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A section of the walkway along the Crystal Creek Water Ditch Trail
A section of the walkway along the Crystal Creek Water Ditch Trail

NPS

Crystal Creek Water Ditch

Difficulty level

Easy

Length

1 mile one way

Elevation

1400 to 1430 feet

Note

Hiking only. No bicycles, horses or other pack animals.

Enter at your own risk

The Carr Fire burned through 98% of the park’s forested lands in the summer of 2018. Be aware of hazards created by the fire, including falling trees and limbs, burned out stump holes, abandoned mine features, and loose rocks.
Watch the weather and do not hike if rain is forecast. Rain storms present the possibility of flash flooding, landslides and debris flows in the fire area. Stay on established roads and trails and report hazards to park dispatch, (530) 242-3431.

Directions

From Highway 299 west, follow Crystal Creek Road ¼ mile past the bridge. Look for the trailhead in a dirt pullout on the left side of the road.

Trail Description

From the parking lot, take the stairway down to the landing where you can view the remnants of the cleanout shed. Unfortunately, it was burned in the Carr Fire in 2018, but you can still see the cement foundations. Reconstruction of this structure and restoration of the mechanism is planned in the near future. Continue on the trail to your right and walk along the water ditch for the remainder of the trail. About 200 yards from the cleanout shed is the first of seven drainage crossovers, or flumes, that allow seasonal runoff from small gullies to cross, but not flood, the ditch. The tumbling of Crystal Creek can be heard and seen all along the trail since the Carr Fire burned most of the previously dense vegetation. Various stone retaining walls support the ditch along the way. You will come to a section where the hillside is too steep to support a ditch, even with retaining walls, so a 250-foot long narrow boardwalk and flume was built. The boardwalk rests about 25 feet above the creek and may be challenging to those who have a fear of heights.The trail ends at the intake and coffer dam which channels part of the creek’s flow into this historic waterway.

Historical Background

“Between 1855 and 1858 I made the upper ditch from Crystal Creek down to the Tower house…” wrote Charles Camden in his autobiography written in 1900. Then, as now, water was a precious resource in a land where many streams dry up in the summer months. Camden claimed water rights to Crystal Creek and Mill Creek. He hired laborers to construct ditches to supply water to his sawmill on Mill Creek and to his scattered mining claims nearby. Originally, the retaining walls, trestle and flume were made of timber, presumably milled at the sawmill, which was operating by 1853. Operating entirely by gravity, the ditch system drops some 41 feet in elevation over a distance of approximately 2 miles. The ditch also provided water to the homes, orchards and fields of what we now call the Tower House Historic District. Camden sold the surplus water profitably to other miners. The trail follows only about one third of the original ditch, from the cleanout shed to the coffer dam. Camden’s daughter, Grace, had the cleanout shed built in 1913. It featured an ingenious water-powered rotary rake that removed pinecones, leaves and other debris from the flowing water before it entered what was a large wooden flume crossing Willow Creek.

The ditch continues past the cleanout shed, across the creek through a large suspended pipe, called an inverted siphon, and underneath what is now Highway 299. The steel pipe and concrete abutments you see straddling Willow Creek were constructed around 1930. The force of the water propelled it up the hillside to a redwood tank, which was lost in the Carr Fire of 2018. Some of the water was stored in the tank for use in the yard of the Camden house and some was used to irrigate the fields along the French Gulch Road.

Ditch Engineering

Water is introduced into the ditch by means of a concrete diversion dam and intake across Crystal Creek, which you will find at the end of the trail. The dam pools water to an elevation where it spills into the ditch inlet through a concrete gate structure. A wooden baffle could be raised or lowered in the slots for controlling the flow rate. Some 50 feet downstream of the inlet, the ditch widens into an elongated settling basin. The increased cross-sectional area decreases the velocity and allows silt, sand and small pebbles to settle. Farther on is a concrete sluice. The float at the end acts as a flow controller and diverts excess water through the overflow and back into Crystal Creek. The sluice discharges into a short tunnel carved through the steep stone hillside, a testament to the determination of the ditch makers. The final engineering element represents a power generator. The concrete structure provided a housing for an undershot water wheel and water flow control. The power was transported to the French Gulch area to support mining operations in the 1930s and 40s.

 
Oak Bottom Water Ditch Trail
Oak Bottom Water Ditch Trail

NPS

Oak Bottom Water Ditch Trail

Difficulty level

Easy

Length

2.3 miles one way

Elevation

1220 to 1240 feet



Enter at your own risk

The Carr Fire burned through 98% of the park’s forested lands in the summer of 2018. Be aware of hazards created by the fire, including falling trees and limbs, burned out stump holes, abandoned mine features, and loose rocks. Watch the weather and do not hike if rain is forecast. Rain storms present the possibility of flash flooding, landslides and debris flows in the fire area. Stay on established roads and trails and report hazards to park dispatch, (530) 242-3431.

Directions

As you enter Oak Bottom Campground from Highway 299, look for the trailhead on your right, at the pullout with the large bulletin board, just before the campground store. Take the trail to the left of the bulletin board, not the old access road on the right, which is blocked by boulders. Follow the trail down to the shoreline, and then to your right. Stay to the left as the path hooks up with the access road. After this junction, the trail parallels Highway 299 for a short distance before it dips down to the lakeshore. About 1.5 miles from the beginning, the path leaves the lake for a short length to cross over a gated access road; go down the road and to the right to regain the trail. The trail ends on old Highway 299 at the Carr Powerhouse area.

Description

Parts of the trail were once sections of an elaborate system of flumes and ditches which delivered water to mining operations dating back to the gold rush era of the 1850s. Why would a water ditch be built next to a lake? The water ditch was built 100 years before Whiskeytown Lake existed, when the area was a valley with Clear Creek flowing through it. The canal, now converted to a trail, is wide and flat in most places and provides easy access to the shoreline for those who would like to cool off with a swim. It is popular with both hikers and mountain bikers. Runners enjoy its peace and the chance for quiet reflection as they jog during the early morning and evening hours. In addition, the trail offers several good fishing spots. Trout, bass and catfish can be caught year round in the lake.

Early risers may see bald eagles fishing on this arm of the lake. Great blue herons are often spotted in the little coves and marshy areas near the lakeshore. Look for western pond turtles sunning themselves on logs jutting out of the water. Hikers will observe some interesting wildflowers along the trail. Indian Warrior, a unique flower, is present in early spring. One can picture its dense spike of blood red tubular flowers as a Native American headdress. The leaves clustered around its base are purple-tinged and fern-like. Another unusual flower is Calochortus, or Hairy Cat’s Ear, which appears in late spring. It takes its name from the shape of its white petals and the dense, dark purple hairs within. A member of the lily family, each plant has just one long leaf and one to seven flowers per plant.

 
Camden Water Ditch Trail
Camden Water Ditch Trail

NPS

Camden Water Ditch Trail

Difficulty level

Easy

Length

1.1 mile round trip loop

Elevation

1300 feet





Enter at your own risk

The Carr Fire burned through 98% of the park’s forested lands in the summer of 2018. Be aware of hazards created by the fire, including falling trees and limbs, burned out stump holes, abandoned mine features, and loose rocks. Watch the weather and do not hike if rain is forecast. Rainstorms present the possibility of flash flooding, landslides and debris flows in the fire area. Stay on established roads and trails and report hazards to park dispatch, (530) 242-3431.

Directions

Follow Highway 299 west to the Tower House Historic District parking lot. At the end of the parking lot by the bulletin board, follow the paved trail to the footbridge over Clear Creek and turn left after crossing. Cross the next bridge and turn right at the trailhead and follow a wide, sandy path along Willow Creek.

The first part of the trail passes behind the historic Camden House and leads you to the picket-fenced gravesite of Levi Tower. Turn to the left just past the gravesite and follow the old Camden Water Ditch behind the barn and along an old road. Follow the road back along Mill Creek, past the site of the Camden sawmill and the Tenant Farmhouse built in 1913 to return to the parking area.

Follow these links to learn more about the history of the Tower House Historic District, Levi Tower and Charles Camden
 
El Dorado Mine
El Dorado Mine

NPS

Mill Creek Trail
(from Tower House
Historic District)

Difficulty level

Moderate to difficult

Length

6.5 miles one way to Crystal Creek Road

Elevation

1,250 to 1,600 feet




This trail connects to Clear Creek Vista Trail, Camden Water Ditch Trail and the Whiskeytown Falls Trail

Enter at your own risk

The Carr Fire burned through 98% of the park’s forested lands in the summer of 2018. Be aware of hazards created by the fire, including falling trees and limbs, burned out stump holes, abandoned mine features, and loose rocks. Watch the weather and do not hike if rain is forecast. Rainstorms present the possibility of flash flooding, landslides and debris flows in the fire area. Stay on established roads and trails and report hazards to park dispatch, (530) 242-3431.

Directions

Follow Highway 299 west to the Tower House Historic District parking lot. At the end of the parking lot follow the paved trail over the Clear Creek foot bridge and then turn left. Walk along the white fence and cross over the next bridge. Follow the dirt road to the left past the Ten- ant Farmhouse and barn. Continue past the El Dorado Mine site where the Mill Creek trailhead marker is located.

Trail Description

The Tenant Farmhouse, the El Dorado Mine and Stamp Mill are historic structures on the Mill Creek Trail. The Stamp Mill housed an apparatus in which rock was crushed by descending pestles known as “stamps.” The mill was operated by steam power. Mercury was used to separate the gold from the crushed rock through a process called amalgamation. The technique is no longer used in the United States, as mercury has been found hazardous to human health.

Continue on the trail along Mill Creek. Pass both branches of the Clear Creek Vista Trail which veers to the left across Mill Creek and up the hill. The trail crosses the creek approximately 20 times. Footing is often slippery. The Mill Creek Trail ascends the drainage, paralleling the creek on either side. The trail then leaves the drainage, ascends a ridge line and finally intersects with a dirt road. To continue to Crystal Creek Road, turn right onto the dirt road.

After turning right, walk until crossing the bridge signed “Mill Creek”. Follow this old road as it ascends the hill, passing two springs. The trail continues up several switchbacks to a pass, and through a locked gate. The trail then descends steeply to the east fork of Crystal Creek. Cross the creek.

After the crossing, continue up a short grade. The path levels out for a short stretch. Pass the turn- off for Whiskeytown Falls. The path descends; cross the simple plank bridge on the west fork of Clear Creek. Follow the trail up a short but steep section until reaching the trailhead parking lot on Crystal Creek Road. This trailhead is located 3.5 miles from Highway 299.

Last updated: March 8, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 188
Whiskeytown , CA 96095

Phone:

(530) 242-3400

Contact Us