Whiskeytown Falls – No Longer Whiskeytown’s Best Kept Secret

Editor’s note: Renae Tolbert was a frequent contributor of writing and photography to aNewsCafe.com. She died on March 26 following complications from cancer. ANC will publish some of her work in the coming months in memory and honor of Renae. This encore piece was originally published on May 13, 2014.

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 lived in Redding where she enjoyed outdoor photography, writing short stories, biking and hiking. She considered herself a photographer first, writer second. Her passion was to bring joy and beauty into people’s lives by sharing what she saw through her camera lens. Renae died on March 26, 2019.

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2 Responses

  1. Avatar erin friedman says:

    One of my all-time favorite hikes and Renae described it beautifully. “Make some memories” is a brilliant legacy.

  2. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Renae describes the hike, when the trail first opened, very accurately. If you have low-blood sugar or some other physical dilemma, while it was a beautiful trek, it was extremely challenging and primitive. I don’t even remember the ropes. The deer trail was quite a tumble if you made one slip. But, thanks to a CCC employee I made it to the top and back. Now, it’s one of our local 7 Wonders. Cameras and sack lunch are essential.