A Complete Guide to Enjoying Whiskeytown National Recreation Area this Summer

You’d be hard pressed to find a more pristine area in Northern California than the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Whiskeytown Lake is the centerpiece of the park that includes four waterfalls, hundreds of miles of trails and a beautiful beach.

Sitting just 8 miles west of Redding, Calfiornia, there’s something for everyone at Whiskeytown. You can hike a peak, visit a waterfall, go for a swim, enjoy the lake from a boat, go fishing, lounge on the beach or even do some water skiing. Whiskeytown is a local favorite for Redding residents and is a must-see destination for anyone visiting the area.

Note: Repairs from the Carr Fire are still ongoing in the park. Please check here before planning your visit to Whiskeytown

Here’s a complete guide of things to do in Whiskeytown this summer:

Hike a Waterfall

Photo by David Wood

There are currently two waterfalls you can hike to in Whiskeytown and they are right next to eachother.

The hike to Whiskeytown Falls follows the James K. Carr Trail for a 3.4-mile loop to see the 220 foot-tall beauty. After a 1.7-mile hike up the hill, you’re greeted with the beautiful waterfall that sat hidden until 2004, and you’re going to want to sit down and enjoy its beauty for a while.

A unique feature this waterfall offers is the stairway that runs up the left side of it, which gives visitors an up-close view of the rushing water as it cascades down the fall’s rocky face. The stairs can get wet and slippery, so use caution, and be sure to hold onto the handrail when ascending the fall. Also, considering the trail weaves through old logging roads, on the hike, you get an interesting historical perspective on the economic activities that played a role in shaping Shasta County. Another appealing feature of the hike, running water parallels the trail the entire way making the experience all the more palatable on a sweltering summer day.

Just a short drive away from Whiskeytown Falls is the parking lot to Crystal Creek Falls, which is just a quick stroll on a paved path to see. It’s a man-made waterfall with a beautiful pool below, making for a relaxing experience in the park.

Kayak Adventure

If Redding is America’s kayaking capitol, then Whiskeytown Lake is its capitol building.

With its proximity to the town along with its many different areas to explore, there’s no question that the crystal-clear waters of Whiskeytown are the preferred destinations for kayakers. The population of motorboats in the water is pretty low, making it a smooth paddle around the perimeter of the lake. And with the water levels staying high year-round, there are no surprises on this paddle.

If you want to add a cool wrinkle to your Whiskeytown Paddle, try the always-popular moonlight kayak tour, combining paddling with astronomy. If you want to rent on the lake, Oak Bottom Marina and Brandy Creek Beach Store are your best bets.


As you head up the hill west of Redding, the city lights dim behind you and brighten the stars in a magnificent way. This separation between Whiskeytown and the towns surrounding it make it a wonderful destination for stargazers, with many people opting to visit the park during full moons.

There aren’t many places that won’t give you a celestial show at night. You can gaze upon the stars at Brandy Creek or Oak Bottom. You can also hop on a kayak or boat and see the night sky illuminate the water. There are also Star Parties hosted by the Shasta Astronomy Club that include full telescopes to see the stars up close.

There’s just so many ways to experience the night sky at Whiskeytown.

Visit a Ghost Town

So it’s technically not in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, but sitting just a couple miles out of the park is a fascinating ghost town from California’s Gold Rush.

In the mid-1800’s, the town of Shasta sitting just 6 miles west of Redding, California was the largest town in Shasta County. The mining community was a bustling settlement of Forty-Niners looking for their shot at the millions of dollars in Gold Rush riches from the 1850’s to 1880’s. At its peak, 3,500 residents shared a blacksmith shop, general store and courthouse near what is now the beautiful waters of Whiskeytown Lake.

Today, the ruins of the once vibrant Gold Rush town remain in “Old Shasta,” with restorations allowing visitors to take a walk through Northern California history in what was once called the Queen City of California’s northern mining district.

The grounds of Shasta today are incorporated in the Shasta State Historic Park, which include a courthouse museum, 19th-century brick ruins, a post office, a church, a cemetery and the historic bakery. Walking through this site will give you a unique glimpse into the past of Northern California, and you can enjoy it during a brief afternoon or immerse yourself in its history for an entire day.

Learn more about the Shasta State Historic Park

Mountain Biking

Photo: Jaret Brantley

Whiskeytown is one of the best places to go mountain biking in Northern California, with the hills of the south side of the park spanning miles down to Redding. In fact, you can bike all the way from Whiskeytown to Redding and back on an advanced trail spanning 33 miles.

Some of the popular rides in Whiskeytown include Chimney, Upper Ice Box, Middle Ice Box and Lower Ice Box. There are also multiple mountain biking events throughout the year, including the Bigfoot Mountain Bike Challenge and the Lemurian Shasta Downhill.

Take a look at the trail system in Whiskeytown NRA

Beach Day

There are a few places to access the water of Whiskeytown Lake, but if you want a beach day in NorCal, Brandy Creek is the best place to find it.

The beach at Brandy Creek is a favorite among locals for a summer day in the sun. There are kayak and paddle board rentals here, tables, barbeque pits, flush toilets and showers, snack bar (open on summer weekends) a life guard on duty and tons of shade near enough the main swimming area for every type of beach goer to either sunbathe or hide in the shade.

There’s also a ton of wildlife you can see in the area. But be careful with your food as not to disturb them.

Boating Adventures

You’ll usually never see Whiskeytown Lake crowded with boats, and that’s exactly what’s to love about it. The water is typically much calmer than nearby Shasta and Trinity lakes, and it’s especially chilly on those hot summer days.

You can drop your boat in at Oak Bottom Marina to go wakeboarding, skiing or tubing. That area is also known for its great sailboats, which catch the wind coming off Shasta Bally and move around the water with grace and speed. The lake is small, so be sure to watch out for other boats. Also note that no jet skis are allowed on the lake.


Photo: Jeff Goodwin Fishing

The crystal-clear water of Whiskeytown Lake makes a great home for Kokanee salmon, and that’s exactly what you can catch on the water. These fish have a reputation of being the best tasting salmon on the planet and make for a fun day on the lake if you can catch some.

These fish are best caught using a trolling technique from a boat and the best fishing spots seem to be around the dam, towards the northeast of the lake and in the area between the bridge sustaining Highway 299 and Oak Bottom.

Have fun on your summer adventure in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area!

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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