Trail of the Quarter: Hornbeck Trail – Historical, Beautiful and Interesting

The 4-mile Hornbeck Trail, much of which follows the bed of an abandoned historic narrow gauge railroad, is part of complex of single-track dirt trails east of Keswick Reservoir.  It is restricted to non-motorized use by hikers (dogs allowed), bicyclists, and equestrians. Both its two trailheads have parking and restrooms.

The south trailhead on Quartz Hill Road has a water fountain.  This trail, with its even surface, minimal elevation change, no water crossings, and relative closeness to Redding and Shasta Lake City, is popular with novice mountain bikers, runners, and history buffs.  It is appropriate for children. Because shade canopy is spotty, summer trail users should finish by late morning to avoid midday and afternoon dust, heat and sun.


The south trailhead on Quartz Hill Road is located about one mile west of its junction with Lake Blvd. or 1.8 miles north from its intersection with Keswick Dam Road. The north trailhead is at the end of Walker Mine Road, which intersects Lake Blvd near Shasta Lake City.  The north trailhead is at the gated end of Walker Mine Road, 3.2 miles west of it intersection with Lake Blvd.

A map of the entire trail system surrounding Keswick Reservoir can be downloaded from the Healthy Shasta Website by clicking here.


There are three ways to hike the entire trail—a four-mile shuttle leaving cars at both trailheads, an eight-mile out and back, and a loop trip incorporating the Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail.  These directions start from the south trailhead.

The trail weaves west for ¼ mile, passing the restroom, and then turns north through manzanita and oak.  At about 0.6 miles the remnants of Old Diggins Road joins the trail from the left.  This is the first of many intersections with old mining roads.  A few feet farther, the trail turns left sharply, and enters a deeply cut portion of the historic Quartz Hill Railway bed.

The Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail intersects on the right at about 1 mile.  A little farther is a modern sculpture in the form of a rusted car body.  A little further the first views of Shasta Bally and South Fork Mountains appear, and the trail again more or less overlays the old rail bed for the next two miles.

At about 1.6 miles is the first of two intersections with the FB Trail.  (The other is about ½ mile farther.)  A little past this point, just before the two-mile marker, one can rest on a bench under a commanding black oak tree.  Shortly beyond the two-mile marker Keswick Reservoir can be seen, followed by another bench, this one with a nice view of the water.

At about 2.6 miles a side trail drops about 200 feet down to the Reservoir, which is not an appropriate place to drink or swim.  Located at this trail intersection is the rusted detritus of an abandoned encampment.  A short distance north of this spur trail on the right is a connecting trail that intersects the Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail. People who want to do a loop trip without traveling another 1.4 miles to the north trailhead at Walker Mine Road should turn right and follow this trail.

Slightly before the 3-mile marker the Hornbeck Trail drops down to a flat and makes a sharp right turn where there is a blank information sign. At about 3.5 miles another side trail to the left leads to Freitas overlook and a bench. A sign calls attention to concrete foundations for an aerial tram that once transported ore across the river.  Seen upstream to the northwest is the mouth of Texas Creek with a bench and picnic table at the water’s edge.  It was at this location the Quartz Hill Railway Bridge once spanned the river.

The final half-mile of the trail, winding through manzanita, pine, and oaks is better shaded.  Several small seasonal streams pass under the trail in culverts.

A return trip from the north trailhead can retrace the hike in the opposite direction or a loop trip can be made incorporating the Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail which can be accessed either by going east on Walker Mine Road 0.8 mile to its trailhead on the right or by going 1.4 miles south on the Hornbeck Trail to its intersection with the Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail, which then winds south rejoining the Hornbeck Trail after 2.8 miles.  The last mile is on the Hornbeck Trail ending where you started.


Vegetation in this area is thin in places, as nearly all of it was killed in the early 20th century by smoke from the nearby copper smelters. Recovery is still far from complete. Foothill chaparral, mostly white leaf manzanita, toyon, buckbrush, and coffeeberry came back first and still predominate with trees, primarily knobcone, gray, and ponderosa pine and live and blue oak slowly gaining ground.  In the spring, Indian warrior, western redbuds, and several varieties of ceanothus bloom.  Spring wildflowers are often scarce, but fortunately so is poison oak.


A hundred years ago, this was serious mining country, but not for gold.  In 1897 copper replaced gold as the Shasta County’s most valuable mineral. In 1906-07 Shasta County produced more copper than any other county in the United States.

The narrow gauge Quartz Hill Railway (originally called Old Diggins Railroad) was built to transport quartz, a premium raw material for copper smelting, from Quartz Hill, a 150-ft high outcrop of the mineral near the end of Herbsenta Lane, several hundred feet northeast of the Quartz Hill Road trailhead to a copper smelter at the mining town of Kennett, now submerged 400 feet under Shasta Lake.

The mined quartz was hauled north and west and across the Sacramento River—much narrower before Keswick Dam was constructed—to a siding on the Southern Pacific Railroad, whose bed is now the Sacramento River Rail Trail.  The SP then hauled the quartz north to Kennett.

The Quartz Hill Railway operated from 1907 until Quartz Hill was exhausted in 1915. The copper smelters spewed tons of sulfur dioxide fumes, which were carried by the wind, killing all vegetation it touched, often overnight, as far away as Anderson, including local fruit orchards and denuding much of the area, including the rolling foothills crossed by the Hornbeck Trail.

Irate local farmers successfully sued the mining companies, leading to the closure of all the smelters by 1919. The copper mines, no longer profitable, shut down over the next several years.  Much of the Hornbeck Trail follows the alignment of the old narrow gauge Quartz Hill Railway.

The Hornbeck Trail is named for Chuck Hornbeck, an engineer and long time Redding resident who is an avid hiker and railroad and history buff.  He located the old rail bed and flagged most of the trail that bears his name.

The entire trail network east of Keswick Reservoir was planned, designed, and built by a partnership between the BLM, the Bureau of Reclamation, the McConnell Foundation, and the Redding Foundation, and was opened in 2007.


Distance: Turtle Bay to the Quartz Hill Road Trailhead—7 miles (11 kilometers)

Trail Length: 4 m. (6.4 k) One Way to the north (Walker Mine Road) trailhead

Trail Length returning on the Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail:

– From the north trailhead accessing from the Hornbeck Trail—5.2 m. (8.3 k)

– From the north trailhead accessing from Walker Mine Road—4.6 m (7.4 k)

– From the north junction with the Hornbeck Trail connector—3.8 m (6.1 k)

Elevation (approximate): Start—724 ft, End—682 ft, Highest Point—803 ft.

Difficulty: Easy, one-way, moderate, round trip.

Best Attributes: Historic railroad, views of reservoir, mountains, and history

Best Time: Anytime but hot sunny weather, high winds, or major storms.

Hiking Time (one way):  2 hours

Biking Time (one way): 25-60 minutes

Connecting Trails: FB Trail, Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail, Upper Sacramento Ditch Trail and its connector trail.

This “Best Of” article originally appeared October 9, 2013.

Marion Schmitz was born in Evansville, Indiana, and spent most of his adult life in Bucks County, PA.  He graduated from Purdue University and received an MS in chemical engineering from the University Of Pennsylvania and later worked as a researcher and manager for Rohm & Hass, a chemical manufacturer.  After his retirement, he moved to Redding with his wife, Carole in 1997.

He is one of the founders and board members of the Trails & Bikeways Council of Greater Redding where has applied his engineering talents to trail and bridge building in the field and by bringing scientific clarity and coherence to cluttered concepts and confused concerns with curmudgeonly delight at TBC meetings. When not doing good work for his community, he likes to hike, play tennis, and drink beer (not necessarily in that order).

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