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The Ultimate Whiskeytown Lake Weekend Itinerary
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The Ultimate Whiskeytown Lake Weekend Itinerary

Don't know how to start planning a getaway to Whiskeytown Lake? We did the thinking for ya and created the ultimate guide.

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6 min read

June 05, 2021

Whiskeytown Lake’s crystal clear waters are definitely the biggest draw of the beautiful national park. However, water-related activities are only a small portion of what Whiskeytown National Recreation Area has to offer. With more than 36 miles of shoreline, breathtaking natural wonders, incredible hiking trails, and a rich Gold Rush era background, this 42,000-acre outdoor playground is a solid choice for a summer vacation. 

Not sure how to start planning a getaway to Whiskeytown Lake? We did the thinking for ya and created the ultimate guide.

Day 1

The 42,000-acre Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is abundant with mountain hikes, waterfalls, and Gold Rush history.

Arriving

Sitting pretty at the nexus of three mountain ranges, the heavenly Whiskeytown Lake in Shasta County has welcomed plenty of visitors—and now, it’s your turn.

Whiskeytown Lake gets its name from the Gold Rush era mining town sleeping beneath its waters, which was flooded after a 282-foot dam was built in 1963. Now, despite Whiskeytown being underwater, this reservoir still feels like a natural lake. 

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You’ll have the whole weekend to enjoy the 3,000 surface acres of clear water that’s just right for sailing, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing. You definitely shouldn’t miss out on hiking through the oak woodlands and ponderosa pine forests where the Klamath, Coast, and Cascade mountains meet. But your very first task should be heading over to the Whiskeytown Lake visitor center.

Here, you’ll find exhibits about the history and development of the area and find Whiskeytown Lake camping spots. It’s also important to note that the 2018 Carr Fire burned a large portion of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. While much of it has been restored, some areas remain closed, so inquiring about that at the visitor center should be one of the very first things you do.

Nature lovers, rejoice! The sheer amount of hiking trails in and around Whiskeytown Lake will get you even more excited for your getaway.

Afternoon

Whether your ideal vacation is relaxing on the lakeshore or getting active in the woods, you’ll find that there’s plenty of things to do for afternoon fun. Cross a few of Whiskeytown Lake’s awesome hiking trails off your bucket list.

Begin with the one-mile, out and back Crystal Creek Falls Trail. This hike is so easy that it’d be a shame to miss it. The paved, ADA-accessible trail is a breeze to follow and features a gorgeous man-made waterfall. Trekking this trail is a pleasant experience for hikers of all levels. Other cool Whiskeytown waterfalls to check out include Boulder Creek, Brandy Creek, and Whiskeytown Falls.

Another must-do hike is the Shasta Divide Natural Trail. You only need to put aside 30 minutes of your time to hike this 0.4-mile loop to the shores of Whiskeytown Lake. Plan this hike for a time when you’ll be participating in other lakeside activities, and you’ll be good to go.

After a quick hike, take a dreamy picnic break at one of the many beautiful spots throughout the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Brandy Creek and Oak Bottom are two Whiskeytown Lake beaches with awesome waterside views and amenities. You’ll find tables, fire grills, restrooms, and easy beach access at both picnic spots—don’t forget to pack your swimsuit. 

There ain't no rest for the wicked at Whiskeytown Lake, even during nighttime. Experience evening fishing and sunset barbecues here.

Evening

Camping is one of the best ways to unwind in the evenings at Whiskeytown Lake. Whether you’re planning on going off the grid and deep into the wilderness or looking to park your full-service RV at a scenic site, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Oak Bottom Marina is your best bet when it comes to Whiskeytown Lake RV camping. Here, you’ll find both inland and lakeside sites—you can even park your boat on the shore while staying at the campground. Each campsite features a fire grate, with restrooms and showers available nearby—so if you want to stay here, don’t forget to reserve in advance.

While RV campers and boaters gravitate towards Oak Bottom, those who prefer a primitive camping experience are more likely to enjoy Peltier Bridge Campground. As a tent-only Whiskeytown camping spot, this place is located right on the flowing Clear Creek. Are you a fan of fly fishing? Bring your gear along and you’ll have a blast catching and releasing along this creek.

If you’re traveling with a large group of adventurous friends, the Dry Creek Group Campground is the Whiskeytown camping spot of your dreams. Two distinct campgrounds make up Dry Creek, each accommodating 20 to 50 people. Available amenities include picnic tables, a large barbeque grill, a fire pit area, vault toilets, food storage lockers, and drinking water.

Once you’ve decided where to pitch your tent, blast your camping playlist, light a fire, and make s’mores (or your special camping recipe) with your loved ones. 

Day 2

The second day of your Whiskeytown Lake getaway is all about extreme adventures, so satisfy your inner daredevil!

Morning

Whiskeytown Lake is at a crossroad of distinct geological climates. As a result, it supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. The area is home to more than 750 native plant species, at least 160 bird species, 62 mammal species, 33 reptile and amphibian species, and eight native fish species. You’ll definitely catch a glimpse of at least a few of these on your journey. And even if you don’t, waking up to the sounds of the birds and smell of pines is still immeasurably pleasant.

Your second day at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area should be all about the lake itself. Swim, kayak, and take your boat out to find awesome cliff jumps on the glimmering waters. If you're into extreme adventures, you’re in luck. You'll also find plenty of thrilling experiences to try here such as wakeboarding, kneeboarding, water skiing, and tubing.

New to water-based recreation? Sign up for early morning ranger-led tours. Try kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding over the early morning waters, and watch out for bald eagles, osprey, and herons migrating high above. But, if you’re already experienced and looking for a solo adventure, Whiskeytown kayak rentals are available at the marina.

After a much-needed adrenaline rush, we wouldn't mind spending the afternoon fishing and relaxing by the lake.

Afternoon

After breaking a sweat swimming, diving, and paddling in Whiskeytown Lake, spend some time kicking back, relaxing, and fishing. Cast a line from where you’re camping, or better yet, make use of the Whiskeytown Lake boat rentals and go to the heart of the lake for an immersive experience.

Fishing in Whiskeytown Lake is an experience you can’t miss—it’s known to be the best destination to find kokanee salmon in California. Excellent fishing spots are found northeast of the lake, around the dam, and in the area between the bridge sustaining Highway 299 and the Oak Bottom buoy 7. Orange and pink-colored baits are also the ideal choice for attracting Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee salmon.

If you’re fishing in Whiskeytown Lake for the first time, consider heading out with a guide. Jeff Goodwin offers his expertise to novice fishers—the top-rated guide provides you with all the equipment, tips, and tricks you need for a successful day of fishing at Whiskeytown Lake.

It's hard to leave a wonderful place like Whiskeytown Lake, so we're not saying goodbye. This is just a "see you later!"

Evening

As the night falls and stars appear in the sky, a new set of fun Whiskeytown Lake activities becomes available. That’s right, the adventure never stops here. Sign up for an evening kayak tour and experience the dramatic changes in the landscape as you pedal over Whiskeytown Lake under the moonlight. Make sure to sign up in advance for this one-of-a-kind experience for the best chance of scoring a coveted spot.

There’s one more activity you need to try before heading over to your Whiskeytown Lake camping site and wrapping up your day—attending a star party. Thanks to its unique position miles from urban light pollution, Whiskeytown Lake is an incredible place to stargaze. Star parties are usually held at the Oak Bottom Marina parking lot. Here, you’ll use telescopes provided by volunteers of the Shasta Astronomy Club to see the twinkling stars.

With so many exciting activities, you’ll be planning another trip to Whiskeytown Lake before you even leave—don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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