Trinity Scenic Byway Guide
Meet the Travelers of 299...
The Trinity Scenic Byway has been called one of the most beautiful drives in Northern California. It crosses both the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests, the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area and acres of private land. Out your window you will see steep, forbidding landscapes, numerous rivers, and dense vegetation. Set in the center of the route, like a sparkling gem, is the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Trinity River. For 35 miles it appears, then disappears from view.
California State Highway 299 West and the mountains it nestles in have seen travelers of all kinds. Not only human travelers but birds, fish, and even water. From Indians, miners, and pack trains to kayakers, R.V.s, and logging trucks, from prehistoric times to the present, there has been a long procession of people and many modes of transportation. As you drive along, try and imagine the obstacles and hazards this imposing landscape has presented to past travelers.
The Trinity Scenic Byway is maintained by the State, but you should be aware of several potential dangers:
ROCKS. Much of the road is built on steep hillsides and rocks do occasionally fall. Be especially alert during and after rains.
DEER. They may be seen often along the route, particularly in early morning and late at night.
ICE. During the winter, the road can be become icy and slick wherever the road is shaded.
PINE CONES. Pine cones? Yes, pine cones! The cones of the Digger Pine on the east half of the route are sometimes more than 12 inches long. heavy and very hard. Treat them like a rock.
TURNOUTS. Please use the turnouts provided and thereby keep the blood pressure of the drivers in the cars behind you at a normal level. Help prevent others from passing you in unsafe areas. Your consideration will be greatly appreciated.
Shasta: Mile 0.0
From 1850 to 1880, Shasta was the central supply depot for much of Northern California and Central Oregon. Trails radiated to the east, north, and west. Supplies bound for the gold fields were carried on barges up the Sacramento River to Red Bluff and were then transferred to freight wagons and pulled to Shasta. From there they were hauled on the backs of pack mules up into the Trinity Mountains at Shasta's peak, 2000 mules were moving in and out of town daily. Can you imagine what this town was like? Think of the noise made by packers yelling out greetings to friends and curses to stubborn, braying mules. On a hot, dry day the smells and flies must have been thick, not to mention the dust. This crush of men and animals and the lust for gold made Shasta the main gateway to the Trinity River mining fields.
Whiskeytown: mile 4.6
Until 1964 Whiskeytown Lake, a portion of the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area, was still Whiskey Creek. Its name comes from a barrel of whiskey that broke when it fell into the creek in the mid-1850s.. .much to the dismay of working miners. Now flooded under 200 feet of water, only its poetic name and general store live on.
Water... California's life's blood! How do the arid Central Valley and Southern California survive with millions of people and acres of farms? If you look out your window, you will see how it is done. Water travels from Northern to Central and Southern California through a network of reservoirs, dams, and aqueducts known as the Central Valley Project. Whiskeytown Lake and Dam are a portion of the project that includes Lewiston and Trinity Lakes and Dams. The water you see is diverted from the Trinity River which flows along Highway 299 farther to the west. It used to flow entirely into the ocean. Now, much of it flows under Highway 299 in man-made tunnels and eventually ends up watering strawberries and rice fields.
Tower House: mile 9.8
Stages, freight wagons, mule teams, and Model Ts rumbled by this house on their way to Weaverville or Trinity Center to the north. Two enterprising individuals, Levi Tower and Charles Camden, built a hotel here in 1852 and then helped improve the road from Shasta to their front door in 1864. For the next 50 years, Camden maintained the road and charged tolls to all who passed by.
Several toll roads connected the Towerhouse with Weaverville. With the completion of the Buckhorn toll road in 1858, wagons could finally carry supplies all the way from Red Bluff without transferring to mules at Shasta. Open only at the whim of Mother Nature, travel on these roads was slow, and occasionally death-defying!
Side trip to French Gulch: mile 9.8
3.1 miles north of Highway 299.
An historic mining town first settled by French Canadians in the early 1850's. The gold claims were so rich along Clear Creek that they were limited to 10 feet per miner. A wonderful spot to spend an afternoon or evening and absorb gold rush flavor!
Douglas City Rest Stop and Interpretive Stop:mile 33.4
"The Discovery of Gold"
Weaverville: mile 38.7
Miners ever searching for elusive gold founded the town of Weaverville in 1850. They came trough Shasta or across the coastal mountains from Arcata. They hiked dirt trails, gear strapped to their backs or loaded on a mule. Weaverville prospered and the surrounding areas produced gold comparable to the Sierra foothills. Imagine what this town looked like with miners of all nationalities walking the same street you drive down, climbing the spiral staircases, using the same drug store.
Weaverville boasts some of the oldest continually used buildings in California. The courthouse was build in 1856-57 and is the second oldest in the State. The Weaverville Drug Store on Main Street is the oldest in California, its doors open since 1854. The Joss House, a Taoist temple, was rebuilt from ashes in 1873 and is now preserved as a State Historic Park.
Side trip to Trinity Lake: mile 38.7
11 miles north of Highway 299 on Highway 3
Weaverville is the gateway to Trinity (Clair Engle) Lake, California's third largest reservoir and a portion of the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area. Managed by the USDA Forest Service, its 17.000 acres and 140 miles of shoreline offer boating, swimming, fishing, camping, picnicking, hunting and hiking. For more information contact the Weaverville Ranger District or Trinity County Chamber of Commerce.
Hydraulic Mining: mile 42.4
La Grange interpretive Stop
Mine Tailings: mile 47.2
The miners who came to the Trinity River in the late 1800's and early 1900's washed away whole mountains with hydraulic monitors. Their powerful jets continuously sprayed huge streams of water against the side of a hill in the search for gold. Miners also built large, floating gold factories called bucket line dredges that dug up entire river valleys. The dirt and rock left behind, in the wake of these types of mining, resulted in the huge piles of rock, or tailings, you see along the river -- mute testimony to a bygone era.
Mining still occurs along the river. The preferred method is suction dredging. You may see modern miners at work in the Trinity River as you travel along. Miners today work with three different agencies in their search for gold. The Bureau of Land Management manages the minerals ,the Forest Service the land where the minerals are found, and the State of California, the waterways.
Trinity River: mile 53.8
Cool spray in your face, the roar of water tumbling over boulders, and the warmth of the sun on your body. what a way to travel! You can, too. The Wild and Scenic Trinity River offers distinct levels of whitewater enjoyment from calm Class II and fun Class III to dangerous Class V waters.
Prior to 1962 the water level in the Trinity River dropped to almost a trickle by summer's end. With the completion of Trinity Dam and the filling of Trinity Lake, river flows were altered dramatically. Now water flows steadily in the river all summer long and recreationists come from all over to enjoy whitewater trips. For more information Contact the Big Bar Ranger Station.
Big Flat River Access: mile 59.2
The Trinity Alps Wilderness
If you look out your window to the north, you can see directly into the 500,000 Trinity Alps Wilderness, the 2nd largest in California. This wilderness is managed by the Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests. From now-level old growth forests to majestic alpine peaks, the Trinity Alps await you. Rediscover nature at its best!
Interpretive Stop: Anadromous Fish
The Civilian Conservation Corps
As you travel along the highway from Del Loma to Salyer, watch for rock masonry in the form of guard walls, rock walls, and fences. Civilian Conservation Corps members built these in the 1930s. They also constructed the Forest Service Work Center in Salyer and the Weaverville Ranger Station.
Bars? Are they saloons?
Names like Hawkin's Bar, Big Bar and French Bar do not advertise fine drinking establishments. What they refer to is a river bar: a ridge of gravel slightly above the surface of the river that contained gold. They also provided some of the few flat areas on which to build within these steep mountains.
White's Bar Picnic Area: mile 63.7
Interpretive Stop...Neotropical Birds
Neotropical birds use the Trinity River corridor as a flyway during their regular spring and fall migrations.
Cedar Flat Picnic Area: mile 76.0
Interpretive Stop...Chimariko Indians
China Slide: mile 77.2
Pouring rain, dripping off the brim of your hat plopping in your water barrel leaking through your boots. It was the winter of 1890 and the rain had not stopped in days. Several Chinese miners sat in their cabin at the bottom of Burnt Ranch Gorge when suddenly the mountain came roaring down upon them All were killed and the river was totally blocked. The earthen dam was close to 200 feet tall, and the water backed 12 miles up river. It must have been a frightening death for these unfortunate immigrants.
You can see the slide on the south side of the highway and the remains of the earthen dam in the canyon.
The Chinese traveled to this part of the world to make their fortunes. Instead they found discrimination, hard work and little gold. Hydraulic and dredger mining soon replaced labor-intensive placer mining, and by the 1860s, many Chinese had left to construct the first trans-continental railroad.
Salyer Rest Stop: mile 86.4
Interpretive Stop...Pack Trains
Hlel-Din: mile 90.0
The Place Where Rivers Come Together"
Here, where the South Fork of the Trinity joins the main river, stood the village of Hlel-Din. It was a major village of the South Fork Hupa Tribe and a trading center for tribes from the Klamath, Trinity, and South Fork Rivers. Three to five hundred Native Americans lived and worked here. Those who came to trade goods such as redwood canoes or obsidian for tools spoke three different languages Athabascan, Hokan and Algonquin.
Willow Creek: mile 94.2
By now you have probably passed either log or wood chip trucks on your journey. Throughout Northern California, small towns like Willow Creek supply limber for the entire nation. You have been driving through areas where timber has been harvested from either federal or private lands. Timber, one of the most important elements in this region's economy, moves west along Highway 299 to mills on the coast or east to mills in Weaverville or Redding.
Timber management has come a long way from the old "cut and run" days. California has the strictest harvest laws in the nation, and private timberland owners as well as the Forest Service continue to improve their harvest and planting practices.
Trinity Recreation Area
Horse Mountain Winter Sports Area, Brush Mountain Fire Lookout, Hoopa Tribal Museum, and Horse Linto Creek Interpretive Trail are but some of the attractions awaiting you within the Trinity Recreation Area. For more information contact the Lower Trinity Ranger District or Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce.
Berry Summit Vista Point: mile 104.2
Interpretive Stop...Jedediah Smith
Lord-Ellis Summit: mile 114.6
This summit was named after Blue Lake businessman Edward Ellis and gold mine owner William Lord. Both depended on packtrains for business survival. They petitioned the government for improved access across these mountains. What they received was an improved mule trail in 1895.
While mules helped Lord and Ellis and many others over "Lord Help Us" Summit, they also supported the sheep trade. Ranchers from Redwood Valley, directly east of here, sent their sheepskins to Blue Lake and on to Arcata via pack train. Once a year the pack train arrived with a year's supply of goods and then left with shorn wool. Think how hard it would be to figure out how much flour, cereal, and salt you use in a year. Remember, you only get to go to the store once, and if you run out, you are out.
Blue Lake: mile 126.2
At last, relatively flat ground! Think how happy you would be to finally arrive in Blue Lake after sitting on a horse for days. You would have crossed rivers, hugged the sides of cliffs, and swatted wasps on your journey along the Trinity River. Blue Lake was a stop for pack trains and a supply depot for points inland. It was also where the railroad from the coast ended.
The towns of Blue Lake, Arcata, and Eureka helped supply the gold camps of the Trinity. They lobbied the government for years, without luck, to get a road built. They used private funds to build roads that were, more often than not, useless. Help finally came from two unlikely sources.
In 1905, under President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, the Trinity Forest Reserve came into existence. With this forerunner to the Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests came the funds to build roads to and through them. Over the next 30 years the highway was completed.
During that time frame labor was scarce. The federal government turned to San Quentin and Folsom State Prisons for convict labor. Honor prisoners were housed in camps along the highway. They blasted solid rock, cleared rubble, and dug ditches to complete the long link between the Central Valley and the Redwood Coast.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication