darkness. Obviously a different version of the other above legend.

There is another story, that the original Wintu name for the cave came from a term meaning moldy acorns. The reason was the dampness of the cave caused by the water pools and a large oak tree at the entrance. It seems acorns fell into the cave and started to mold.

Samwel Cave is located at the eastern slope of Bollibokka Mountain with its portal opening southwards to the the upper McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake. It can be reached from Fenders ferry Rd or by boat from the lake below. From the road is a trail to the cave entrance, about 1.5 km long with signs telling the stories of the Wintu Indians and the cave. The trail, the entrance portal with the view and the first chamber are freely accessible. The rest of the cave is closed with a gate, for the protection of the cave and the protection of the visitors. The permit and the key is available from the Shasta Lake Visitor Information Center in Mountain Gate. While there are two fairly horizontal levels, which can be visited without difficulties, there is a deep drop to the lower level which requires climbing gear.