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12 Best Waterfalls in California to Visit

Waterfalls in California come in all shapes and sizes. The coastlines and forests seem to have a never-ending array of misty cascades of crystal blue water splashing with powerful drama into seas and riverbeds like the McWay Falls in Big Sur or Devils Falls.

With so many hiking trails with waterfalls in California, it’s easy to make a day trip out of many of them from both northern and southern Cali cities!

We have assembled the most incredible waterfalls in SoCal and NorCal that will take your breath away. These gorgeous spots are perfect for hiking, swimming, picnicking, camping, and admiring natural beauty. 

If you’re looking for a hike, whether easy or challenging, with a beautiful California waterfall as a reward, here are the best waterfalls in California:

Best Waterfalls in California

1. Devil’s Falls

Auburn State Recreation Area
Faustian at the English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Address: Yankee Jims Rd, Colfax, CA 95713

Devils Falls is one of the best waterfalls in California, attached to a bit of Old West lore. Roughly 50 to 70 feet high, this waterfall sits along Yankee Jims Road, between Colfax and Foresthill, in the Auburn State Recreation Area.

Located right off the road, this is probably one of the easiest waterfalls to reach in California. You can adore it from the road or climb down some rocks for a closer look and explore it further. It splits into two different water streams at the peak, making it look more beautiful. Easy to access from the road, Devils Falls offer great spots for photos and picnics.  

Auburn State Recreation Area has an impressive gold mining history. Enjoy hiking, boating, camping, panning for gold, riding trails, and more. The best time to see Devils Falls is in winter when flows are high. 

Yankee Jim’s Parking Area is $10 for the day. Camping in Mineral Bar and Ruck-A-Chucky campgrounds will cost you $28 per night. You can make the most of your visit to Devils Falls by spending your time outdoors in these outstanding campsites. 

As mentioned above, tent camping is available in Mineral Bar and Ruck-A-Chucky Campgrounds. Both campsites follow a first come, first serve policy. Also, the Ruck-A-Chucky campground is closed in winter.

See Related: Fun and Best Things to Do in Vista, California

2. Santa Barbara Seven Falls

Los Padres National Forest
Photo by Chuck Abbe via Creative Commons

Location: Tunnel Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Santa Barbara has some of the best waterfalls in California as part of its famous wilderness spaces.  The most spectacular of these is Seven Falls, accessible via a moderately challenging trail. Located in the Los Padres National Forest, this tourist attraction is absolutely a fun place to go to if you want to take a break from your hectic schedule. 

Find the trailhead to Seven Falls at Tunnel Road, above Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. The falls are at the end of the trail. Expect to hop boulders and get your feet wet.

The Seven Falls hiking trail attracts hundreds of people each month to explore Instagram-worthy rocks, pools, and natural beauty. Though the route to reach the falls is a little confusing, you can witness incredible views and good times with little adventure. 

When in Santa Barbara, you can go for Santa Barbara Trolley Tour, Santa Barbara Scavenger Hunt Adventure, Santa Barbara Electric Bike Rental, and Santa Barbara Private Driving Tour to make the most of your time in the city.

There’s no fee to hike this trail. But the parking space is limited at the trailhead (Tunnel Road). It’s in a neighborhood, so if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll see a parking ticket tucked under your windshield wiper when you return. Boo.

There are many campgrounds and RV rentals in Santa Barbara. Or you can choose the best one from a vast selection of vacation rentals, perfect for your trip. From condos and cottages to houses and studio apartments, you can book a place of your choice within your budget.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Mendocino, California

3. Millard Falls 

Millard Falls

Address: 4041 Chaney Trail, Altadena, CA 91001

Millard Falls is another gorgeous waterfall in southern California. This unique fall features a large boulder at the top and two water streams that make a pool below. 

An easy hike from the trailhead, the path will lead you to a breathtaking 50-foot double cascade. This mile-round hike is perfect for families looking for a short outdoor experience. Crossing waterways to get there only adds to the fun. Those interested can extend this journey to Dawn Mine above the falls. This tail is about three miles. 

The sign to Millard Falls

You have to buy an adventure pass for parking beforehand. It will cost you $5 for a day and $30 for a year. If you’re a frequent hiker, go for the annual pass. It will save you a couple of bucks in the long run. 

Tent camping is available in Millard Trail Camp. This is the point from where you will start hiking to Millard Falls or Dawn Mine.

See Related: Best Hiking Trails in America

4. Lower Eagle Falls

Snowmelt flows through Lower Eagle Falls

Address: 138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Eagle Falls is close to South Lake Tahoe. It is a set of waterfalls cascading down the creek to Emerald Bay. This two-tiered, 140-foot fall will leave you mesmerized by its beauty. The fall has two sections: the upper is 58 feet, and the lower is 82 feet tall. It is best to visit between April and July as the flow is heavy due to snowmelt. 

The Eagle Falls Vista Point Loop is a 0.6-mile loop trail from Emerald Bay and an additional one-mile trip to the parking area. Since Eagle Falls is incredibly scenic, it is one of the most visited places in Emerald Bay State Park. There is also Eagle Lake Trail, a moderately challenging trail a little more than two miles round trip.

Parking is free near the trailhead entrance along Highway 89. You will have to pay $5 to park your vehicle within the Eagle Falls Trailhead area. 

If you’re thinking of spending a night near this stunning waterfall, you can find the property of your choice. Rent Bearstone Cabin in South Lake Tahoe for cozy, adorable accommodation.

See Related: Best Waterfalls in Minnesota

5. Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

Location: Yosemite Village, CA 95389

Waterfalls in California don’t get much more iconic than this 2,425-foot high stunner in Yosemite. Yosemite Falls is the tallest series of waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, totaling 2,425 feet. This fall comprises three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Yosemite Falls. 

This fall is one of the top attractions in Yosemite National Park, especially in spring when the water flow is at its peak. It is accessible by a long, steep hike on one of Yosemite’s oldest and most historic trails, the Yosemite Falls Trail.

Yosemite Falls Trail is a 7.6 miles round-trip hike near Yosemite Valley. The California Yosemite Falls hike to the fall and back will take about 6 to 8 hours and is considered strenuous but rewarding. If you have time, you can also explore other falls in the park, including Bridalveil Falls, Vernal Falls, Ribbon Falls, Nevada Falls, and Horsetail Falls.

You will need a parking ticket to enter Yosemite National Park, which is $70 per vehicle for a year and $35 per vehicle for a week.

Few hotels are operating inside Yosemite National Park, and reservations are hard to come by. Check availability for accommodations in the nearby towns.

If you’re looking for outdoor adventure, go for the 3-day camping in Yosemite Valley. Be ready to enjoy hiking, swimming, and other activities in Yosemite National Park during your stay. 

See Related: Free California Travel Guide

6. Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite

Location: Brideveil Falls Trail, Yosemite Village, CA 95389

Bridalveil Fall is another iconic fall in Yosemite National Park. This fall is often the first one you will see after entering Yosemite Valley. Boasting a majestic view, this is a must-see attraction in the park. 

This 617-foot-high waterfall is open year-round. Spring and early summer are the best times to visit the Bridalveil Fall as the water flow is the most powerful. There are two trails to get to Bridalveil Fall. You can take the easy one or go for the longer valley loop trail. 

There’s no additional fee besides the entry pass for Yosemite National Park. The ticket will cost you $35/week and $70/year. You can also consider taking a ticketto explore Bridalveil Fall closely.

Immerse yourself in the natural surroundings with a luxurious cabin stay in the River View A-Frame Cabin in Yosemite National Park. There are other options as well. You can book any place as per your comfort. 

See Related: Do You Need a Car in San Diego?

7. McWay Falls

McWay Falls plunges off a cliff and into a turquoise cove.

Location: Big Sur, CA 93920

Driving along the Big Sur coastline on Highway 1 is incredibly scenic, but you must stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park for a memorable experience. McWay Falls is an 80-foot-high waterfall splashing prettily into the Pacific Ocean in a lovely pristine cove. 

It is a gorgeous sight and one of the most photographed waterfalls in California. The Overlook Trail to McWay Falls is one of the easiest and best waterfall hikes in Big Sur, around a 1.2-mile round-trip hike. Overlook Trail will take you to a point where you can directly view the falls. There is strictly no beach or ocean access as the area is dangerous for foot traffic.

After exploring this gorgeous fall, you can take a self-guided audio tour to cover a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway in your vehicle to add up to your experience.

Park on Highway 1 for free and take the Overlook Trail. Or park inside the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park for $10 per car for one day. Tent camping is available at two campsites south of McWay Falls. They are hike-in only and must be reserved well in advance.

Or find seclusion and relaxation in a tucked-away cabin in the forest. Looking to spend a day or two? Here is where to stay in Big Sur to ensure you see all of this beautiful coastline.

See Related: Follow This 5-Day Yellowstone Itinerary

8. Alamere Falls

Alamere Falls flows directly into the Pacific Ocean
Akos Kokai via Wikimedia Commons

Address: Palomarin Trailhead, Bolinas, CA 94924

On a remote beach in the Phillip Burton Wilderness, you’ll find Alamere Falls. Located in Point Reyes National Seashore, this is one of only two tidefalls in California – the other one is McWay Falls. 

Alamere Falls comprises three different cascades, around 30 feet in height. You must follow a Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead to get to this sight. Though the hike is long, you will be rewarded with a dramatic view at the end, making it worth your time. 

The Alamere Falls hike from the Palomarin Trailhead is a 13.6-mile out-and-back trail, moderately challenging, and will take on average about 6 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll pass Bass Lake and Pelican Lake, perfect for swimming. However, there is no lifeguard on duty so swim at your own risk.

No fees to park or visit Point Reyes National Seashore. Backcountry camping is available, but you must make reservations well in advance. Alternatively, you can find a cabin or treetop glass house close to the park.

See Related: Best Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State

9. Burney Falls

Burney Falls

Address: 24898 CA-89, Burney, CA 96013

At 129 feet high, Burney Falls in California is the showpiece of McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. This is one of the biggest waterfalls in Northern California.

This massive fall is a series of spring-fed waterways that come together in a spectacular plunge on their way to Lake Burton. Though not the highest and biggest waterfall in California, this is definitely the most beautiful. Visitors can hike five miles of trails throughout the evergreen woods and even try a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The day-use fee for McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is between $8 and $10 per vehicle. To make your reservation, call 800-444-7275 or visit the official site

Campgrounds and cabins are available for reservation. Campgrounds are first-come, first-served. You can also consider booking a hotel, motel, or farmhouse within your budget near McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park since there are several options. Some of the best ones are Shasta Pines Motel & Suites, Charm Motel & Suites, and Green Gables Motel & Suites.

See Related: Las Vegas vs Phoenix

10. Brandy Creek

Brandy Creek Falls in Whiskeytown

Location: Whiskeytown, CA 96095

Brandy Creek Falls is one of the four major waterfalls in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. It is a pretty little 30 feet drop along Brandy Creek. Brandy Creek Trail is a moderately challenging, 8-mile round-trip trail that rewards hikers with crystal clear cascades and charming bridges.

Parts of this trail and the area were completely destroyed due to the Carr Fire. Efforts to rebuild and improve the trails have been underway, so certain areas may be more accessible than others. Stay up to date with the National Park Service.

The recreation area also holds Shasta Lake. Reserve this lakefront house with a gorgeous view to boast. There are several other properties a few miles away from Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Check for availability and ensure a comfortable stay. 

See Related: Lounge Pass Review

11. Black Star Falls

The boulders at Black Canyon Falls

Address: 10499, 10967 Black Star Canyon Rd, Silverado, CA 92676

Situated in the beautiful hills of Orange County, Black Star Canyon Falls is another striking waterfall in Southern California. The hike to Black Star Waterfalls is challenging, but the reward is spectacular. Overall, it’s a tranquil and fun hike. 

This rocky trail is around 6.7 miles round trip, and it takes an average of around 3 hours to complete. The hike starts with an approximately three-mile walk along Black Star Canyon Road before you enter the creek bed and head toward the falls. The most challenging part of this hike is boulder hopping you will have to do to get to Black Star Canyon Falls. 

For the full effect of the falls, plan to go there after the rain. Otherwise, you’ll only see a trickle. Also, there is a lot of poison oak in the area. So walk carefully and carry some wipes for an emergency in case you get in contact. 

This is one of the most-visited waterfall hikes in Southern California, so start early to avoid crowds. Orange County is about 16 miles from Black Star Canyon and is a good, centralized city from where you can explore the rest of southern California.

There are many apartments in and around the area you can rent to ensure a comfortable stay and memorable hiking experience.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Ojai, California

12. Faery Falls

Mount Shasta at the end of a highway.

Location: Mt Shasta, CA 96067

Located in Northern California, Faery Falls is part of Ney Springs Creek near Mount Shasta City. This 50-foot waterfall features a wading pool at the base. 

Tucked in the gorgeous hills outside Mount Shasta, you can access Faery Falls by a scenic 1.3-mile out-and-back trail, taking an average of 40 minutes to complete. This hike will also lead you through the ruins of an old retreat center, the Ney Springs Resort. 

The hike is short and easy but make a stop at the old Ney Springs Resort to see the old retaining wall and a flowing spigot. This site used to be a health spa & resort in the late 1800s, known for its healing silica springs. 

Continue walking up the road until you see an unmarked trail breaking to the left. This route will take you to the waterfall. Just below the main pool of the fall, you will see another waterfall that empties into a swimming hole. You can enjoy swimming to cool off and relax after reaching the fall. But diving or cliff jumping is not allowed.

If you’re planning to spend a day or two in Mount Shasta, the area is home to all types of accommodations. Go through all the available options and book one that suits your needs and budget.

FAQ

Does this list cover all of the famous California waterfalls?

Of course NOT. As you may know, California is home to more than 54 waterfalls. Some other popular California waterfalls are Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon National Park, Feather Falls in Plumas National Forest, Rainbow Falls in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Grizzly Falls in Kings Canyon National Park, Escondido Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains of Malibu, Kings Creek Falls in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Escondido Falls in Santa Monica Mountains.

What is the largest waterfall in Northern California?

Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in Northern California. The height of this fall is 2,425 feet, making it one of the largest in the entire United States.

What is the largest waterfall in Southern California?

Located in San Bernardino National Forest, Big Falls is the largest waterfall in Southern California. The top section of this fall drops 150 to 200 feet and continues to the river below. This year-round, running waterfall is a sight to behold when it is flowing.

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