Whiskeytown Falls: Hiking the James K. Carr Trail

Whiskeytown falls

This 220-foot waterfall was once a well-kept secret and it is now open to the public. This waterfall is located near Whiskeytown Lake in Northern California and is about 20 miles west of Redding, CA.

There are actually four different waterfalls that you can hike to in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. While all the waterfalls in this park are beautiful, Whiskeytown Falls is the tallest (220 ft.) and the most popular. 

Details

  • Location: Off Crystal Creek Road in Whiskeytown National Recreation Areas
  • When to go: May to October 
  • Trail Length: 3.4 Miles (round trip) 
  • Elevation Gain: 700 ft.
  • Visitor Pass Required 
  • Time: 2-3 hours

Visitor Pass

Since the waterfall is within the Whiskeytown National Recreation area, you will need to purchase an entrance pass, unless you have an America the Beautiful Annual Pass. 

If you do not already have a pass, then you will need to stop at the Whiskeytown Visitor Center (14412 Kennedy Memorial Drive Whiskeytown, CA 96095) to purchase. 

The entrance fee per one vehicle is $25 and is valid for 7-days after purchase. 

Getting There

From Redding, you will head West of CA-299/Eureka Way. If you need to stop at the Visitor Center to purchase a pass, then you will want to navigate to the Whiskeytown Visitor Center first. 

If you already have a pass, then you can just google and navigate to Whiskeytown Falls. The directions will lead you straight to the trail head. You will head west on CA-299 for about 16 miles then turn left onto Crystal Creek Road. 

driving on the road in turning lane

Continue down Crystal Creek Rd for about 4 miles, then the directions say to turn left onto Whiskeytown-Shasta Trinity Nra, but you just follow the same road for about 1 mile longer and it will lead you to the Trailhead. At about 3 miles down Crystal Creek Road you will see a sign where you will keep going straight and the trail head is about a mile after this sign. 

sign to Whiskeytown Falls

Trailhead

The trailhead is located right off the road, so it is very easy to spot. There is a large parking area. 

trailhead to Whiskeytown Falls

There is also an information sign about the hike, and bathrooms. 

James K Carr Trail sign

The Hike

At the trailhead, there are two different trails. To get to the falls you will need to take James K. Carr Trail.

James K. Carr Trailhead Sign

The hike is about 1.7 miles to the falls and then 1.7 miles back. The first section of the hike starts out fairly flat with some downhill and up small uphill sections until you reach the first bridge. 

a bridge crossing over creek

After the bridge the rest of the hike to the falls is very steep and all uphill. The hike was rated as strenuous, and after you start on the uphill sections you will understand why.  

While the hike isn’t the easiest, we made it just fine. My son is 9 and while he got tired, he was able to hike there and back with no problems. 

uphill portion of James K. Carr Trail

I would definitely recommend this hike from about May – October. It gets really hot here in the summers (over 100 degrees most days), so it would be very hard to hike uphill in the hot summer weather. Also, make sure that you bring enough water. We ended up drinking all our water and wished that we would have brought more. 

people walking along trail to Whiskeytown Falls

Luckly, there are many benches along the hike. We definitely took advantage of these to stop and take a few breaks along the way. 

a bench along side the trail

The trail is well maintained, and it climbs through a beautiful forest and passes a few small streams. We went in April, and there were also some really pretty wildflowers along the way. There is one section of the trail where there is a fork, but you will just stay to the right (follow the sign). 

Sign at fork in the trail to Whiskeytown Falls

About ¾ of the way to the waterfall you will pass a little creek and this was one of my favorite sections since there were a bunch of butterflies flying around. Right after you are next to the creek, there are some picnic benches.

A picnic bench along the trail

Eventually, you will go over another bridge that crosses the creek. When you cross this bridge you will continue uphill alongside the creek and you are almost to the waterfall. 

A bridge crossing a small creek

Next you arrive at the bottom section of the falls. The waterfall is tucked into a lush green forest and is just so beautiful. 

Whiskeytown Falls waterfall

At the base of the waterfall is a fallen log. This is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the waterfall. There was also a cute little box with papers and pens inside that visitors can write their names on. We looked through some of the notes, and wrote our names too!

Whiskeytown Falls box of notes

After enjoying the bottom part of the waterfall, I would recommend that you walk up the section of stairs to the left of the falls so that you can see the top section of the waterfall. 

people walking up to the top of Whiskeytown Falls

The stairs continue up along the side of the waterfall until you reach the top where there is another section of waterfall that drops down the rocks about 100 feet. 

Upper Whiskeytown Falls

The Lost “Hidden” Waterfall

This waterfall is sometimes called the “lost waterfall” because it was re-discovered after being lost for over 40 years. There are a few stories surrounding the history of the waterfall, but it was only known to a few park rangers and locals until about 1964 when the National Park Service took over. 

Some of the rangers and employees wanted to keep the waterfall a secret, and it was left off the survey maps. As the decades passed, people that knew the location passed away or re-located, and the location of the Waterfall was lost. 

After 40 years, an old map was finally found with the waterfall marked, and park employees were able to find its exact location in 2004. Finally in 2006 a trail was completed and the waterfall was opened up to the public.

Final Thoughts

While this isn’t one of the easiest hikes, this is one of the prettiest waterfalls in Northern California. Keep in mind that you will be hiking uphill almost all the way to the waterfall, and then returning downhill on the way back. I would definitely recommend visiting this waterfall at least once. I am so happy that we made the hike, and can’t wait to go back again soon.

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