Crystal Creek Falls Trail: Easy Whiskeytown Hike!

The walk/hike to beautiful Crystal Creek Falls is one of my favorites in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. The easy trail to the waterfall is flat, wide, paved, and short, and the falls never disappoint because the creek flows strong year-round.

Crystal Creek Falls at the end of the trail, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
Crystal Creek Falls

Most people come during the hot days of summer so they can swim in the cool waters in the large pool at the base of the falls, and perhaps also to take advantage of the nearby picnic tables. However, this is a rewarding jaunt any time of year.

I recently visited in late October of 2022 with my brother Marc after an unusually long warm spell that delayed most autumn colors. My pics and videos are from that day. Autumn foliage typically peaks in mid-November in the Whiskeytown Lake area.

Crystal Creek Falls Trail, Whiskeytown: Key Data

Distance: .6 mile roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to Crystal Creek Falls, moderate to upper waterfall
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain: negligible to Crystal Creek Falls; 100 feet to upper waterfall
High point: 1800 feet
Season: year-round; great swimming spot in summer; beautiful fall colors in autumn
Contact: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Maps: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area park brochure
Fee/permit: You must purchase a day, week, or annual pass, or have a federal lands/national parks pass. Passes for sale at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Visitor Center at the corner of CA Highway 299 and Kennedy Memorial Drive.
Notes: pit toilet at the trailhead; picnic tables near the waterfall; dogs allowed on-leash

Crystal Creek Falls Trailhead Directions

From CA Highway 299, take Crystal Creek Road, which is 8.5 miles northwest of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Visitor Center and 0.6 mile west of French Gulch Road. Go 2.0 miles and then turn left at the sign for the short drive to the trailhead.

Walking to Crystal Creek Falls

The 2018 Carr Fire burned much of the terrain in and near Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Fortunately, the area along and near this trail was mostly spared.

The paved path runs for a level .2 mile past black and interior live oaks, ponderosa and gray pines, and Douglas firs, with an understory of whiteleaf manzanita, redbud, and ceanothus. During our visit we saw several bluebirds.

The route quickly reach three picnic tables on the left. Just beyond, look for the short trail that drops down to the base of the waterfall.

These picnic tables await at the end of the trail, very near Crystal Creek Falls.
These picnic tables await at the end of the trail, very near Crystal Creek Falls.

Crystal Creek Falls drops at least 50 feet in a series of tiered cascades to a broad pool that’s six feet deep and perfect for swimming on those sweltering hot days in July and August. The flat granite rocks nearest the trail are favorites with summer sunbathers. You can also find good places to sit in the shade of canyon live oaks and just take in the roar of the falls and the beauty of the clear water moving in subtly shifting patterns.

Crystal Creek Falls swimming hole: perhaps the best in the Whiskeytown Lake area.
The swimming hole at the base of Crystal Creek Falls is a great place to cool off on hot days. It’s a great alternative to Whiskeytown Lake.

Climbing to Upper Crystal Creek Falls

Most people aren’t aware that there’s another beautiful waterfall upstream. To reach it, continue on the path to the concrete building. On the other side you’ll see a steep trail heading uphill near the right bank of the creek.

Carefully make your way up for 400 feet or so, and then let your eyes and ears guide you along a side path over granite boulders to secluded and beautiful Upper Crystal Creek Falls. A granitic amphitheater encompasses the waterfall, all shaded by canyon live oak, white alder, and bigleaf maple trees. In contrast to the the tiered cascades below, this upper waterfall has a straight 20-foot drop into a shallow pool.

Upper Crystal Creek Falls: definitely worth the hike up!
Upper Crystal Creek Falls: definitely worth the hike up!

The main trail continues another 300 feet upstream before fading away into overgrowth.

Nearby Whiskeytown Hiking Trails

Two other great hiking trails leave from Crystal Creek Road, both described in detail in my book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions:

Crystal Creek Ditch Trail (Hike 19)
Whiskeytown Falls (Hike 20)

The book includes a dozen trails in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, plus another 20 in and near Redding.

Best Day Hiking Trails in Upper California

Day Hiking Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions. Includes trails in other regions of Northern California: Castle Crags, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Lava Beds National Monument, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Lassen National Forest, and the Redding area.

My compact guidebook has the 125 best day hikes:

  • Mount Shasta and nearby
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains
  • Redding area
  • Whiskeytown and Shasta Lakes

Includes trailhead directions and detailed maps and trail descriptions

Buy it: on Amazon | on Bookshop.org
Often available at bookstores and outdoor stores (call first!)

My Two Videos

I shot these two short videos on October 26, 2022, when autumn color had just started. They are part of my Northern California Hiking Trails Youtube channel. Feel free to subscribe and sign up for notifications of new vids.

Camp for Free in California National Forests

Camp for Free: Dispersed Camping & Boondocking on America's Public Lands book cover. Free camping in the United States.

California’s national forests and BLM lands have thousands of miles of dirt roads with lots of spots for dispersed camping (boondocking). My book provides all the info you need to get started (but is not a guide to specific sites):

  • Researching the best locations
  • Finding the best camping spots
  • Backcountry safety and ethics
  • What to take

Buy it on Amazon
Buy it on Apple, Kobo, and Nook

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