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Whiskeytown Lake

Paddle, fish, or just relax atop Gold Rush history

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Summer isn’t complete without a mountain-lake swim, so drive west from Redding and dip your toes in the warm, crystal-clear waters of Whiskeytown Lake. With more than 36 miles of shoreline—plenty of space for sunbathing, summer-novel reading, and sandy picnics—this is a spot for summer chillaxing.

The lake takes its name from the Gold Rush mining town beneath its waters, which was inundated after the building of 282-foot Whiskeytown Dam in 1963. But this reservoir has the heart of a natural lake, with more than 3,000 surface acres of crystal-clear water that’s just right for sailing, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing. When you tire of tooling around in a boat, pull up on one of the lake’s islands for a picnic or hop out for a swim. Oak Bottom Marina offers boat and equipment rentals at two locations—Oak Bottom and Brandy Creek.

If you’re new to paddling, sign up for a free ranger-led kayak or stand-up paddleboard tour on the calm early-morning water (reserve in advance). Expect to see bald eagles, osprey, and herons, plus a smorgasbord of migratory birds. For an unforgettable experience, snag a spot on the moonlight-kayaking tours that depart from Brandy Creek Beach (select nights in July–September). 

Not into water sports? Then hike to a waterfall. Whiskeytown Falls hurtles down an impressive 220-foot drop, and triple-tiered Boulder Creek Falls cascades over 138 feet into a mossy box canyon. History buffs can visit the Tower House Historic District on the lake’s west side to see the El Dorado Mine ruins and the 1852 home of early settler Charles Camden, open for summer tours. Rangers interpret the region’s Gold Rush past and lead gold-panning activities.

Or just do what the regulars do: Pack up a cooler and make a beeline for Brandy Cove, where a sandy beach, shallow water, a lifeguard station, and a barbecue area provide all the ingredients for a kick-back summer day. Wanna stay longer? Pack up your tent or RV, plus ingredients for s’mores, and pick out a campsite at Oak Bottom Campground or Brandy Creek Campground.

 

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