Inspired Family Fun in Whiskeytown
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Getting back to nature in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

By Michele Broitman

“Inside is better than the outside because you have everything you need inside—like forks and beds,” my six-year-old, Nika, declared. As innocent as it was, that declaration was the catalyst for our family vacation to Redding. My city kids, who had little exposure to wild trails, were more accustomed to negotiating buses and Muni trains than mud and critters.

Fast forward to day two of our getaway: “Slow down!” I hollered at rambunctious Nika, as she charged up Boulder Creek Falls Trail. Her legs powered forward as she pretended to be a ninja on a mission. Her eight-year-old brother, Kimo, swooped past with a jump, showing off his own ninja style. The excitement of exploring the area was apparent as they continued full-speed ahead. My husband, Ed, and I chased behind, hoping we could keep up.

When Ed and I were in our twenties on a weekend escape, we hiked the same five-mile trail to the 138-foot-tall Boulder Creek Falls. On the trek up, we shared our family histories and discovered we both had vacationed in these same mountains as children. We’d both grown up with an affinity for Redding’s abundance of nature, the lack of crowds on the trails, the lush landscape of this far Northern California region, and the diversity of beautiful wildlife. On that visit, when we finally made it to the plunging falls, we promised ourselves that when we had kids, we’d make this place an integral part of their lives.

Back to the root of it all

Now here we were, returning to one of our favorite places with Nika and Kimo in tow: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. The calm lake, towering trees and abundant wildlife made it the perfect place to introduce our kids to Redding’s great outdoors.

Upon our arrival, we made a beeline for the coin-operated binoculars at the Whiskeytown Visitor Center, scanning the mountains and forests around the lake. As Ed and I pored over the park maps, the kids climbed trees, competing to see who could see the farthest using just their eyes. “I can see the other side of the lake!” Nika called out with pride. The sun was setting, and we told them we’d be back first thing the next morning.

Of course, the kids woke at dawn, antsy to get out of the hotel and begin the day’s activities. Before I could even fully open my eyes, they were relaying to me all the creatures they hoped to see—an owl, a coyote, maybe even Bigfoot himself. 

After breakfast and coffee, we drove straight to Whiskeytown as promised. Ed took Nika and Kimo down to the water to show them how to skip rocks. I smiled, thrilled to see the trio fully enjoying the outdoors.  Renting kayaks at Oak Bottom Marina was a breeze, and we set out to explore the lake, Kimo helping me paddle, and little Nika—more or less—assisting Ed. As we pressed away from the 36 miles of shoreline, Kimo spotted a salmon, and asked if we could fish. Ed smiled at me, and replied, “Next time!” Instead of casting flies, we meandered through coves. I heard a gasp from Nika, and turned to see her pointing at a nest with a bald eagle perched near the top. “Look at that!” she excitedly exclaimed.

Still in awe from the stately eagle sighting, we paddled back to our car, quickly changed clothes, and headed up to my favorite destination in Redding: Boulder Creek Falls. Immediately the kids ran ahead on the trail, hiding behind conifers, testing their stealth and speed, and ultimately leading the way, proving that they were as comfortable in Redding’s outdoors as we’d always hoped they’d be.

Rewarding reflections

When we reached the waterfall, the kids stopped and lifted their heads, eyes as wide as ours were on our first journey together up this trail; they were uncharacteristically speechless. “Amazing huh?” Ed whispered, resting his arm across my shoulders. I remembered how we’d talked about wanting to bring our future children here so many years ago, and seeing this dream realized was better than I could have imagined.

Later that night around gelato and cupcakes, we talked about our favorite parts of the day—an evening ritual in our family. Kimo said he was happy to have hiked to such a big waterfall, and next time said he was sure he could hike one of Redding’s longer trails. Nika shared a change of heart: “I think the outside is better than the inside because the outside has waterfalls and eagles.” Ed and I couldn’t have agreed more. “Besides,” she continued, “you can always bring forks with you!” That’s our new little adventurer—we’re so proud!

Her spontaneous comment gave me a surge of accomplishment. Not only did Ed and I transform Nika’s views on the outdoors, but we were able to do so in an area that inspired us in the first place.

Get your family back to nature in Redding!