NOTE: Whiskeytown was severely burned during the 2018 Carr Fire and these trails are no longer available.
Where shall I say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018? Where shall I watch the Supermoon rise on January 1st? With a near perfect weather window, I came up with the idea of creating a thru-hike route of Whiskeytown NRA.
I’ve hiked most of this route as day hikes. It includes several popular destinations with the connector trails primarily used by mountain bikers. The benefit of planning a local backpacking trip is knowing where to find views and water while calling upon friends to help with transportation. Within 7 minutes of posting this request on facebook, I had a volunteer. Game on!
When planning the route my primary objective was open views for New Year’s Eve. As I narrowed the possibilities, Kanaka Peak made the most sense. Since it’s only about 4.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit, I delayed my start until afternoon.
My transport trail angel, Denise, hiked for a bit with me, but soon enough it was time to say goodbye and thank you.
Views from Kanaka Peak include Whiskeytown Lake and Mt Shasta to the north.
Mt Lassen is center stage to the southeast, while the waxing moon played peek-a-boo through the clouds.
It took a while but finally I got to see a little color from the last sunset of 2017.
So . . . remember when I said I planned this trip because we were experiencing a near perfect weather window? This was the forecast earlier in the day.
About 9:30pm I hear that familiar sound of . . . rain drops. Yep, what do those weather forecasters know? Clouds told me possible rain. Well it only lasted about an hour and it was perfect sleep music. Overnight low was an amazing 46 and by 7am it was already 50 degrees. Since rain was predicted for Wednesday, my planned final day of this trek, I was prepared with my umbrella and poncho.
The reality of the view from where I was camped. I heard a few fireworks early in the evening and again at midnight.
First sunrise of 2018!
I hiked down from Kanaka Peak to the Peltier Trail junction. I’d missed the sign on my way up the previous afternoon and couldn’t understand how.
No wonder I missed the trail. It’s MIA at the junction. I poked around for a bit and worked my way through this mess soon enough finding the trail. I’m guessing it’s not considered a maintained trail although evidence indicates it’s still used routinely by bikers. There were only a few minor blowdowns.
If it was a little warmer I might have wanted to take a dip in this pool.
From the Peltier Trail I transitioned to unsigned, and ridiculously steep and eroded Salt Gulch Trail. This leaf filled trough would be nearly impossible to descend without hiking poles. Using maps with marked trails is very helpful in this area. The USGS maps don’t include many of the Park trails; however, Avenza has most available for free in GeoPDF format which is what I used. From Salt Gulch I connected momentarily to Brandy Creek Road and then to Rich Gulch Trail. Salt Gulch was not signed on the road side either.
There is a fairly large bear population at Whiskeytown NRA, with plentiful evidence of bear scat on most of the trails. Thankfully they are not interested in humans and behave as they should. The blur in the middle of the photo was the only bear I saw this trip.
Except when I was dry camping, I only needed to carry about a liter of water as there were refill sources every few miles.
By early afternoon I connected to the ever popular Brandy Creek Falls Trail. You can park about 1.5 miles from the falls. I probably saw 20 people on this short section whereas I’d only seen 4 cyclists earlier in the day, and only 4 hikers on my way to Kanaka Peak the previous day.
Upper Brandy Creek Falls.
Leaving the falls, Brandy Creek Trail mostly follows it’s namesake creek for a few miles.
I’d planned to continue on another few miles to Monarch Mountain to watch the Supermoon rise. But when I reached the junction it was already 3pm; not only was I doubtful I could make my destination in time for the big event, I was also feeling pretty tuckered. Later I learned I’d hiked 12+ miles, ascending over 4,000′ and descending nearly 5,000′. So after exploring other potential view options, I settled on this cozy home instead. Notice I replaced my screaming orange tent with this forest friendly version.
My view of the Supermoon. Obstructed but bright and beautiful regardless.
The Papoose Gulch Trail is one of my favorite trails in the Park. I hadn’t been to the area since it burned a couple years ago. I was happy to see damage was limited to first half mile or so.
Manzanita trees and bushes are quite common at Whiskeytown.
As I climbed I kept watching for places I might have camped for better moon viewing. Alas I found a few views like this one of Whiskeytown Lake but none with both a view and a flat spot for camping. More important there is no nearby water which would have meant carrying the weight up this unrelenting climb.
There are a few old growth trees around.
Off to find waterfall #2 of this trip.
There were several newish bridges along the way. I was prepared for this being a wet feet day.
It’s a little crazy to see these bright green ferns in the middle of winter, but what a welcome sight.
The trail transitioned to old road bed. I love seeing nature reclaim what man changed.
There are three trails leading to the falls. I’ve hiked them all.
Boulder Creek Falls. I had the place to myself, in fact I hadn’t seen anyone all day.
Look at this brand new beautiful bridge leaving the falls. I have to give props to the Park for spending some of their fees on trail maintenance.
I’ve probably only hiked this section once previously and I didn’t remember the challenging ascent at all, and obviously as I rushed my mapping I neglected noticing this detail.
Little fella vs big fella.
Off to find waterfall #3.
I mentioned earlier about using Avenza GeoPDF maps. The blue dot shows my location. I was meeting a friend to hike Whiskeytown Falls. I realized I was not going to make our rendezvous time so I sent her this screen print to give her a heads up.
I hate to keep people waiting so I was rushing to meet my friend and made a serious navigational error. Notice on the above map the connection between the Mill Creek Trail and the James Carr Trail. Notice NO trail to the right (north) toward Crystal Creek Falls. You can see my track below where a well used trail continued north at the creek and down, down, down I went before realizing my mistake. I was exhausted and frustrated and mad. I sent my friend another text and turned around for more climbing.
The last message I’d received from my friend was that she was going to start hiking slowly up the trail to Whiskeytown Falls around 1:30pm. I’d texted back to wait for me so I could dump my pack in her car and we could hike together. I never heard back from her on that text nor any of my subsequent texts. So when I reached the junction I assumed she’d be in the parking lot. Nope! It was now after 3pm and I wasn’t feeling very motivated to hike back up to the trail junction nor the falls. But since my friend came to hike with me . . . off I went. As I crossed paths with other hikers coming down I asked about my friend. Finally I met a group who said she was on her way down. Yeah! So you can see on the map I gave up and didn’t finish my objective. Any regrets? Heck no, I’ve hiked that section of trail probably more than any other in the Park. Here’s a photo from my archives of Whiskeytown Falls.
Taking advantage of this crazy warm weather window was a gift. I could have extended my trip but why when I had transportation home and felt accomplished after hiking across the park. Pretty cool! It was tough, it was challenging, it was rewarding, it was a new way to hike this Park.
The only negative of this trip was that with the unseasonably warm weather a new batch of gnats flourished.
When they swarmed, I implemented a solution I’d heard about a couple years ago and found quite effective.
Grasses and leaves work also, anything as long as they move freely.
I felt like a hunter with camouflage when I found this partial branch. Yes, I’m a dork and you might just be embarrassed to hike with me.
- Date(s) Hiked: December 31, 2017 through January 2, 2018
- Mileage (per ViewRanger): 31 miles
- Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 12,500’/11,200′
- Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 1,000’/2,000′
- Trail Conditions:
- Tree obstacles: There were a few down trees but all fairly minor
- Overgrowth: Only a couple tiny areas with berry brambles
- Signage: Minimal
- Terrain: Only major concern was the steep, leaf covered trough on the Salt Gulch section
- Navigation Skills: Moderate
- Water availability: Adequate
- Camping availability: Adequate (use map topo lines)
- Solitude: Except on the destination trails for Brandy Creek and Whiskeytown Falls, you can expect plentiful solitude. This is a shared trail though so be aware of bike activity.
- Bugs: GNATS! Whiskeytown is known for these buggers.
- Wildlife: Bear sighting!
- Precip: Unexpected shower my first night
- Temp: Unbelievably warm with low of 48 my first night and 45 my second night
- LNT: I found a few bits of micro trash to carry out and saw a few white butterflies but otherwise in great shape
- Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 2+ cherries (out of 5)
- I used CalTopo to map my route in advance and determine mileage, elevation gain, etc.
- Stop by the Visitor Center to obtain your free backcountry camping permit