Photo above: Oak Bottom House, Whiskeytown, 1913-14. Courtesy Historic Resource Study, National Park Service. Photo right: Whiskeytown Lake and Mount Shasta. Courtesy National Park Servce.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
It's northern California and a bit warmer than the climate in the Trinity-Shasta National Forest that surrounds it and forms part of the recreation area available for your visit. There are places in this natural wonder, beyond the drive around and water of the lake, that are so remote, that until several years ago, a major waterfall, the Whiskeytown Falls, had never been reported as seen by man, well, at least for forty years. Considering this park is located between well known Redwood National Park and Lassen Volcanic, that's almost hard to believe, but it is true. For most, you'll come to Whiskeytown for recreation of the fish and boat kind, or a hike to some remote places. No matter why you come, you'll marvel at the nature that abounds at every corner. But there's history here, too. Don't forget to save a little time to wander around the Tower House Historic District and learn a bit about the gold that once called Whiskeytown home.
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It may be dominated by a lake, but that's not the only feature. Shasta Bally, the mountain, rises 6,209 feet above the earth's surface, framing the park. And there's history of the gold mining type in the area around the Tower Historic District, the Camden House, and the El Dorado Mine. But, yes, much of the recreation here is water based among the thirty-six miles of shoreline. Kayaking, water skiing, swimming, boating, and fishing take a good deal of the park visitation resources. One odd quality is that personal watercraft, jet skis, is not allowed. Check with the park visitor center for what that actually means about other craft. One thing's for sure, there are some very unique Ranger guided activities in the summer; take them up on an astronomy night or a kayak day, or both.
Photo above: Camden House in winter. Courtesy National Park Service.
Levi Tower - Born in Rhode Island, Tower boarded the ship Edward Everett, traversed the Cape Horn, and docked in San Francisco in 1849, searching for treasures of gold. By spring of the next year, Tower, joined by Charles Camden, traversed to northern California, walked five days, and ended up along the Trinity River. In 1852, Tower bought a trading post at the junction of Clear and Crystal Creek, and added a twenty-one room hotel. The Tower House was regarded as the best hotel in northern California. Less than one year later on November 11, 1852, his sister married Charles Camden in a double wedding with brother Levi and his wife. The Tower House became a staple with orchards and a stage coach stop. Tower would lose the house in 1859 due to bad business deals. Brother-in-law Camden would buy it, allow Tower to run it, and own it until 1869. The hotel would be destroyed in 1919. Additional source: Levi H. Tower and the Tower House by Joel N. Fowler.
Charles Camden - By 1850, Camden was thirty-three years old, three years senior to Tower, when they would meet and traverse to Clear Creek. Camden built a cabin there in November 1850, and began an entreprenuerial career that included panning for gold, operating a sawmill, building a toll bridge across the creek, and owning the Tower House after Levi lost it. How much were the tolls and how long did he collect them? Try 10 cents to walk, 25 cents to ride, $1.25 for a wagon. Try fifty years. How much did Camden make from gold mining? Try $80,000 over 18 years. He would build the Camden House in 1852, still standing, for Tower's sister Philena.
The El Dorado Mine - When mining for gold on the surface fizzled, it became necessary to go underground. In 1885, William Paul founded the El Dorado mine, five hundred feet deep, and various people ran it until 1967. The El Dorado mine was not considered extremely successful, making thousands, not millions of dollars.
The Camden House - Located in the Tower House Historic District, the Camden House remains today as a reminder of the times, 1852, when the vibrant community of miners ruled the roost. Summer tours are conducted here, as well as holiday events.
The Waterfalls and their Trails - Brandy Creek Falls is the smallest at only 20', but the trail is 1.5 miles and moderate in difficulty. Walking to Boulder Creek Falls requires crossing three no bridge creeks and 2.75 miles of foot wear; the waterfall is 138' high. The trail to Whiskeytown Falls is 1.7 miles long and the waterfall 200' high. Crystal Creek Falls, 40' high, has the easiest and shortest trail at a quarter mile. Plenty of other trails, without waterfalls, exist throughout the park, some climbing toward the top of Shasta Bally; some as long as seven miles.
Whiskeytown Lake - Is actually a reservoir created in 1963 and the focal point of the park today.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take the Waterfall Challenge. Hike, bike, or ride your horse to all four of the waterfalls in the park and recieve a special stamp at the Visitor Center for your effort.
2. Visit the Visitor Center. Great place to orient, view exhibits about the park, get permits, and check into what Ranger tours might be on the docket for the day. These ranger tours are predominantly only summer oriented, but when they are available can get you on the water, peering into the night sky, or learning about the gold miners who came west.
3. Take the drive around the lake. For those that might like a more sedate, but just as interesting diversion, drive the circumference of the lake. There's lots to see. Going north on California 299 from the Visitor Center, you pass the road to Whiskey Creek, then arrive at Oak Bottom. Camping, an amphitheater that hosts some ranger programs, and picnic facilities are located there. Continue on Route 299 and you come to the Tower House Historic District where the Camden House and the El Dorado Mine are located. Double back a couple miles to South Shore Drive. On the western side of the lake, you'll see the Judge Carr Powerhouse, Crystal Creek, the Clair A. Hill Whiskeytown Dam, and the Kennedy Memorial.
Photo above: Water skiing on Whiskeytown Lake at sunset. Courtesy National Park Service.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Whiskeytown and other National Park T-Shirts and Souvenirs from the official souvenirs of America's Best History. Great for nature, national park, and heritage history fans.