WATERFALLS OF WHISKEYTOWN

Images by: Tammy Reynolds

Whiskeytown is much more than just its beautiful lake. Visitors can also hike to scenic waterfalls and wade in cool streams in old-growth forest. We encourage you to come out and experience these special treasures of Whiskeytown.
 
Detailed trail guides and maps are available online at www.nps.gov/whis or at the Visitor Center.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area has four major waterfalls that you normally can visit year-round. The best time to visit the Falls is in the spring when the snow-melt from Shasta Bally cascades through the forest and enters Whiskeytown Lake. The four waterfalls are Brandy Creek Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Crystal Creek Falls, and the spectacular Whiskeytown Falls.

Since Carr Fire in 2018, there are only two waterfalls that are currently accessible. Crystal Creek Falls and Whiskeytown Falls are the two falls where park staff and partners have restored dozens of miles of trails along the James K. Carr Trail. It reopened on Valentine’s Day 2020.

The other two falls, Boulder Creek Falls and Brandy Creek Falls are currently closed due to trails that are inaccessible and dangerous.

They are currently working on restoring the lower Brandy Creek Trail, but it will be sometime before the trails above Sheep Camp are restored.

You can help Support Restoration of Brandy Creek Trail at Whiskeytown. See our Events page or Contribute 

• Plan ahead. Know before you go. 
• Stick to Trails. 
• Trash your trash, manage your dog (pick up poop). 
• Leave it as you find it.
• Be careful with fire. 
• Keep wildlife wild, don’t feed the wildlife. 
• Respect other visitors, share our trails, yield to others.

The National Park Service promotes responsible outdoor recreation. Please take a personal role in preserving the outdoor experience for yourself and future generations while enjoying your visit at Whiskeytown.

For more information visit the Leave No Trace program website at www.LNT.org

The Waterfalls of
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

When the Central Valley Project was designed in the 1920s, an important component was the diversion of a large portion of the Trinity River to Whiskeytown Lake and from there to the Sacramento River. The 17 mile tunnel was excavated to transport the water underground from Lewiston Dam to Carr Powerhouse and the tailings were dumped in the area near Crystal Creek Falls. The waterfall is accessed by a gravel road that runs through the huge piles of waste rock. 
 
As you look at Crystal Creek Falls, you see a small concrete structure on the right. This building houses and overflow valve for the Clear Creek tunnel. The valve is used when letting water out through Carr Powerhouse into the lake is not an option. The excess water from the tunnel then spills into Crystal Creek. 
 
When the overflow structure was built, the Bureau of Reclamation rerouted Crystal Creek. The creek was moved about 50 feet to the left to make a shortcut over the cliff, creating this picturesque waterfall. This makes Crystal Creek Falls the only “man-made” waterfall in the park.
 

In the spring of 2004, Park wildlife biologist Russ Weatherbee, was viewing contour maps on his computer when he noticed a portion of Crystal Creek that dropped very steeply in a short distance. By examining aerial photographs, he could see what appeared to be white water between the trees. Weatherbee and park geologist, Brian Rasmussen, drove up Crystal Creek Road and then bush-whacked through the hills. They found a spectacular 220-foot waterfall which has been christened “Whiskeytown Falls”.
 
It is likely that many generations of local residents knew about the waterfall, but did not widely share their knowledge. In the 1950s, Arthur Coggins, the property owner, harvested the trees. Temporary roads were constructed and the East Fork of Crystal Creek, near the falls, was logged. Once the loggers left, the logging roads began to wash away, vegetation grew over the old paths, and the forest regenerated, concealing the waterfall. 
 
For a variety of reasons, the existence of Whiskeytown Falls remained a secret. At a fortieth year reunion of Park employees in 2005, former Rangers Jack Holland and Henry LaSalla recalled finding the falls in 1968 while locating property lines on Shasta Bally. Then parked superintendent, Leon Mitchell, agreed that they would not publicize it because they did not think they could adequately patrol the new park lands with a small, limited staff.
 
In the 1970s, Holland and LaSalla transferred to other parks, Mitchell passed away, and the falls are only mentioned in the park’s 1976 master plan. It devotes only one sentence to describing the falls.

Knowledge of the falls faded quietly away, until resurrected by Weatherbee. Today, people from all over the world have heard about the discovery of this hidden waterfall through extensive press coverage.
 
After two summers of work, the National Park Service opened the trail to Whiskeytown Falls. The trail itself has been named in honor of James K. Carr, one of Redding’s native sons. James Carr was appointed Undersecretary of the Interior during President Kennedy‘s administration and championed the legislation which made the area a unit of the National Park Service in November 1965. By developing the James K. Carr Trail, Whiskeytown continues to expand on exceptional recreational opportunities for the public.

At approximately 138 feet in height, Boulder Creek Falls was recently thought to be the tallest waterfall in the park until Whiskeytown Falls was re-discovered in 2004. The three Cascades of Boulder Creek Falls are tucked into a dark, shaded box Canyon filled with moss and ferns.
 
The forest around Boulder Creek Falls was selectively logged in the 1950s and the trail to the falls was the main hauling road that carried old-growth Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pines to the sawmill. When the park was established in 1965, some logging continued into the early 70s. Once the logging ended, the forest began to recover. 
 
Historically, Whiskeytown‘s ancient forests were dominated by large pines and magnificent oaks. Due to logging and fire suppression many of these forests have shifted in species composition to dense stands of small diameter and even-aged fir species. Sections of Whiskeytown‘s old growth forests still exist and park staff are investigating restoration treatments such as prescribed fire and thinning to maintain these grand trees.

The Trail to Brandy Creek Falls follows an old logging road from the 1950s. Remnant skid trails and sections of abandoned roads from the logging era were found throughout the watershed. Now, these trails are closed due to the extensive damage from the Carr Fire in 2018 and the winter rains that followed.


Because of the steep hillsides, erosive soil, and heavy precipitation found in the Brandy Creek drainage, periodic debris flows can occur. Some of these debris flows occur naturally, while others result from the failure of old logging roads and now fire destruction. Tens of thousands of cubic yards of rock, soil, and forest may tumble down the canyon. These are dramatic events that occur typically during heavy rain storms in the winter months.


The most recent series of debris flows occurred in the winter of 1997/1998 and during the 2018/2019 heavy winter rains following the Carr Fire. At the first bridge crossing on the Brandy Creek Falls Trail, the stream channel was totally transformed as a ten-foot high wall of boulders, mud, and fallen trees poured down the canyon. Previous to Carr Fire in 2018, alders and willows had grown back over the scarred area, returning shade to the stream waters that feature cold, deep pools that are home to rainbow trout, tailed frogs, and pacific giant salamanders.


Five small cascades and pools sweep down across the polished granite between the lovely Lower Falls and the magnificent 50-foot high Upper Falls. Upper Brandy Creek Falls plunge in a unique split formation through the steep vertical walls. In the spring, the umbrella-leafed indian rhubarb is one of the first flowers to appear, displaying an array of brilliant pink blossoms. In the fall, the leaves of the indian rhubarb turn a bright orange color.

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