Walking at Whiskeytown

Go to the mountains? For a flat walk? Yes, isn’t California incredible?

Last weekend we went north to the mountains. After several hours on the nerve-grinding, mind-numbing Hwy 5, a snow-topped mountain appeared. It was Mt. Shasta, the sign of a more geographically interesting place.

For our first day of walks we went to Whiskeytown Lake, 11 miles west of Redding, Ca. This one looks so much better than many reservoirs in the area because the vegetation goes right to the water line, almost like a real lake. The dam was completed in 1963.

This dammed lake and the surrounding mountains are managed by the National Park Service.  At the Visitor Center just off Hwy 299 near the east end of the park, we had a pleasant chat with the ranger and picked up several ‘water ditch’ walk details.

Vista at Whiskeytown Lake

In the 1850s, this area did not have a large lake, but it did have gold mining. One of the methods for finding the gold was to run large amounts of water over the dirt, until the gold fell out. They dug ditches almost level along the hills to move water to where they wanted it. Today, the ditches are filled in and provide some easy walks in the woods.

Crystal Creek Falls

Flat walks don’t often take you to waterfalls. Actually, there was very little walking as we drove to Crystal Creek Falls, near the west end of the park or ‘unit’ as it is called. We were by ourselves, enjoying the roar of this waterfall, in the cool canyon shade. The water was clear and in the pools, at the base of the falls, we could see the color variations in the granite. Maples, pines, and cottonwoods surrounded us. So did the flies. But this was the only place they would bug us today. We had parked by two picnic tables, a grill and a bear-proof trash can. Bears? It was too early to eat and we had hardly walked.

Tower House Historic District

We headed back east on Hwy 299, turning off at the Tower House Historic District. Levi Tower and Charles Camden developed this area in the 1800s first to supply the gold miners and then Tower opened a hotel and Camden operated a toll road in 1865. The entrance to walking in this area is a bridge across Clear Creek where the toll was charged.

After the bridge was a shaded picnic area to the left and then another bridge over Willow Creek  We looped right and circled the old farm’s meadow and fruit trees. The narrower dirt path followed the creek and was shaded by willows. The creek’s water vied with the highway’s traffic noise.

We had to climb a little to get to Tower’s gravesite and then went left at the sign for El Dorado Mine. (There were a couple of steps and more at the end of this section.) Most of the path is in shade of Black Oak and Douglas Fir. Spice bush and poison oak also abound. This trail is built on the old ditch used for gold mining and is above the meadow.

When we got closer to Mill Creek trail, there were ferns and butterflies. A few steps down to the wider gravel and dirt road trail, where we went left. In a short distance were the Tenant farmhouse, where the Tower-Camden caretaker lived, and the barn. Here there were more oaks, walnuts, flies, dragonflies, and more sun. The road went along the creek and near the bridge was a small beach.

We passed the picnic area and walked to the Camden House, which survives and was to have a tour scheduled later in the day. The Tower House Hotel burned down many years ago. We crossed the bridge back to the parking lot and caught sight of a deep view from beach to mountain. We walk for visions like this. Can’t take a picture of it. You’ll have to go on your own.

Carr Powerhouse

Next, we went to the Carr Powerhouse for lunch. Whiskeytown Lake is part of the Central Valley Water Project that among other things, diverts water through a tunnel from the Trinity River to supply the San Joaquin Valley. The Powerhouse generates energy from the movement of the water.

We had a picnic in the park near the lake. (Why are there only two tables here?) It must have been the industry in our bones that made the white noise hum of the powerhouse put us to sleep for a nice nap. How lazy, is that?

Oak Bottom Water Ditch Trail

Nearby, is another relatively flat walk at the western access point to Oak Bottom Water Ditch Trail. The spot is idyll, though someone had set up table, fishing spot and gone boating already. Across this arm of the lake a Great Blue Heron landed on the water. The morning is supposedly a good time to see bald eagles in this area.

Oak Bottom Trail by Whiskeytown Lake

We walked up a bit (about one flight equivalent) on a dirt rock trail. Most of the way was flat, except where a curve around a creek had collapsed the path and the new path went up and down (two flights). The area was lush with oaks, maples, pines, blue sky and lake. Squirrels rustled leaves next to us or kicked bark at us as they scurried up trees. There was Redbud, Manzanita and Toyon along the way. This must be a gorgeous winter walk when the Toyon is full of red berries. Part of the way was a Manzanita arbor, such as we’ve not seen before. Just after a mile we turned around and went back.

Oak Bottom Beach at Whiskeytown Lake

If we had continued on this trail (2.75 mi one way), we would have come to the popular Oak Bottom campground, marina and beach. We drove around to it and by the time we got here, people were leaving. We walked around a little, noting people, dogs, bathrooms, changing rooms, and concessions. Everything is here. Maybe it’s a lot of people on a holiday weekend. But it wasn’t crowded to our city-sense.

We did find a secluded spot to end the day, wading into the lake. But I’m not telling you where it is. Find one on your own in this beautiful place.

Stop at the Visitor Center or the website (click here) to find out about camping, hiking, walking, bike riding, horseback riding, fishing, boating, wheelchair access, fees and so much more. There’s more history to learn as the gold miners were not the first people here. They kicked out the Wintu people who still survive after 6,000 years.

Next week – We’ll show you Redding, a city that makes it good for walking and biking, in a county that does that too.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar


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