Northern California hosts wonderful outdoor recreational opportunities for families, from Lassen National Park to Mount Shasta hiking trails and ski areas. If you only have a day, and want a taste of the area’s lakes, trails, and mining history, head to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, just outside Redding, CA.
Whiskeytown is located just 20 minutes from I-5, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realize it was there for years! As residents of Southern Oregon with family in Northern California, we drive this stretch of I-5 regularly. We will now add stops at Whiskeytown more often. Here’s why:
Hiking trails and waterfalls:
We visited Whiskeytown in spring, the ideal time to hike to its many waterfalls. However, summer is still a great time to explore this aspect of the park, as the creeks provide excellent swimming holes. Whiskeytown boasts numerous hiking trails of various lengths. Below are our favorites for families:
- Brandy Creek Falls: Brandy Creek is located an easy drive from the Whiskeytown visitor center on South Shore Drive, and is only 1.6 miles. You can go out and back and turn around earlier to make the hike shorter, if needed. The trail follows Brandy Creek, which has a series of smaller but beautiful cascading waterfalls, most of which result in tempting swimming holes. There are picnic spots along the way. In summer, this trail provides lots of shade, and I know it would be a good tucked-away spot to spend the day, provided you get there early enough to snag a spot!
- Boulder Creek Falls: When Mill Creek Road is open (in the late spring and summer months), the trail to 138 foot Boulder Creek Falls is only one mile. You can also access a trail that ends at the falls via South Shore Drive, but the hike will be 2.75 miles.
- Mill Creek Trail: This trail is over six miles, but the first mile takes families past a historic stamp mill, mine, and water ditch, which makes the walk very interesting. If you want to shorten it, just take an out-and-back approach, and stop when you’re ready.
Note: Watch for poison oak on all trails, during all times of year. It’s very active in this area.
Historic buildings and mining artifacts:
The Tower House Historic District at the top of the park is accessed via Highway 299 and features the homestead and mining claim of pioneering friends Charles Camden and Levi Tower. They made their fortune both in mining and in supporting others who came for mining, opening a hotel on the premises and stamp mill. You can tour through their orchards, Tower’s gravesite, the El Dorado Mine (on the Mill Creek Trail), and the hotel and homestead. The buildings are closed in winter, but open on select days for interior tours in summer.
Stop by the visitor center when you enter Whiskeytown to pick up a family guide to the Tower House Historic District. This single paper has talking points for families. It gives a basic itinerary for viewing the area, with suggested questions for parents to ask kids and suggested activities in the site.
After leaving Whiskeytown, be sure to take 30 minutes or so to stop at the historic town of Shasta. This historic state park on Highway 299 (between Whiskeytown and Redding) has the remains of mining era buildings to explore.
Creek and lake swimming:
If you’re visiting Whiskeytown during Redding’s hot summer months, there are four designated swimming beaches along the lake. Only Brandy Creek beach has lifeguards. We suggest taking one of the hiking trails to find a swimming hole a mile or so inland on foot…the crowds will be much smaller and the shade will be fantastic. There are multiple campgrounds within the park as well.
There’s a $10 per car fee to enter the park, good for up to seven days. Pay this fee at the visitor center at the entrance. If it’s closed, there’s a self-serve fee station at the parking lot. Note: as a National Recreation Area, kids can get national park stamps at the visitor center, and participate in Junior Ranger programming.
From Redding, Whiskeytown is on Highway 299, about 20 minutes from downtown. It’s an easy detour from I-5, but will be at least a half-day pit stop if you’re on a road trip.