Within Northern California’s Klamath Mountains sits an area of such overwhelming natural beauty that professional en plein air artists can apply each year to spend up to four weeks rendering on canvas the gorgeous landscapes within Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Fewer than 30 such artist-in-residence programs exist within the National Park System, so being able to mingle nature and art within this nearly 40,000-acre wonderland is quite a cherished post. Yet visitors to the recreation area — located seven miles west of Redding, two hours north of Sacramento and 3 ½ hours north of San Francisco — don’t have to be able to distinguish between Monet and Manet, though they should appreciate the range of colors in the blue, green and brown spectrums.
More than 70 miles of hiking trails wend through pine, fir and cedar forests, skirt the flanks of canyons and cross streams. The park’s color palette, of course, expands in the spring, as wildflowers brighten the hillsides, and in the fall, when the ruddy hues of change prevail. Nearly two-dozen hikes, ranging from the easy Buck Hollow Trail to the difficult Rich Gulch Trail, grant visitors access to the park’s significant attractions, including its four waterfalls. Whiskeytown’s primary draw, however, is its sapphire-blue lake with 36 miles of shoreline. Whiskey-town Lake allows summertime visitors to cool off by swimming, sailing, kayaking, water-skiing or scuba diving. Visitors can fish from boats or from the shore, and travelers who prefer their recreation to involve terra firma can explore the park on horseback and navigate some of the country’s best mountain-biking trails. Guests who enjoy motorized entertainment can head to the summit of Shasta Bally in four-wheel-drive vehicles. And park rangers lead tours of historic buildings and mines that remain from the region’s Gold Rush days.
Visitors can explore Whiskeytown year round, though they should be prepared to encounter snow at the higher elevations. Day-use passes cost $5, 7-day passes cost $10, and the $25 annual pass to Whiskeytown also allows visitors access to nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park. Brandy Creek RV Campground within Whiskeytown National Recreation Area offers dry camping on a first-come, first-served basis, and is within walking distance of the lake.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area 530-246-1225, www.nps.gov/whis