If you are looking for adventure in the Redding area, you won’t want to miss this local hangout—a hidden waterfall and natural pool.
Perhaps sometime in Northern California’s history, Potem Falls was a secret escape for local tribes. Perhaps later a lone explorer coined the name when he stumbled upon its beauty in the midst of an exploit. In Latin, “potem” means “to drink” as if you have been commanded with force. Whether these imaginings are simply a far-fetched story or based on a true tale, I’d like to think that whomever named the falls felt compelled to “drink in the beauty of nature.”
In my adult career when I have not been pursuing some sort of writing stint, I have lived in Redding. I am happy to report that I’ve taken advantage of many feats: paddle boarding with friends at Whiskeytown Lake—laughing so hysterically out of pure pleasure that we knocked ourselves off the boards; rock climbing up Castle Crags’ dome—muscles literally quaking with fear; and backpacking with my die hard girlfriends up to the 9,000-foot elevation of Thompson’s Peak in the Trinity Alps—no easy task. I must say, however, that I was fascinated at the mysterious beauty of Potem Falls.
I set out on a Saturday morning with my entire immediate family in tow, aged one and half to sixty, and drove from Redding’s portion of Interstate 5 onto highway 299 East. While Whiskeytown recreational areas boast of tall pines with minimal undergrowth, the eastern portion of 299 is home to evergreen Douglas firs, tall reaching oaks, lonely pines and an array of wildflowers. The closer we moved into the terrain of the eastern arm of Shasta Lake, the more mountainous and seemingly equatorial it became. The mixture of foliage is breathtaking and brings with it an ethereal quality like that of New Zealand’s wonders displayed in the picture versions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. After about thirty miles, winding along Little Cow Creek, we passed The Golden Bear Store & Deli. Just a few miles more and we found the clearly marked turn off to Fenders Ferry Road on the left. Although we journeyed in two SUVs, the gravel road would have also been easy passage for cars. After 3.5 miles, the gravel road ended. A dirt road continued, tapering as it descended down toward the Pit River canyon for 6 miles. Finally, we reached the long and narrow Fenders Ferry Bridge that stretched across a deep gully just below the Pit Reservoir.
The head of the trail is not clearly marked. Thus, I had to keep my eyes peeled to the left side of the road for about half a mile past the bridge. Finally, I spotted a pullout on the left-hand side of the road wherein sat a large rock and a block of concrete with metal rods, as if a sign used to be posted on it. On the far right side of the pullout lay a restricted pathway that immediately plunged downward. It was steep, and in a different season than summer, I can imagine it would be somewhat slippery. As we descended the rocky terrain, I caught glimpses of the fall’s gushing white veil of water. Its roar echoed throughout the canyon leading down to its Potem Creek base. A few places on the trail were only about one foot across. Considering that we had three children under the age of 7 in our crew, I realized that it was going to be a challenge. We placed the littlest on one of our shoulders, tightly gripped hands with the other young’uns (I silently prayed that we’d all be safe), and led them on. As much as I enjoy risky hikes, since we had young and old alike in our party that day, I was happy to find that the path was only about .25 of a mile long. When we arrived at our destination, we all breathed in deeply, satisfied, and stood in awe of our prize.
The cascading fall spilled over like silk tulle from rock 70 feet above. Ferns, water plants and shrubbery adorned the edges of the round and massive pool. Its almost perfect proportions were astounding, making it appear picturesque—quite the picnic and date for adventurous couples. Although at first I slowly waded into the frigid water, I eventually dove into it and quickly realized that despite the force of the fall, I was able to swim all the way around it and then stand on the rock ledge behind. As I looked up through the mist at the fall as it poured down in front of me, I smiled. It reminded me of something. For those of you who are epic movie lovers and adventurers, let me just state that it was a Last-of-the-Mohicans-ish moment.
On the left side of the pool is an enormous boulder. The water below it extends at least 20 feet down, providing safety for diving and jumping into the pool. Next to the boulder are two rope swings. Yes, I swung out and let go of the rope—not so daintily—and fell into the water. A note to fellow rope-swinging daredevils: I had to strategically jump in an exact spot of deep water so as not to crush my legs on the rocks below. My family and I enjoyed all of the falls’ wonders for several hours and then headed back up the small pathway to our vehicles.
Now, when I am determined to experience something new in nature, it comes hand in hand with a hearty meal. The Whiskeytown Visitor’s Center had told me that the grocery store in Round Mountain would provide any snacks, beverages or meals we could possibly desire on our excursion. That was true. The owner of The Golden Bear Store & Deli, Julie Ford, and her son, Hamilton, were busily at work barbecuing tri-tip when we arrived just after 2:00 p.m. Julie bore bright eyes and long silver hair that she had comfortably pulled back with a red bandana. She and her staff welcomed us inside, like we were part of the family, and quickly went to work to provide all twelve of us an all-American meal: tri-tip, baked beans, macaroni and potato salad and rolls. I happily munched on a tri-tip sandwich while the others went for the full meal. The food satisfied our almost bear-like hunger—it was the perfect end to our swashbuckling adventure in Northern California’s wild.
Vanessa Joy Chandler is a Co-Founder, General Manager & Creative Writer for Red Arrow Media in Redding.
Contact Vanessa: email@example.com