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Whiskeytown National Recreation Area offers free, ranger-guided kayak tours

Kayakers set out on a free, ranger-guided  tour of Whiskeytown Lake on a sun-kissed day in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Kayakers set out on a free, ranger-guided tour of Whiskeytown Lake on a sun-kissed day in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
David Muenker

Visitors to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in the Klamath Mountains of northern California can explore the natural beauty of Whiskeytown Lake through ranger-guided kayak tours. The tours last up to two and a half hours and are free, as are use of the tandem kayaks, oars and lifejackets.

The park chose to offer this free, water-based activity after personal watercraft were banned from the lake, Ranger Bobby Gutierrez said. The tour combines kayaking with expert narration about the area’s history, geology, plants and wildlife.

With Ranger Gutierrez guiding our group, we paddled on the lake’s clear, blue water. An osprey soared overhead. Near shore, a great blue heron seized its next meal. During these tours, kayakers may see a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, black bears, foxes and black-tailed deer. Largemouth bass and rainbow trout swim in the nutrient-rich waters.

While our kayaks glided through the water, Ranger Gutierrez told us about the Central Valley Project that flooded Whiskeytown, a former California gold rush settlement, and created the lake – hence its name. (The town’s post office, schoolhouse and some other structures were saved.) He talked about how President John Kennedy, during his Whiskeytown Dam dedication speech, pointed out the importance of leaving recreational places for future generations. Visitors can listen to an audio of this 1963 speech at the Kennedy Memorial, located at the dam.

When we neared Boulder Creek, we let ourselves bob on the lake and listen to the soft sounds of water flowing over rocks. The lake mirrored mountain slopes covered with blue oaks and gray pines. Snow-capped Shasta Bally towered in the distance. The natural setting blanketed us in sun-drenched peacefulness.

Before completing our tour, we kayaked past Star Island, one of a dozen islands in Whiskeytown Lake.The ranger-guided kayak tour combined a fun, easy water-based activity with an enjoyable cultural and natural orientation to the lake and surrounding area. Those with more time to explore will find a wide selection of additional activities to choose from, among them gold panning, hiking to waterfalls, swimming, sailing and fishing.

Reservations required

Ranger-guided kayak tours are led throughout the summer, both morning and afternoon. Moonlight tours are also held. These popular tours require reservations. To make yours up to two weeks in advance, consult the reservations guidelines and then call the volunteer-staffed reservation line, 503-242-3462.

Those having family reunions, girlfriend getaways or other group outings can arrange a group tour (maximum of 12 people) by contacting Clinton K. Kane, Park Ranger Resource Education, directly at 1-530-242-3451.

How to get to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area from Denver, Colorado

Whiskeytown N.R.A. is located eight miles west of Redding, California. Take Interstate 25 north to Cheyenne, Wyo., Interstate 80 west to Sacramento, Calif., Interstate 5 north to Exit 680 (Lake Blvd./Highway 299), and Highway 299 west 8 miles to the Whiskeytown N.R.A. Visitor Center.

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