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.
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.
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.
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, it's an easy half-mile hike to lower Darwin Falls. Another short hike ends at the rushing waters of the upper falls.