Added by John Chau
Perfect for those days of wanderlust, the ridge traverse to the summit of South Fork Mountain in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is the place to be. Wild and untamed, the traverse requires several miles of off-trail bushwacking up steep, slippery pine slopes, old growth oak forests, and along old prospecting trails and logging roads. This hike is 5-5.5 miles one way (10-11 miles roundtrip), with 4,181 feet of elevation gain.
Starting from the Kanaka Peak Trailhead, follow the Kanaka Peak Trail all the way, continuing on past the Peltier Trail Junction and the Kanaka Cutoff Trail Junction until the trail begins to head east (about 2-2.5 miles from the trailhead) and there is a gently sloping hill on your right that is comprised mainly of pine trees and a carpet of pine needles. If you continue along the trail for another mile or so, you can reach the summit of Kanaka Peak if you want to attempt two peaks in a day. However, for the sake of this article, we'll turn off the Kanaka Peak Trail and head up the sloping pine needle-carpeted hill.
There is an old, faintly visible trail seen that switchbacks up the hill, as well as an old prospecting ditch that runs along the left side of the hill (if facing uphill). Regardless, you'll get to the top of the hill and be greeted by a sign that says Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (see photos above). From here, head west and you'll follow this ridgeline all the way along, up, and around and eventually reach an old logging road about 1 mile from the sign. You'll notice an open clearing that you'll descend into before meeting up with the old road.
Follow the old logging road as it winds its way to the saddle between South Fork Mountain and an unnamed hill. After reaching the saddle, head southwest and bushwack to the top of South Fork Mountain (3 miles from the sign, about 5-5.5 miles from the trailhead). The views from the top are incredible and well worth the adventure! Don't expect to see anyone else except black bears, deers, and maybe an elusive cougar.
If you're planning on bivvying or camping for the night, realize that the ridge line along South Fork Mountain can be incredibly windy, and there are very few (if any!) places to put a tent. A bivvy sack works great though and there is a nice nook to settle into about a hundred yards below the summit near a large half-dome shaped boulder.
Hike out the way you came in! Water can be scarce if it's late spring-late fall because the creeks will be dry, so be sure to pack in water! Also, the Kanaka Peak Trail Trailhead might be closed 1.1 miles earlier near the Peltier Bridge Campground (open late spring-late fall), so hikers in the winter and early spring will need to factor in an extra 1.1 miles of hiking just to the trailhead along a gravel forest road (2.2 round trip, making this entire hike 12.2-13.2 miles long)
Depending on the season, there might be snow on the north side as you make your final approach - if there is snow on Shasta Bally, then there will most likely be snow here as well (South Fork Mountain is at 5,197 feet). Crampons and an ice axe are recommended then. A free backcountry permit is also required if spending the night up there, and can be obtained at the visitor center (opens at 10 AM everyday).
- Overnight gear if spending the night
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Crampons and Ice Axe if snow is present on Shasta Bally
- First Aid Kit
- Extra batteries
- Map of the Kanaka Peak Trail
- Topo map of ridgeline
- Water filter (there are two creeks along the old logging road but if doing this hike in the summer or late spring, then pack in your own water as the creeks will be dry)
- Leave an itinerary with a friend or the rangers at the visitor center
NOTE: This is an off-trail trek, and hikers should be experienced with off-trail hiking and land navigation using a map and compass. Do this hike at your own risk and remember to Leave No Trace!
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
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