Kanaka Peak Trail
Round trip: 7.8 miles
Hiking Time: 6 hours
High point: 2,700 feet
Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
Water: Available from Paige Boulder Creek, but pack plenty
Maps: USGS 7.5′ French Gulch
Contact: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, 246-1225
Trailhead directions: From Redding, drive eight miles west on Highway 299 to the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area visitor center and turn left onto J.F. Kennedy Memorial Highway. Drive about two miles, to where the road splits across the dam. Continue south on Paige Bar Road. After a mile, turn right onto the dirt road, which is Peltier Valley Road. The road crosses a bridge, goes up for 1.7 miles and then crosses a seasonal stream. Park in the clearing. To start the hike, cross Paige Bar Creek across giant granite boulders and up the unsigned Kanaka Peak Loop Trail.
While it isn’t nearly as tall as its neighbor to the north – the 6,209-foot-elevation Shasta Bally, which dominates Redding’s western views – Kanaka Peak is no slouch of a hike. It’s strenuous, to be sure, but the views of Whiskeytown Lake, the snow-capped Klamath Mountains (even in the middle of summer) and the Central Valley are not to be missed.
Besides, you’ll be walking through history, as the area was very important to the resident Wintu Indians who gathered acorns for flour, hunted deer and took salmon, trout and steelhead from the creeks.
Of course, the Wintu had a much different view from Kanaka Peak. Where as you’ll see 3,000-acre Whiskeytown Lake and urban sprawl from en expanding Redding and the rest of the Central Valley, they saw expansive forest and grasslands. Paige Boulder Creek, which you’ll cross several times, was an important source of fish for the Indians.
Alas, along the way, you’ll see the scars of years of gold exploration, where miners dug gullies and trenches – and aided in the rapid decline of the native Americans.
When the rains come in the winter and through the spring, you’ll have the chance to view a gushing waterfall and water cascading over the boulders in Paige Boulder Creek. Hike in the fall, and the scene changes; the creek still babbles happily on, but you’ve have the added bonus of some of the best fall color in the north state, as the dogwoods, black oak and maple go all warm shades.
One mile in on the way up Kanaka Peak, you’ll come to a slight trail that is one of several side trails that can be used to extend your trip. This particular trail goes about a half-mile through dense timber – you’ll swear you’ve returned to the time of the Wintu – and come to a crashing, 15-foot-tall waterfall that pours over a solid piece of granite. There are plenty of granite boulders to climb on, where from perches, you can watch the flow of Paige Boulder Creek and forget all your worldly troubles.
Just a little ways past the side trail, you’ll get the first look at your destination – Kanaka Peak, which in the Wintu language, means ‘gold.’
You’ll cross the stream again, then the trail climbs steeply and eventually hooks up with a ridge with great views of the lake below. Here, you’ll come to a leaning canyon live oak that towers over the sign announcing the recreation area’s boundary. Rest here, since there’s still a climb of nearly a half-mile more to the top (you’ll know you’re almost there when you get to the giant sugar pine). And don’t be fooled by the steep descent from the boundary sign.
Once you’ve made it around the thicket of manzanita and canyon oak bushes, stop to take in the views. Mt. Shasta to the north. The radio and television towers on Shasta Bally. The jagged peaks of the Trinity Alps. The Yolla Bolla Mountains to the south. Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags to the east.
In 1991, the area was swept by fire. You’ll continue downward through this burn area, where you’ll get to see the impact fire has on the landscape, especially this year’s horrific fire season. Pine and oak punches through the ground cover, where if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to deer feeding on all this developing vegetation.
Keep dropping down steeply (and watch out for mountain bikers; the trail also is very popular with downhillers who have nicknamed the ride “The Recliner”), boulder-hope Paige Boulder Creek and then follow the stream to the trailhead.
Former north state resident Thom Gabrukiewicz now lives in the Great Plains of South Dakota, but he still remembers a thing or two about the outdoors in Northern California. He’s the author of “Best Hikes With Dogs, Bay Area and Beyond” (Mountaineers Books, mountaineersbooks.org) and has tasted bugs while fishing just to get a sense of what fish may or may not find delicious. He blogs about life (his) at thomg.blogspot.com.