Day Use/Parking Pass: Day Use or Annual Park Pass Required
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Restrictions: Dogs must be leashed on trails
Many locals know the history of Whiskeytown Lake Reservoir. Parallel to countless other mountainous areas of Northern California, a small boomtown was erected in the 1840s following the discovery of gold in ‘dem hills, and faded just as quickly following the exhaust of local resources and human spirit. Construction of the dam on the southwest side of the canyon began in 1960 and between then and its dedication by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, buildings and residents were moved out of the area or to higher ground. Anything left behind was flooded and lost beneath the waves not unlike the fabled City of Atlantis. Although most of the ruins were demolished or have been taken over by the underwater elements, some remnants can be seen by scuba divers who take the plunge into the murky freshwater depths, reaching over a hundred feet deep in some places. A piece of this history, however, is accessible to those who possess even the most limited watercraft.
Southeast of Oak Bottom Marina (point your nose toward New York Gulch) at 40°38’34.2″N 122°34’42.5″W is the remnant of Hwy 299 that runs on the north side of the lake. Just a foot below the water level at the end of summer, the pavement and even some slimy yellow and white lines are visible beneath the silt that has settled on top of the asphalt.
Just a healthy paddle from the marina (if you’re looking for a good workout via kayak) and accessible by boat, this hidden gem is a corridor for visitors and wildlife alike.
For residents as well as tourists this is a unique stop during on-water activities and is a marvel for children to behold. Although we didn’t take Cookie along for this trip I’m sure she would have loved to splash around on the pavement beside our boats, and it would certainly mean more stability during her usual mounting and dismounting of my kayak. The narrow passageway that signifies the former byway is bordered by groves of fresh blackberries ripe for the picking. I gathered enough while paddling around to make a double cobbler. If you haven’t picked blackberries via kayak, I highly recommend it! We found immense outcroppings growing on the edges of the lake that are only accessible via boat, and given that they’re away from greedy fingers and close to fresh water and direct sunlight, it’s no surprise these are the best berries on the lake.
Day Use/Parking Pass: Permit required for overnight camping only – $15.00
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Restrictions: Only access is by boat; no motorized watercraft allowed
Over the weekend, Aaron and I went with my parents and two of our closest friends to kayak at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, one of the most unique areas I’ve seen in Northern California. The park, in its entirety, is only accessible to the public by boat, and while moderately remote in its far eastern corner of Shasta county, was a geographic wonder and ecological treat to behold.
The area was home to a tribe of the Pit River Indians who were called Achumawi, meaning “where the waters come together,” paying homage to the abundance of crystal clear freshwater springs that funnel directly into various ponds, lakes, and rivers that conglomerate within the park. The only entry point is a boat ramp at what is called the Rat Farm, a Pacific Gas and Electric access road that dead ends at a canal which formerly bordered a muskrat farm (the farm closed in 1930 but still shows its effect on the ecosystem through the abundance of large rodents inhabiting the park.)
The trip begins with a paddle: after a half mile of kayaking through the stagnant (and frog-laden) canal we reached an open area which is considered Big Lake and crossed its southern arm before reaching our first destination: Horr Pond Campsite #8, which is located at the northernmost point of the pond and boasts a multitude of amenities including a quality boat dock, restroom facilities, a large campsite, enclosed trash cans, a bear box and an upgraded fire pit. But the first campsite along the shoreline was not what we were ultimately seeking. The water here, in mid-July, was thick with sun-tanned cakes of pond scum and barely passable in our 10ft boats, so we pressed onward to Crystal Springs campground and were pleasantly surprised to find a group of shady campsites situated around one of the park’s main inlets.
This side of the pond lacks any upgraded docks or ramps, so as long as you don’t mind getting your feet wet, there are plenty of places to pull up and disembark. We chose to take lunch at the campsite, which has the same upgrades as the first on the pond, but with a few additional landmarks. Northeast of the picnic area there stands a degrading boathouse, an interesting remnant of the park’s early improvements, and just up the shoreline trail on the south side is the namesake of the campsite – Crystal Springs.
Here the water is sparkling clear, crisp, and refreshing. We didn’t drink from the spring not knowing its potability, but the dogs enjoyed themselves the most here, basking in the icy cold volcanic snowmelt and swimming along the fish traps, originally erected by the tribes that inhabited the wetlands hundreds of years ago. This primitive hatchery is considered to be one of the first exhibits of fishery on the continent, encouraging spawning and limiting fishing seasons in order to preserve populations for annual harvesting.
Another 2 miles up the trail are a few lava tubes which left us unimpressed. The entry caves were barely 5ft tall and were full of bats (a.k.a. not ideal for dogs), the tubes barely big enough to belly crawl through, and couldn’t be further explored without special equipment.
After a quick resting – and cooling down, thanks to the air-conditioned quality of the underground air – in the antechamber of the largest cave, we trudged back to the campsite in the sweltering afternoon heat. This excursion, while short and gently sloping, was not worth the effort in my opinion; the trail is poorly marked, overgrown, and in direct sunlight in its entirety.
After (another) quick rest back at Crystal Springs, we decided to take the short walk west along the shoreline to Ja She Creek, a shady stroll well worth the extra steps, in contrast to the lava tube hike. The creek is wide and flat on the north side, making for fantastic swimming, before it funnels beneath a footbridge at such a rate it creates a visible current as it enters the main pond.
Overall, Ahjumawi Park was a treat for all who attended, and we will definitely be returning someday for an overnight trip.
Elizabeth’s Trip Tips:
Pack plenty of drinking water for human consumption. We brought what we initially thought was too much but were overzealous in our drinking due to the heat and humidity. And while there is plenty of clean water access for dogs, be careful not to let your pets drink too much pond water. Stagnant water isn’t good for anything in large amounts, and even canines can contract parasites like giardia, coccidia, or worse.
Bring your tackle gear! While we didn’t get any bites midday, Horr Pond and the surrounding waterways are renowned for their remarkable catfish, largemouth bass, and native rainbow trout.
Even for the most experienced paddlers and especially for beginners or infrequent kayakers, moleskin or athletic tape would be handy to prevent blisters. I kayak frequently but still sustained some pretty serious thumb blisters from the extended paddle.
If you make it to Ja She Creek, press on to the abandoned farmhouse west of Ja She campground. While we didn’t get to it this time, my parents have visited the area before and said it was an intriguing feature to be explored.
Be prepared for possible wildlife encounters – bear, coyote, and raccoon scat were fresh and abundant. Whistles and bear spray are good investments if you don’t already carry them, especially with dogs around. The last thing your pup needs during their adventure is a fight with a wild animal!