California Waterfalls Give Thanks to Plentiful Winter Rains and Snow by Barbara L. Steinberg
The adjectives: awe-inspiring; breathtaking; spectacular; mesmerizing. The verbs: plunging; plummeting; crashing. The metaphors: like a thundering curtain or the roar of a hurricane; or like the sound of bells or murmuring voices.
Waterfalls. They are mystical and magical. Their size and strength are often times terrifying; their beauty: tranquilizing and hypnotic. Who hasn't dreamed of showering in their chilling spray or swimming in an emerald pool; or longed to track the water's ancient origins in search of a quiet resting place? In California, there are memorable waterfalls to match any you have imagined.
The winter rains and (eventually) melting snow pack will have California waterfalls exploding with water. Springtime is generally the best time to view these natural wonders as many of the falls dry-up in the summer heat due to decreased water flows. But during the right winters, waterfalls come crashing back to life. The N ative Americans called them "laughing waters." Though spring is still many months away, California waterfalls are giggling, chortling, screaming, and lifting their voices in tumultuous laughter.
Burney Falls, once called "the eighth wonder of the world" by Teddy Roosevelt, is fed by spring flows of 200 million gallons daily. Much of the water from these underground streams actually spouts from the rock. The divided falls rumble down a 129-foot cliff into an emerald pool before flowing into Lake Britton. Trails that almost anyone can manage lead down to the pool on both sides. For the best view, hike the 1/2-mile trail that traverses the hillside. You can cross the top of the falls most of the year, but waters run heaviest in the Spring. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is located mid-way between Lassen National Volcanic Park and Mt. Shasta.
The McCloud Falls (upper, middle and lower) are 5.9 miles east of the town of McCloud and can be reached by following the signs to Fowler's Camp. The three falls are within two miles of each other and accessible by car. There is fishing and a natural swimming hole on Hwy. 89.
Located near Dunsmuir are Mossbrae and Hedge Creek Falls. Approximately 50 miles north of Redding, Mossbrae is fed by melting water from the glaciers on Mount Shasta. Hedge Creek is well marked and has a picnic area near the base of the falls.
Approximately 41 miles east of Redding, Potem Creek Falls empties into the Pit River. A gentle, winding trail makes the falls accessible to hikers. For additional information, contact: Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association.
Yosemite Falls, the tallest falls in North America (and fifth tallest in the world), drop 2,425 feet to the valley floor. The Upper Fall plunges 1,430, feet, connecting with the 320-foot Lower Fall by a 675-foot cascade. Follow a 3.6-mile trail, which includes a 270-foot gain in elevation, to reach the top of Yosemite Falls. Start at Lower Yosemite Falls for a 1/2-day hike with excellent views of Half Dome. The best views are about two thirds of the way up, so don't feel as if you're missing out if you don't make it to the top. Impressive views of the falls are seen on the path to the base.
The Merced River flows from the snow fields in the Sierra Nevada, spills over the 594-foot Nevada Falls and then plummets another 317 feet over Vernal Falls. Known as The Mist Trail, the hike starts uphill through the mist sprayed by Vernal Falls. When the light is right, hikers are rewarded with rainbows in the mist of Vernal Falls. The climb to the top of Nevada Falls is difficult; the last 900 feet of elevation gain are up steep polished granite. The half-day round-trip up the falls is 3.4 miles one way.
Yosemite Indians called the 620-foot Bridalveil Fall, Pohono, or "spirit of the puffing winds." Strong winds often lift the thundering water and blow it sideways. Bridalveil is visible from the road, but an easy 10-minute walk will take you to its foaming base.
On a strenuous 9-1/2 mile walk from the Tuolumne Meadows area, you can view the exuberant Tuolumne Falls. Other falls such as the spectacular Waterwheel Falls, are a short distance beyond, near Glen Aulin Camp in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
Other lesser known falls include: Cascade Falls, Chilnualna Cascades, Wapama and Tueeulala Falls. After the winter snow melt, Yosemite is easily accessible by Hwy. 120 and 140 from the west and Hwy. 120 from the east (Mono Lake Area). For additional information, contact: Yosemite Park.
Just five miles from the south entrance to Yosemite, along the 3.7-mile Lewis Creek Recreational Trail, lies a hidden treasure -- Corlieu Falls. The trail follows the route of the historical Madera Sugar Pine lumber flume past the 80-foot waterfall, and the smaller Red Rock Falls. With no signs to publicize their existence, Corlieu Falls can be enjoyed in a kind of quiet solitude not possible at some of the better known falls. For additional information, contact: Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau.
On the eastern side of the Sierra is Rainbow Falls, located in the Inyo National Forest south of Devils Postpile National Monument. Along a 1.3-mile trail the San Joaquin River plunges 101 feet over volcanic rock into a box canyon. Multi-colored rainbows are clearly visible in the mist of the mighty falls. Devils Postpile is a brief walk from parking lots and shuttle stops. The trail to Rainbow Falls is a short 1-1/4-mile hike from Devils Postpile.
Drive around the Mammoth Lakes Basin -- Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Mamie, George and Horseshoe (there is no Mammoth Lake). Spilling down from Lake Mamie west of the town of Mammoth Lakes is Twin Falls, which cascades 300-feet along a granite bed into Twin Lakes. It can be viewed from the overview at Twin Lakes. For additional information, contact: Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau.
Located 25 miles east of Oroville, the Feather Falls National Recreation Trail will lead you to 640-feet high Feather Falls. The trail, located within the 15,000-acre Feather Falls Scenic Area, winds through the foothills 3.8 miles to Feather Falls. Water flows at Feather Falls are heaviest during the spring months.
The diminutive Indian Falls in the Plumas National Forest is just 20 feet high, but creates a dramatic affect falling on Indian Creek. Large sun-bathed rocks, swimming holes, and sandy shores beckon. The 0.5-mile round-trip hike is easy but can be icy in winter months. Well-placed interpretive panels provide insight into the lives of the Maidu tribes who inhabited the region. Ten miles west of Quincy, the falls are two miles north of the intersection of Highways 70 and 89. For additional information, contact: USDA Forest Service Plumas National Forest
The Bay Area has been blessed with a number of beautiful water falls. At a height of 70 feet, Berry Creek Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, may be the Bay Area's most impressive waterfall. A fairly comfortable hike, take the Skyline to the Sea Trail to the falls and back for an 8-mile round-trip. For additional information, contact: Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Twenty-five miles from Foresthill in Placer County is Grouse Falls, one of California's most scenic waterfalls. Cascading down several hundred feet, the falls are hidden at the head of an isolated box canyon. The falls were largely inaccessible until 1992, when a trail constructed to a deck perched along the canyon wall allowed the falls to be seen. The trail is an easy, 1/3-mile walk. The best time for viewing the falls is in the spring when water flows are high. For additional information, contact: Foresthill Ranger Station at 22830 Foresthill Road or (530) 367-2224 or the Placer County Visitors Bureau.
Truly an oasis in the desert is Darwin Falls, with its sparkling stream and year-round 30-foot cascading waterfalls. Just off Hwy. 190, leading into Death Valley National Park it's an easy half-mile hike to lower Darwin Falls. Another short hike ends at the rushing waters of the upper falls.
In sharp contrast to this water wonderland is Fossil Falls, located 45-minutes north of Ridgecrest. The trail is a short 1-1/2 mile, round-trip hike and leads to a sculptured and polished 40-foot dry waterfall. Black lava cliffs were smoothed and shaped over thousands of years by the now-dry Owens River. The graded dirt access road to Fossil Falls is accessible with a two-wheel drive vehicle. For additional information, contact: Ridgecrest Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.