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12 Best Waterfalls in California: SoCal & NorCal Spots

12 Best Waterfalls in California: SoCal & NorCal Spots

Waterfalls in California come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s how to find the best ones.

The coastlines and forests seem to have a neverending array of misty cascades of crystal blue water splashing with powerful drama into seas and riverbeds like the McWay waterfall at Big Sur or Devil’s 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.

Need to rent a car to make the trip? Think about getting something with enough space to fit in hiking, camping, and picnic gear and supplies.

You’ll definitely want to bring a camera. Upgrade from your phone to a real camera like this Canon Rebel with auto-focus and wireless capabilities to proudly share in an instant.

Yosemite Waterfall

For even more adventure, check out some RV options to rent or even buy and take advantage of the gorgeous campsites you’ll find close to the falls.

Most campsites will accommodate tent camping and hookups for RVs or campervans.

If you need to fly in, you’ll find excellent airfares going into California’s many international airports.

Generally, for waterfalls in southern California, fly into San Diego or Los Angeles.

If you’re more interested in waterfalls in northern California, choose a flight into San Francisco.

Waterfalls in California

To protect your flight, booking, and rental plans against sudden cancellations, consider purchasing travel insurance.

With travel insurance, you can relax and enjoy the waterfalls in California without worrying about something unexpected wiping out your plans.

And if something does happen where you have to cancel or postpone, you’ll be able to recoup your losses so you can rebook when you’re ready.

waterfalls in California plunge off a cliff

Research and compare insurance rates so you know you’re getting the best value. Premiums can vary a good bit.

Because you don’t want anything to get in the way of seeing these 12 glorious cascading gifts from nature.

1. Devil’s Falls

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

Devil’s Falls is one of the many waterfalls in California that’s attached to a bit of Old West lore.

This 50-foot to 75-foot fall is located along Yankee Jim’s Road, between Colfax and Foresthill, in the Auburn State Recreation Area.

Yankee Jim was a gold miner, horse stealer, and outlaw who was eventually hanged for his rustling ways.

Location

Devil’s Falls is a little more than half a mile east of Yankee Jim’s Bridge. You’ll be able to pull off the road in some spots along the creek for a better look and photos.

Auburn State Recreation Area is south of I-80 between Auburn and Colfax. Access the park from Auburn on either Highway 49 or Foresthill Road.

Activities

Auburn State Recreation Area has a cool gold mining history. Enjoy hiking, boating, camping, panning for gold, riding trails, and more.

The best time to see Devil’s Falls is in the winter when it’s the wettest.

Fee

Yankee Jim’s Parking Area is $10 for the day.

Camping in Mineral Bar or Ruck-A-Chucky Campgrounds is $28 per night.

Lodging

Tent camping is available in Mineral Bar and Ruck-A-Chucky Campgrounds. Reservations are required for Mineral Bar. Call 1-800-444-PARK.

Ruck-A-Chucky Campground is first-come, first-served, and is closed in winter.

2. Santa Barbara Seven Falls

Santa Barbara has some of the best waterfalls in California as part of its famous wilderness spaces.

They are different sizes but each is more powerful than the next–recent rainfall notwithstanding.

The most spectacular of these is Seven Falls accessible via a moderately challenging trail.

Location

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.

Activities

On this hike, you’ll pass through Los Padres National Forest, creeks, and boulders to hop. Stop for some splashing in the pools.

Los Padres National Forest
Photo by Chuck Abbe via Creative Commons

Fee

There’s no fee to hike the trail. But parking at the trailhead is limited.

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.

Lodging

There are many campgrounds and RV parks in Santa Barbara. Or find one of the many private retreats like this impeccably remodeled luxury retreat in the heart of West Beach to rent.

Looking to go on a California vacation? Grab our free travel guide to help you explore California.

3. Millard Falls 

The sign to Millard Falls

Millard Falls is one of our waterfall hikes in southern California where an easy hike will lead you to a completely-worth-it 50-foot double cascade.

The hike is only a mile and a quarter round-trip and can be enjoyed by the whole family. Crossing waterways to get there only adds to the fun.

Location

4041 Chaney Trail, Altadena, CA 91001 (Los Angeles County)

Take 210 West and exit Lincoln Avenue where you’ll make a right. Go a couple of miles and make a right onto W Loma Alta Dr, then left on Chaney Trail.

You’ll take a winding road until you end at Millard Canyon Campground. Park in the lot and start your hike from there.

Activities

Have a nice, shaded hike to the falls and back. You can also extend your hike to a mine that’s about three miles past the fall.

Fee

A day pass for your vehicle costs $5 or purchase a year’s access for $30.

Lodging

Tent camping is available in Millard Canyon and is first-come, first-served.

4. Lower Eagle Falls

Snowmelt flows through Lower Eagle Falls

Lower Eagle Falls is close to South Lake Tahoe. It’s best seen in April to July when snowmelt flows in Eagle Creek.

The waterfall has two big drops. The upper section is 58 feet high and the lower section is 82 feet high.

If you visit, go early. These falls are incredibly scenic and many people will also make the stop, so it can get crowded.

Location

Park at Emerald Bay/Vikingsholm parking lot, along Highway 89, 8.5 miles northwest of the Highway 50 junction.

Activities

There is an easy, well-maintained trail a little more than two miles roundtrip to the base of the falls and the best views.

The scenery everywhere you look is breathtaking. You can also picnic and swim at Emerald Bay.

Fees

A day pass for your vehicle costs $5 or purchase a year’s access for $30.

Lodging

Rent Bearstone Cabin in South Lake Tahoe for adorable, cozy accommodation.

See Related: Best Waterfalls in Minnesota

5. Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

Waterfalls in California don’t get much more iconic than this 2,425-foot high stunner in Yosemite.

Yosemite Falls is the highest one in Yosemite National Park.

It’s accessible by a long and steep hike on one of Yosemite’s oldest and most historic trails, the Yosemite Falls Trail.

Location

Yosemite National Park is a part of California’s Sierra Nevada and is about 140 miles east of San Francisco.

Activities

The hike to the top of Yosemite Falls will take about 6 to 8 hours round-trip and is considered strenuous–but rewarding.

Start the trail at Camp 4 and you’ll be on an immediate climb with endless switchbacks through forestland.

Emerge above the treeline and you’ll get fantastic panoramas of Yosemite Valley. At Columbia Rock, you can also see Half Dome and Sentinel Rock.

Keep going up and you’ll see Upper Yosemite Fall. Then get ready for an even steeper climb on a rocky part of the trail to the top of the falls.

You can do it! Take photos!

No swimming is allowed in the creek that surprisingly feeds this massive cascade due to extreme danger.

But that’s okay. You can stand at the top and soak in the glory of your adventure.

Fee

You will need a National Parks pass to enter Yosemite which is $80 for a year or $35 for the week.

You could easily spend a week in Yosemite finding the natural attractions, like Tunnel View and Glacier Point, that make this park a world wonder.

Lodging

Few hotels are operating inside Yosemite National Park, but reservations are hard to come by.

Check availability for the Starlight Lodge for private accommodations in the nearby towns.

See Related: Free California Travel Guide

6. Bridalveil Fall 

Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite

Another iconic fall in Yosemite National Park, Bridalveil Fall is the one you see as you enter the park.

Like most falls in California, this one is best seen during the spring when its 620-foot plunge is most powerful.

Location

Park at the trailhead on Wawona Road/Highway 41 or Southside Drive. A paved, short walk will lead you to the base.

This lot will fill quickly in the summer, so you can also continue east on Southside Drive to Yosemite Valley a few hundred yards for roadside parking.

There, you’ll find a different, slightly longer trail–a quarter of a mile–that will take you to the base of the falls.

Activities

Either trail you take is an easy walk. You can also do the longer Valley Loop Trail and make the stop.

Fee

No additional fee besides the National Parks passes to enter Yosemite which is $80 for a year or $35 for the week.

Lodging

Immerse yourself in the natural surroundings with a luxurious cabin stay in the River View A-Frame Cabin in Yosemite National Park.

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

7. McWay Falls

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

Driving along the Big Sur coastline on Highway One is incredibly scenic, but you have to stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall splashing prettily onto the beach in a lovely cove.

Location

Find Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur. You can park on the highway or pay the entrance fee to park in the lot.

Activities

The hike to the falls on Overlook Trail is short and easy–about half a mile round trip. You can also take a longer hike on Canyon Trail to see McWay Creek and another smaller waterfall.

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.

Fee

Park on Highway One for free and take the Overlook Trail. Or park inside the state park for $10 per car, per day.

Lodging

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 this one bedroom cabin tucked away in the forest.

See Related: Follow This 5-Day Yellowstone Itinerary

8. Alamere Falls

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

On a remote beach in the Phillip Burton Wilderness, you’ll find Alamere Falls, where water plunges off a 40-foot high cliff onto the sand below.

Alamere Falls isn’t easy to get to, but after your long hike in, you’ll be instantly rewarded with this dramatic sight.

Location

The falls are at Point Reyes National Seashore on the south end of Wildcat Beach. The official hike is at least 13 miles round trip.

You may hear there is a shortcut via the Alamere Falls Trail, but this trail is not maintained by the park and is dangerous to use.

Keep to the park trails and make sure to stay away from crumbling cliff edges.

Activities

The hike itself is easy but will take you about seven hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll pass Bass Lake which is good for swimming.

However, there is no lifeguard on duty so swim at your own risk.

Fee

No fees to park or visit Point Reyes National Seashore.

Lodging

Backcountry camping is available but you must make reservations well in advance. Alternately, you can find a cabin or cool treetop glass house close to the park.

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

9. Burney Falls

Burney Falls

At 129 feet high, this waterfall in California is the showpiece of McArthur-Burney Falls State Park.

Burney Falls is a series of spring-fed waterways that join together in a spectacular plunge on its way to Lake Burton.

Location

McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is six miles north of Highway 299, northeast of Redding, on Highway 89 close to Burney.

Activities

Hike five miles of trails throughout the evergreen woods and even try a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Heritage Day is on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend and features crafts and reenactments of the people living there in the late 19th century.

Fee

The day-use fee is $8 to $10 per vehicle.

Lodging

Campgrounds and cabins are available for reservation. Campgrounds are also first-come, first-served from Labor Day until mid-May.

Cabins are closed for winter.

See Related: Las Vegas vs Phoenix

10. Brandy Creek

Brandy Creek Falls in Whiskeytown

Five large misty waterfalls in California pour over a granite cliff for an impressive sight.

Brandy Creek Falls, as they are called, are part of the waterfalls of Whiskeytown–part of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area near Redding.

Location

From the visitor center in Whiskeytown, take Kennedy Memorial Drive south toward Whiskeytown Dam.

Take the right fork of the road and cross the dam. Turn left on a dirt road called Shasta Bally Road.

About two and a half miles up, turn left at the junction of Shasta Bally and Sheep Camp. Take the left fork to the trailhead of Brandy Creek Falls Trail.

In a mile, you’ll see the parking lot and restrooms. The trail will take you to both the Lower and Upper Falls.

Activities

The hike to the Lower Falls is steep but you don’t have to rush. You should reach them in about an hour.

Press on, if you can, to see the more impressive Upper Falls. This trail is more challenging and will get muddy and slippery as you go.

But there are railings and chiseled toeholds for assistance. The view will be worth it. Along the trail will be opportunities to swim or get wet.

It’s a good warm-weather hike.

Fee

A pass for the week is $10 per vehicle.

Lodging

The recreation area also holds California’s largest lake–Shasta Lake. Reserve this lakefront house with a gorgeous view to rent.

See Related: Lounge Pass Review

11. Black Star Falls

The boulders at Black Canyon Falls

The hike to Black Star Waterfalls in California is challenging, but the reward is spectacular.

The rocky trail is 6.7 miles roundtrip, in and out of Orange County’s Cleveland National Forest where Black Star Canyon and Falls are located.

Location

Take Santiago Canyon Road to Silverado Canyon Road. You’ll make an immediate left onto Black Star Canyon Road and then park at the end of the road.

Activities

The hike starts with a three-mile walk along Black Star Canyon Road before you enter the creek bed and head towards the falls.

The difficult part is the boulder hopping you have to do to get to the falls. For the full effect of the falls, plan to go after a rain.

Otherwise, you’ll just see a trickle. Also, there is a lot of poison oak in the area, so be careful and bring some wipes in case you make contact.

This is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Southern California, so get an early start to avoid crowds.

Fee

Parking is free and no other fees are charged.

Lodging

Orange 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 cute apartments like this Old Towne Orange accommodation close to Chapman University, Disneyland, and the Convention Center to rent.

12. Faery Falls

Mount Shasta at the end of a highway.

Faery Falls is part of Ney Springs Creek close to Mount Shasta City.

In one quick one-and-a-half-mile hike into an evergreen forest, you can see these wonderful 50-foot falls and the ruins of an old resort.

Location

The trailhead is on Ney Springs Road in Mount Shasta. Park at the bottom of the road or in the large turnout.

You’ll be following a dirt road up Ney Springs Canyon above the creek to the falls and the ruins.

Activities

The hike is short and easy, but make a stop at the old Ney Springs Resort to see the retaining wall with a working spigot.

This was the site of a late 1800s health spa and resort known for its healing silica springs.

Continue up the road until you see an unmarked trail breaking to the left. That will take you to the waterfall.

During the wet season, the falls tumble ending in a flare in the creek below. When it’s really flowing, you’ll get to enjoy some misty refreshment for your effort.

See Related

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