The whole time I’ve lived in Redding, I never knew Root Creek Falls existed. I had heard of a waterfall behind Castle Crags, but for some reason when I had heard about it the first time, it seemed like one would have to forge their way through dense forests; it seemed mystical and unreal.
In a way it was. The path to Root Creek Falls is clearly marked at first, even ADA accessible if you park at the Vista Point parking area in Castle Crags State Park. It intertwines with the PCT for a short jaunt, before separating in a different direction.
The officially maintained trail ends at Root Creek, which I renamed “The Creek of a Thousand Pools” because as I followed it up the creek, I indeed found a series of small, azure pools that were surrounded by ferns and riparian life. There is a small collection of trails that leads towards the vista point for Root Creek Falls, and ultimately they all seemed to either lead to the creek or the vista point. Most of the trail was shady, which was a nice surprise on the warm day. I’m glad I checked the weather forecast because I still had this image of the snow covered crags with wind whipping about. Instead, I found a sunny and warm day where I could wear shorts and eventually strip off my long sleeve shirt.
I did find that I may have accidentally walked into some poison oak that lined the trail, but two days later my skin seems relatively normal (maybe I should say ‘no more aggravated than normal’) so it’s possible that I mis-identified it, have fostered an immunity to it, or didn’t touch the plant itself.
The unofficial trail to the viewpoint ended somewhat abruptly. I found myself coming to a rocky slope, which a trickle of water and moss to my left, and to my right the drop into the canyon at the base of which flowed Root Creek. It wasn’t a particularly precarious position, but I wasn’t sure if the trail had ended or not. So I followed the crack in the rock up only to find it slick with some spring water that had emanated higher up the rock. I didn’t get very far up before literally slipping and then sliding on my butt back to the level spot. From where I was there wasn’t a great view of the falls, so I backtracked a little to find what looked like a better viewpoint.
I could see that if one came up the trail, this spot would be invisible as a large tree had fallen to cover the trail, but coming from this direction it was an easy to find perch. I setup my camera and tripod, attempted to take some photos and a video, and ate my lunch.
From here I could look up and see the steep falls with the backdrop of the wild and stark crags, with white clouds looming even farther behind. I only had to crane my neck slightly to take it all in. It was a perfectly vertical line of sight up the canyon. With my eyes, I followed the path of the water, up the grey and formidable peak, and to the blue beyond.
I noticed that although I was at the edge of a small, rocky canyon there was still a lot of plant life. Not only the pines and moss, but I found small flowers even. From patches of purple flowerst to small succulents with yellow flowers sprouting. As far as I can tell,the plants that I found were Large Beardtongues (the purple flowers), and Sierra Stonecrops (the yellow flowers).
Castle Dome is definitely one of the best hikes around, but while in the area be sure to check out this location. Even though the trail to Castle Dome and Root Creek start out the same, after it split off and I was en route to the falls I saw no other people the entire time I was up there (which meant I definitely had to be careful with my footing in some places!).
It was a simple day trip that offered what I needed – an escape into the mountains, a day playing with my camera (still learning how to use a DSLR), and all on one tank of gas. Exploring all the backwoods of northern California could take some time, but this is what I want to spend my time doing.
There’s two routes – a shorter one starting within Castle Crags State Park (which requires an $8 entrance fee), or a longer one starting on a stretch of the PCT.
Starting in Castle Crags State Park: Park at the end of Vista Point Road. Follow Crags Trail until Root Creek Trail splits off to the right. Continue along until the Creek. Follow the less maintained trail to the left of the creek up the canyon (and watch out for Poison Oak!)
Starting on the PCT: From I-5, take the Exit 726 – Soda Creek Exit. Turn left, go under the freeway and park at the parking area for the PCT. Follow the PCT south, as it will eventually turn west and climb in elevation. After about a mile and a half, this trail will connect with the Rock Creek trail.
Ryan has been wandering the PNW since 1993. Follow his blog at peaceloveandabowlofrice.wordpress.com