Celebrate National Park Week with the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge

The National Park Service invites visitors to “Find Your Waterfall” by taking the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge during National Park Week

The National Park Service invites visitors to “Find Your Waterfall” by taking the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge during National Park Week, which begins Saturday, April 21st and runs through Sunday, April 29th.

Visitors can complete the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge on their own by obtaining a free Waterfall Challenge Passport at the visitor center or by obtaining one on a ranger-led hike. With the passport, visitors can hike to Brandy Creek, Boulder Creek, Crystal Creek and Whiskeytown Falls and stop at the trail register located at the base of each waterfall. Each register has a unique plaque which visitors can use to create a colored impression within their passport.

Once all four waterfalls are complete, visitors can then return the passport to the visitor center to receive their completion stamp and a special gift (while supplies last). The challenge can be completed during multiple visits, or, finish them all in one day for bragging rights.

In celebration of National Park Week, April 21st, will be fee-free at Whiskeytown and all 413 National Park units.

In 2017, Ryan Loughrey completed the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge. Here is his account of the experience:

Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge – 4 Waterfalls, 9 Miles, 5 Hours

By Ryan Loughrey

Four waterfalls to hike to but only one day in which to do it? Challenge accepted.

I dearly wanted to compete in the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge, but due to my busy schedule, I would only have one half-day in which to try to hike to the four waterfalls of the challenge. Basically, I had to go to Boulder Creek Falls, Whiskeytown Falls, Brandy Creek Falls, and Crystal Creek Falls and obtain etchings for a passport at each to prove I had gone in order to complete the challenge. (Printable guides to each of the hike courtesy of the National Park Service at the end)

So I got ready the night before, making burritos (intentionally plural), filling up my water bottle, and charging the batteries for my camera. The next morning, I woke up and was grateful to see blue skies. It was pleasantly cool as I first headed up the hill to Brandy Creek Falls. Although it was early on a Saturday morning (for me), I passed a few mountain bicyclists while driving up to the trailhead and when I got to the parking lot I found there were already several cars parked there.

Lower Brandy Creek Falls

It took me roughly a half hour from the trailhead to reach Lower Brandy Creek Falls. I was walking at a decent pace, but still joggers passed me by, and I thought about how fun that would be – to jog the trails if I were in better shape. The hike to Brandy Creek falls is pleasant, with only one creek intersecting the trail which could be easily hopped over.

Whiskeytown Falls

The second falls I attempted was Whiskeytown Falls. I have not been there in quite some time, and almost forgot how to get to the trailhead. No doubt due to the sunny weather and free admission, the parking lot was full and cars lined the sides of the road leading to the trailhead. This was definitely the most popular hike that I did that day, and I saw people of all ages, ranging from children following distractedly behind their parents to an elderly couple with hiking poles and big smiles. I also saw the most four-legged hikers on this trail, and my favorite was an exuberant dachshund trying to pull it’s owner on one of the uphill parts of the hike.

The hike itself is comprised of many uphills, but also has a lot of shady spots to take a break in. It is doable for most ages, but could be a challenge for anyone with accessibility issues. However, the hike is quite worth it to see the 220-foot falls that were re-discovered as recently as 2004.

Lower Crystal Creek Falls

Roughly 1/3rd of a mile one-way, this is one of the easiest hikes and is ADA accessible. I would recommend it to those with mobility issues or with young impatient children. The hike passes a small meadow dotted with purple lupines and comes to a picnic area that is popular during the summer.

These falls also have a claim to fame being the only human-made falls in the park. Crystal Creek was re-routed in order to accommodate an overflow structure that is used as part of the project to divert water from the Trinity River to Whiskeytown Lake. There is a small trail behind the overflow structure, but this trail is not maintained so definitely be cautious. Since I was trying to simply go to all four waterfalls, I didn’t attempt this back trail, but have in the past and have enjoyed it.

Boulder Creek Falls

I saved this hike for last, as it is one of my personal favorites. I had done a story about this hike a few months previous with my girlfriend and was eager to return. Plus, the road to the trailhead was open this time so I was able to park closer. The road could be slightly challenging for smaller cars, but I saw a Smart Car at the trailhead so I figure that anyone who doesn’t mind getting a little dirt on their tires and drives carefully enough would be able to make it.

The trail starts out with a bit of a climb but eventually levels out and follows an old road that passes through a lightly forested area. On this hike, I passed by a lady I had seen on the previous three hikes, and we smiled at each other and acknowledged that both of us were trying all four hikes in one day.

The only challenging part of this hike is about 0.1 miles from the falls. Here, a very full Boulder Creek comes rushing across the trail, and the options are either to forge your way through the water sans shoes, or to hobble across two logs that have been perched across in a kind of makeshift bridge. I chose the latter, careful not to slip into the water below. After the crossing, I followed the trail and entered the last part of the hike. After a small bit of rock-hopping, I entered a small, bowl shaped canyon in which Boulder Creek Falls can be viewed. There was one bench, but ample rocks to sit on around the pool at the base of the falls. I did see one couple sitting and eating, and a mother and her son playing near the water’s edge.  The walls of the canyon make this fall seem more secluded and hidden, and the blue hue of the water entices me to come back during the heat of the summer to swim in.

In actuality, doing all four hikes while at a comfortable pace (not trying to jog or mountain bike to each one, just my usual hiking pace which is about the same pace as me walking) was less challenging than I expected. And while trying to find a parking space at Whiskeytown Falls was difficult, it does make me think that more and more people have an appreciation of the wonderful nature we have in our backyard. Hopefully these firsthand experiences of nature will help people make earth-friendly decisions in the future. From basic decisions such as where to bring visiting family members from out of town, to more political decisions such as supporting governmental programs that help protect the environment.

I did the hikes as a fun personal challenge to be re-acquainted with some falls I hadn’t visited in some time, as well as to test the waters (so to speak) to see how many people would take advantage of the nice weather and free admission into the park. I also want to note that the helpful people at the Visitor’s Center no doubt saw a large number of people that day but were still kind and patient with my sweaty self.

I also still had time to freshen up before the Banff Film Festival that night and take a nap. I calculated how many miles I hiked that day and apparently I had gone roughly 9 miles. I think if I knew how long it would have been up front, I might have tried to break it up into a few different days. Still, sometimes you want to challenge yourself. I know that I didn’t take the time to appreciate each of the waterfalls individually, but I still enjoyed being on the trail with the subtle camaraderie of hikers who had to wait on a narrow part of the trail for others to pass, and seeing so many people coming out and simply enjoying the splendor of Whiskeytown.

As promised, here are some pdf trail guide links to each of the hikes:

Brandy Creek Falls

Whiskeytown Falls

Lower Crystal Creek Falls

Boulder Creek Falls

Hope to see more people out there as the weather clears up. Happy trails!

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California
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