DifficultyEasy, mostly level, and paved for first 0.25 miles. Moderate with some up and down sections thereafter.
Paved section is approximately 6 feet wide.
Moderate section is on gravel and dirt and is two to 8 feet wide.
To protect your dog and park wildlife, please put them on leash.
Length1 mile one way, from Horse Camp to Whiskeytown Environmental School (NEED Camp) entrance bridge.
DirectionsFrom the Whiskeytown Visitor Center, drive south on Kennedy Memorial Drive for about one mile. At the Kennedy Memorial, just before driving across the Clair A. Hill Whiskeytown Dam, turn left onto Paige Bar Road. Continue on this road for approximately two miles. You’ll drive past the Mount Shasta Mine Trailhead and Whiskeytown Cemetery. When the road forks, follow the sign and road to the left onto the gravel road (if you go straight, you will hit the Whiskeytown Environmental School bridge over Clear Creek and you'll have to turn around). Up a hill after about 0.3 miles, you come to two large campsites and a vault toilet. This is Horse Camp which also serves as the trailhead for Guardian Rock Trail. The trail is marked by a small brown sign on the right.
A water spigot is located across the gravel parking lot if you need to fill your water bottle. Also, be sure you are displaying your entrance pass in your vehicle and be sure and lock your vehicle and take valuables with you.
Trail Description & HighlightsThe first 0.25 miles of Guardian Rock Trail is flat and paved. The pavement leads to a viewpoint of Clear Creek Canyon. There is shade and a bench to relax at here and you can enjoy what author Wallace Stegner referred to romantically as “The sound of mountain water.” In an essay of the same name, this Pulitzer Prize winning author and Stanford University professor writes about his first experience seeing a whitewater stream of the American West: "I was fascinated by how it [the river] sped by and yet was always there...Watch its racing current, its steady renewal of force. It is transient and eternal."
After the viewpoint, the pavement ends and the trail becomes rocky and rugged, like the creek canyon itself. Note how there are both burned trees and live trees and lots of shrub regrowth throughout the area. The Carr Fire of 2018 burned through this area only lightly to moderately, thus resembling a fire mosaic.
Eventually, a sign tells you to go straight for Guardian Rock or to turn right for the easier mountain biking and horseback riding trail. If you go straight for Guardian Rock, be on the lookout for a steep and informal path down to a gravel bar on Clear Creek. Take this path if you feel comfortable doing so; be careful not to touch poison oak!
At the gravel bar, you can hear and see the swift-moving water of Clear Creek. Stick your hand in the water and feel how cold it is - this water comes from the bottom of Whiskeytown Lake and it’s about 45 to 50 degrees! The cold water is important because it is the temperature that salmon need to spawn in the Sacramento River and Clear Creek. If water was only released from the top of the lake, which is much warmer, salmon could not survive.
Sticking up slightly out of the gravel bar is a rock that some people believe resembles a human head. Scroll down the page for a photo of this small rock feature. Another feature is Guardian Rock, a rock outcropping just upstream that supposedly stands guard over the creek and surrounding area.
Once back on the main trail, continue upstream paralleling the rocky, rugged Clear Creek Canyon. The trail ends at the road bridge entrance to Whiskeytown Environmental School. At this point, turn around and follow your footsteps back to the trailhead at Horse Camp or turn right onto the roadway to make the hike into a 1.5 mile loop. If you turn right onto the paved roadway, in about 100 meters, just up the hill, turn right onto the gravel road, Paige Bar Road, and follow this back to the trailhead.
At right: Look for this face in the rock on the gravel bar near Guardian Rock. Can you spot the eyes, nose, mouth, and chin?!
Last updated: May 31, 2022