The Keswick Eastside Trails
By Amber Galusha
Photo by Betsy Erickson
It’s midmorning. As the sun climbs higher in the sky warming the red clay trail beneath your feet, you begin your journey into the chaparral forest. A small grey bird flits from tree to tree and a family of three zips by on mountain bikes. Welcome to the Keswick Eastside Trails, a network of more than 25 miles of dirt single-track that provides a fun way for hikers, mountain bikers, runners and horseback riders to explore the east side of the Sacramento River between Shasta Dam and the Sacramento River Trail.
For those who haven’t explored this area, the Hornbeck Trail, the first segment to be built as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Keswick Eastside Trails, is a good place to start. Named after Chuck Hornbeck, a local volunteer who was instrumental in its development, the Hornbeck Trail follows part of the Quartz Hill Railway, a historic narrow-gauge rail line built in 1907 that was used for hauling quartz to the smelter at Kennett – a mining town that’s submerged some 400 feet beneath Shasta Lake.
There are two ways to explore the Hornbeck Trail: an 8-mile out and back, or a one-way shuttle trip, leaving one car parked at the south trailhead at Quartz Hill Road, and the other at the north trailhead at Walker Mine Road.
Benches are conveniently located along the way, and two side trails give hikers a chance to drop down to Keswick Reservoir or to sit and ponder the beauty of the North State from Freitas Overlook. Keep an eye out for an old car that serves as rustic forest art and other points of interest along this easily maneuverable trail.
Advanced bikers who want to increase their mileage can incorporate the Lower Sacramento Ditch Trail, which offers a loop trip with challenging switchbacks, or the Upper Sacramento Ditch Trail, which leads north to Shasta Dam, adding another 9.2 miles one way – both follow the alignment of the historic Sacramento water ditch.
Flannigan Trail and Chamise Peak Trail can be accessed from the Upper Sacramento Ditch Trail and Flannigan Road. Those with enough endurance to ascend the manzanita-flanked trail to Chamise Peak will be rewarded with a view of the three Shastas: Shasta Dam, Shasta Lake and Mt. Shasta.
The FB Trail, named after Francis Berg, an assistant BLM field manager who launched the trail’s planning process, is a 9.3-mile one-way single-track offering sweeping views of Keswick Reservoir. This stretch of trail winds south from the Hornbeck Trail through steep terrain and rolling hills, leading to the ribbon bridge at the Sacramento River Trail. Watch for a side trail that leads to a seasonal waterfall during wet months.
No matter which trail — or trails — you choose to explore, natural beauty abounds. From stately oaks and pines that seem to touch the winter sky, to Ceanothus and toyon, to Indian warrior flowers that brighten the forest floor during spring, the landscape of the Keswick Eastside Trails provides year-round interest.
Remember, poison oak comes with the territory, and depending on the season, so do rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. Observe safety tips posted at trailheads and remain on designated trails. Bring a snack and plenty of water. During summer, be sure to start early and wear sunscreen.
And, as always, enjoy.