Whiskeytown Falls – No Longer Whiskeytown’s Best Kept Secret

Until 2004, the knowledge of beautiful cascading Whiskeytown Falls was kept silent. In the late 1960’s only a few loggers and park rangers knew about the falls, but the funds to create a trail and protect them were not available. It was Whiskeytown Recreational Area’s best kept secret.

Eventually, park rangers and others who had known about the falls either moved on or passed away, taking the secret with them. There were just a few residents who still visited the falls periodically.

Enter Russ Weatherbee: wildlife biologist with the park service. Russ heard mention of a large waterfall just off of Crystal Creek. Puzzling as this was, there was no indication of a waterfall anywhere, including the U.S. Geological survey map. One day, Russ discovered an old tattered logging map from the 1960’s. He noticed a dot and the words “waterfall” on one of Crystal Creek’s tributaries. He decided to start his search for the elusive falls he had heard about.

How can a 220 foot waterfall be so obscured that only a few know about it for decades? The surrounding terrain is very steep. In the 1950’s, after the area was logged, a heavy umbrella of trees and foliage grew back, hiding this amazing sight from view. In 2003, Russ was looking at global imaging maps and noticed a section of the creek that dropped in altitude. He also noticed a sliver of something white running through it and thought, That looks like white water!

In 2004, Russ Weatherbee and Park Geologist, Brian Rasmussen traversed above the area where they suspected the falls. Even though they were hesitant to keep going further because of the rugged terrain, their desire to find the falls was greater than their fear of not being able to get back out. Since they could hear the waterfall, they could not stop now! They hacked and picked their way down. Finally, there it was, the most gorgeous waterfall splashing over granite, mosses and fallen logs.

One year after Russ and Brian re-discovered the falls, the park service crews cleared a route along the creek. The rough undeveloped trail tied sections of obsolete logging roads for 1.7 miles from the trailhead at Crystal Creek Road to the base of the falls.

In 2005, Bob Madison, a member of Trails and Bikeways, hiked to the falls in its early stages of progress. In order to pass one area of the trail semi-safely, you had to hang on to the rope to get across that area. A bit unnerving, if you ask me!

You had to hang onto the rope to safely get through this section of trail!

And, when Bob reached the falls, rather than the stairs we use, he had to pull himself up with fire hose-ropes to get a higher view point.

Fire hoses to climb up the rocks by the falls before the railing and nice steps!

Fast forward a few years and a lot of hard labor and we have a magnificent trail! It is designated moderate to strenuous. Although 90 percent uphill, it levels out periodically to allow you to recover and keep on going.

Within the first 10 minutes of the hike, a large footbridge crosses over the west fork of Crystal Creek. The climb begins on a narrow trail, requiring you to hang on to your little ones as there is no railing and the drop is steep if they should take a tumble.


There are benches along the way for those who need to take a break. The nicest rest provides a family-size bench and a vista of the forest called Wintu View.  A little further up you arrive at Trail Camp. There are tables for a picnic and is next to the flowing creek for the kids to cool off and get wet on a hot day.

For the plant enthusiast, this hike will provide much to note. You will find many kinds of wildflowers, dogwood trees, manzanita, lupine, Indian rhubarb, pine trees, California incense cedar, wild strawberries, grapevines, ferns, and many more that I was not able to identify.

The trail winds, climbs, levels off, descends and goes up again, taking you through shade and into the sun. It is best to take this hike before noon, especially when the Redding temperatures get into the sizzling zone.

When you reach the second footbridge, you have a quarter mile of uphill, narrow, shaded trail. It follows the most beautiful stretch of ferns, mini-waterfalls and moss covered boulders. As you begin to descend, you will go around a bend and arrive at the cascading 220-foot water falls splashing over the granite into a crystal clear pool of crisp, clean water where you will spot a trout or two.

Don’t forget to sign the guest book!

It is here that you can take the rock step trail on the left of the falls. Hang on to the rail as the mist from the water fall causes slippery conditions. The first viewing area is called Photographers Ledge, continuing on to the upper falls you end at Artist’s Ledge. The climb up the side of the falls is difficult because it is slippery, narrow, and rocky. I found that coming down on these rock steps was more difficult and strenuous on the knees than going up.

There are restrooms at the beginning of the trailhead, but none on the trail. Be sure and take water and snacks and a few Band-Aids just in case! Sunscreen and bug spray would also be helpful.

Whiskeytown Falls, a beautiful 3.4 mile round-trip outing that will not disappoint. Even the family pet can come along! Go and make some memories!

Renae Tolbert lives in Redding where she enjoys outdoor photography, writing short stories, biking and hiking. She considers herself a photographer first, writer second. Her passion is to bring joy and beauty into people’s lives by sharing what she sees through her camera lens. Her photography is available at Enjoy the Store where she sells prints and greeting cards. Her short stories can be read in the bi-monthly Joyful Living magazine.

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7 Responses

  1. Whiskeytown Falls is one of this area’s true treasures – what a gem. I am SO grateful for all the work that went into the trail – they did a masterful job. I hiked up there a couple weeks ago in the late afternoon and had the falls entirely to myself. Just heavenly. A perfect way to end the day and another reason for Redding to be proud.

  2. Scott says:

    After talking about hiking to the falls each year since moving to Redding in 2005, my family finally did it on Easter and had a wonderful time. I was so impressed, I went back the following weekend with a friend visiting from the Bay Area. Like me, he couldn’t believe this little oasis was hiding tucked away in the hills.

    On Easter, I asked a couple along the trail who we’d seen in the parking lot and had already made it to the falls and were headed back if the climb was worth it, unsure of what we still had ahead of us. Not really, they said, before adding that they were from Washington State, comparing it to falls such as those along the Columbia Gorge.

    Once I’d seen the falls for myself, I could see their point—and not. The falls may be small, but they’re beautiful and breathtaking in their own modest way. They’re close by and don’t require a long drive or a battle with crowds. And they’re fun, being a best-kept secret, since I’ve since learned I’m not the only one who talks about visiting them but puts it off—or rather, put it off, since I’ll definitely be going back frequently.

    Do watch those drops on the sandy soil, though, especially with kids. It’s easy to slip, and yes, it’s a long way down—a very long way.

  3. Donna Dowling says:

    I love Whiskeytown Falls. Of course, I was completely intrigued when I heard they were the lost falls. Love stuff like that. I have actually taken a class on a field trip there. It was a bit stressful – you really have to have decent behaviors and lots of chaperones because the drop off areas are pretty extreme, but the rewards are plentiful when the kids are awestruck by the experience. I haven’t been able to go for a few years with my students, but I sure have enjoyed it with friends.

  4. Barbara Cosindas says:

    We are so blessed by all the beauty here in the Redding Area. Whiskeytown Falls is just one of the lovely places we have to escape to! It may be a bit of a climb in some places on the trail, but once you arrive at your destination it is so well worth it. We were able to take two of our girls there to visit and experience the beauty. Hopefully another time we can get all three up there to enjoy the sight! It is nice to know that we do not have to venture far to see so many beautiful places!

  5. Ron says:

    Anyone how long it takes to reach the falls? Looks like something to put on my list to hike it..

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