Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
● By Kerri Regan
Explore WhiskeytownAugust 2015
By Kerri Regan
Sun-kissed preschoolers shriek with delight as they take turns burying each other in the warm sand at Brandy Creek. After work, serenity-seekers glide into the water on paddleboards for a unique session of yoga, the day’s worries melting away. An artist hikes up to Whiskeytown Falls, settling at Artist’s Ledge to capture the beauty on canvas.
It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation establishing Whiskeytown National Recreation Area on November 8, 1965. In the ensuing half-century, the area has grown to include an environmental school, a restored watershed, hundreds of miles of trails, additional waterfall access, numerous ranger-led programs and more.
Redding outdoorsman Leon Nelson has spent the better part of eight decades exploring Whiskeytown and its surroundings, and encourages North State residents to do the same. “I’ve walked every single solitary inch of Brandy Creek, from where it dumps into Whiskeytown Lake at the beach to where it comes gushing from the mountain, high on the southern slopes of 6,199-foot Shasta Bally,” says Nelson, who used to plan secret picnics for his mother along Brandy Creek every Mother’s Day. He’s taught most of his grandchildren to fish for trout at Whiskeytown, primarily at their “secret fishing hole” on Paige Boulder Creek.
Great ways to launch your own adventure:
• CHAT WITH AN EXPERT in the Visitor Center and learn more about the history of the Wintu, who settled in the area thousands of years ago, and the California Gold Rush, which brought miners to Whiskeytown.
• STROLL ALONG CLEAR CREEK, where gold was discovered and led to Whiskeytown’s name. Legend has it that a miner loaded a whiskey barrel on his mule to bring back to camp to celebrate after finding gold, and when other miners startled the mule, it bucked off the whiskey barrel and sent it crashing down a hill, creating “Whiskey Creek.”
• SEE WHICH SPECIES you can identify in the California native plant garden behind the Visitor Center.
• VISIT THE PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY MEMORIAL. With the click of a button, you can hear his speech from the 1963 Whiskeytown Dam dedication.
• EXPLORE THE CAMDEN HOUSE, built in 1852 by prospectors and restored in 1981.
• HIKE TO SHASTA BALLY, the highest point in Whiskeytown at 6,199 feet.
• VISIT THE LOWEST POINT in Whiskeytown – Clear Creek near the southeast park boundary, which is at 860 feet.
• WATCH THE STARS under a clear night sky. One great spot is the Mount Shasta Mine Loop Trail parking lot on Paige Bar Road.
• MARVEL at the 150-year-old fruit trees at the Tower House Historic District.
• PAN FOR GOLD in Clear Creek.
• TAKE A BIKE RIDE on one of the dozens of park trails. The Chimney (near Brandy Creek) is a great workout ride, while the Oak Bottom Water Ditch Trail is an easy, family-friendly trek.
• PACK YOURSELF A PICNIC. The developed beaches have shady picnic spots with fire grills, or take your basket and blanket to your favorite hideaway. Try the picnic site at Crystal Creek Falls for a change of scenery.
• TAKE YOUR KAYAK, canoe or stand-up paddle board out from Brandy Creek.
• RENT A FISHING BOAT, pontoon boat or deck cruiser from Oak Bottom and explore every inch of the lake. (Personal watercraft is not allowed.)
• SAIL AWAY - there’s usually enough wind to move your sailboat along, and you’re likely to find a number of folks spending the evening hours letting go of the stress of a long workday with a sail along the lake.
• FOR A HIGHER-OCTANE ADVENTURE, waterski or wakeboard your way around Whiskeytown.
• ENROLL THE KIDS in a free Junior Ranger or Junior Firefighter program, where they’ll learn about preserving their parks.
• TREAT YOURSELF to unobstructed panoramic views from the new Princess Ditch Trail.
• COMPLETE the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge by hiking to all four of the park’s waterfalls – Whiskeytown, Brandy Creek, Boulder Creek and the ADA-accessible Crystal Creek Falls.
• SEARCH for the nesting pairs of osprey that call Whiskeytown home.
• DISCOVER WHAT LIES BELOW the lake’s surface with a scuba diving adventure.
• FISH from a boat or the shore (with a valid California fishing license).
• ENJOY a free ranger-led program, including kayaking, astronomy, movies under the starlight, historical cemetery tours and more.
• FLOAT. Grab a raft, slather on some sunscreen and forget your worries.
• CAMP OUT. The park is home to nearly 200 campsites (developed and primitive), including some RV spots.
• VOLUNTEER. Love the park? Opportunities abound to give back.
Find Whiskeytown National Recreation Area on Facebook.
Whiskeytown annual pass (also good at Lassen Volcanic National
Park) is $40; weekly pass is $10; available at the Visitor Center
(the park will be fee-free on Aug. 25, Sept. 26 and Nov. 11 this year).
The Whiskeytown National Recreation Area marks its golden anniversary this summer, and its Friends have planned an engaging celebration in its honor.
The Friends of Whiskeytown’s “Symphony on the Beach” is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at Brandy Creek Beach. It will include dedication of a plaque honoring Stephen Mather (the first director of the National Park Service), sealing of a children’s time capsule, a performance by Shasta Symphony Orchestra, the launch of candle luminaries and speeches by local dignitaries.
“We wanted to do something kind of classy, since Whiskeytown is such a beautiful park,” said Park Superintendent Jim Milestone. “We have a million visitors a year now – it’s a pretty neat place.”
For an extra touch of class, guests can write their names and wishes on candle luminaries, which will be launched into the water and kept within designated swimming areas by kayak patrols. Art from the artists-in-residence program will also be on display.
People of all ages are encouraged to write letters about their experiences at Whiskeytown to be included in the time capsule, which was built by the park welder and will be opened in 50 years. Letters can be taken to the Visitor Center or mailed to the Office of the Superintendent, P.O. Box 188, Whiskeytown, CA 96095.