Cool Blue Jewel

Siskiyou’s Turquoise Gem — McCloud Reservoir…

Just 10 miles south of the historic logging town of McCloud, the McCloud Reservoir, or “the Res” as it’s known to locals, is a scenic wonder and recreational gem in Siskiyou County. This 35,000-acre-foot lake divides the upper and lower sections of the McCloud River and is known for its unusual hue.

“The McCloud Reservoir’s turquoise-green waters are a result of suspended particulate sands and volcanic ash washed down from Mud Creek Canyon by Mud Creek,” explains David S. Wolfe, the information and recreation officer for the McCloud Ranger District in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. According to the Forest Service, Mud Creek originates from the Konwakiton Glacier on Mt. Shasta. Then, as it travels to the lake, it carries silt with it. Once that silt settles in the calmer water of the lake, it reflects the sky, giving the lake its distinctive appearance. The brilliant blue-green waters, surrounded by forest and teeming with bald eagles, osprey, bear, deer and otters, provide a scenic feast for any visitor spending a day on the water.

While lake levels this year are low due to drought, recreation continues to be a main attraction. There’s everything from swimming, fishing and kayaking to water skiing and jet-skiing, though Wolfe recommends activities with motorized craft happen downstream of what’s known as “the big island.” “We’ve seen a huge upsurge in visitor use on the McCloud Reservoir, and it draws in people from as far as Southern California and Washington. With the increase of kayaks and paddleboards, water skiers must be conscious of their wake and where they are going.”

One of the longtime draws for kayakers is a paddle upriver to Wyntoon Castle, a Hearst family residence located on the Upper McCloud River north of the reservoir. Originally built by William Randolph Hearst’s mother, Phoebe, at the turn of the 20th century, this Bavarian-style castle is the opposite of the opulent and showy Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Also designed in part by San Simeon’s architect Julia Morgan, Wyntoon Castle is difficult to access, hidden from public view and still privately owned. In low water years like this one, Wolfe urges caution and a respect for privacy. “People like to think that they can boat up to see Hearst Villa on what is called the Bend.  They need to realize that this is private property, as is most of the land surrounding the reservoir. When the lake level is low, boats cannot make it close to the area because it is too shallow, as it is now.” 

The other famous resident of the McCloud Reservoir is the indigenous McCloud River trout – a rainbow trout that has been transplanted throughout the world. Local fishing guide Jack Trout describes them as “the most well-traveled and famous trout in the world.” Anglers have long flocked to land these rainbows, or one of the brook and brown trout that populate the lake. Trout thrive in the reservoir due in part to the fact that the lake water temperature stays relatively cold all year. Wolfe notes, “The water can range from frigid to pretty comfortable depending on the water level, time of year and amount of water it is taking in.” Another local fishing guide, Scott Caldwell, advises that the best way to fish the reservoir is by boat, and while most trout are in the 10- to 18-inch range, fish up to five pounds and larger are landed every year.

While there is very little camping at the lake, there are several lodging choices in nearby McCloud. There is also the family-run Friday’s RV Retreat and Fly Fishing Ranch, built in 1983 by Bob and Maylon Friday. This park has 30 spacious RV sites with pull-throughs and is the closest private RV park and campground to the reservoir. With no light pollution, the RV park also offers an evening of spectacular stargazing. “Our motto is camping, not cramping,” says Bob Friday. When asked what most visitors’ reactions are to his retreat and the nearby McCloud Reservoir, he doesn’t miss a beat. “People always come here and say, why didn’t we find this before?”•

About Megan Peterson

Megan has been a freelance storyteller for more than two decades, with writing credits ranging from National Geographic to the Sundance Channel. She also brings a background in marketing and audio tours and has traveled and worked on six continents. Megan currently lives in Siskiyou County with her family and a menagerie of pets.

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