Ranger-Led Kayak Tours on Whiskeytown Lake
By Sue Ralston
Paddles in the WaterJune 2015
By Sue Ralston
Photo courtesy of National Park Service
What a better way to cool down on a hot summer day than to get out on the water? If you’re looking for a fun and accessible outdoor activity, try kayaking on the cool blue waters of Whiskeytown Lake.
Free ranger-led tours, running daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, make it easy for beginners to try it out. “We love it when people come out and they’re just testing the waters, so to speak, to see if they want to get into the sport and maybe purchase a kayak,” says Jeff Gerbic, a park ranger specializing in interpretation and education.
With the help of skilled volunteers, rangers share tips about safety and teach proper techniques, including getting into and out of the kayak, paddling and getting around on the lake. Single and tandem kayaks are available, and all are the sit-on-top kind.
But it’s not just about gliding over the water. Kayakers learn about the natural and cultural history of the area. Rangers assess each group’s interest and might share information about the Wintu people, the Gold Rush era and the Central Valley Project. With California in its fourth year of drought, people are often especially interested in learning about water sources: Where does it come from? Where does it go? “You’re not just out here having fun. My job as a park ranger is not only to help people get interested in this place, but also to encourage folks to care for it,” says Gerbic.
And though the daily kayak tours are open to adults and children ages 6 and up (with a supervising adult), several summer programs are designed especially for children. On Mondays at 1:30 pm, there’s a program for three- to six-year-olds with a parent or guardian. “We make this a nice outing with treasure hunts and lots of fun,” says Gerbic. On Thursdays at 1:30 pm, children ages 7-12 are the focus. “For this age group, it’s a little more curriculum-based, touching on natural history and wildlife.” It’s a great way to get kids active and interested in the outdoors, he notes.
Whiskeytown is home to an abundant variety of wildlife, and rangers enjoy sharing their knowledge on the tours. Kayakers may encounter osprey migrating back and forth and from Central America. Bald eagles, ravens, vultures and a range of waterfowl are often seen, too.
According to Park Superintendent Jim Milestone, kayak tours began in 2002 and about 30,000 people have participated. The kayaks, storage shed and other equipment were made possible by the nonprofit group Friends of Whiskeytown, which fundraised and secured grants to purchase the needed equipment to get the program going. “Without the Friends, this program wouldn’t be happening,” says Gerbic. “It’s an amazing contribution they’ve made and we try to reinforce that to the public.”
Summer also brings the opportunity to go on moonlight tours. Participants experience the sunset and the unique beauty of the lake by full moon. Check the website for dates, and keep in mind that the moonlight tours fill up fast.
On June 6, rangers will offer a kayak refresher course aimed at those who want to become volunteer helpers with the tours. Volunteers need not be experts, but must be fit, familiar with the basics and confident about enforcing safety and helping rangers shepherd the group.
Ranger-led tours are free; park entry fees apply.
Tours run every day of the week
at 9:30 am and 5:30 pm.
Kayaks and all equipment are provided free.
Call (530) 242-3462 for reservations.
Tours depart from Brandy Creek Beach near the kayak shed.
To Brandy Creek Beach: From Redding, travel west on
Highway 299 toward Weaverville, about 10 miles.
Turn left at the Visitor Center sign and the Kennedy
Memorial. Continue 5 miles and follow signs to the
Brandy Creek swim beach.
To learn about becoming a volunteer, call the volunteer
coordinator at (530) 242-3421.