There is a legendary loop sitting in the Shasta-Cascade of Northern California that includes 13 incredible waterfalls to visit. Realistically, you could accomplish this entire loop in just two to three days, and see some of the world’s finest waterfalls right here in NorCal.
The loop starts on Shasta Lake, goes up through Castle Crags State Park and Dunsmuir, and on up through Mount Shasta and McCloud. Eventually you’ll make your way over to Burney Falls and the waterfalls south of Big Bend. Here is a quick glimpse of the epic waterfall loop:
Now let’s take you through everything you’ll see on this legendary NorCal waterfall loop:
The Little Backbone Creek natural waterslide on the McCloud arm of Shasta Lake has become a top destination for NorCal adventurers on sunny days. The smooth waterfall is the ultimate natural waterpark in the area. You can either hike or use a kayak to access the waterslide.
The scenic 20-minute hike up to the waterslide is reason enough to make a trip if you’re in the area. Bringing a waterproof camera along with you is never a bad idea. Not to mention you can spend an entire summer day enjoying plunges into the refreshing creek below the slide.
See what it’s like to slide down this epic waterfall:
Now it’s time to venture north to the Castle Crags State Park where you’ll find two seasonal waterfalls:
Getting to Burstarse Falls, located in the heart of the Castle Crags Wilderness, is a moderate hike located right off the Pacific Crest Trail.
Burstarse Falls actually consists of two waterfalls. Many people looking for the falls stop at Lower Burstarse Falls, thinking they’ve made it. While the lower falls is a beautiful 25-foot waterfall with a small pool at the bottom to take a dip (it’s cold!), the real Burstarse Falls is located up the trail a ways and consists of a 50-foot waterfall with small cascades below.
Also in the Castle Crags Wilderness sits:
Root Creek Falls is a large, multi-tiered waterfall in the Castle Crags State Park just below Castle Dome. Though the hike to Castle Dome is usually considered the best the park has to offer, the hike to Root Creek and Root Creek Falls are not far behind. Hikers can take different routes to get to Root Creek. Deciding which one to take boils down to how much time you have, if you are willing to pay a $10 entrance fee and if you want to check out Root Creek Falls.
There is a small collection of trails that leads towards the vista point for Root Creek Falls, and ultimately they all lead to the creek or the vista point. From the vista you can look up and see the steep falls with the backdrop of the wild and stark crags, with white clouds looming even farther behind. It’s a beautiful and perfectly vertical line of sight up the canyon and the falls.
Then you’ll head south on I-5 to two awesome waterfalls in Dunsmuir:
Similar to hideout entrances seen in Batman movies and the Legend of Zorro, Hedge Creek Falls cascades in front of the passage to a 12-foot-high cave. The narrow waterfall hardly obscures the not-so-secret cave meaning that you won’t stumble upon any masked heroes on your trip to the feature. Still, the trip the Hedge Creek Falls is well worth the drive the Dunsmuir, CA. Along with the waterfall, visitors can take in incredible views of the Sacramento River and Mt. Shasta from the Hedge Creek Falls Trail.
As you begin, the path starts to descend moderately, and you pass a tiny creek. As the grade of the canyon gets steeper, you begin to go down via a number of switchbacks until you’ll start to hear flowing and falling water. Before you know it, you’re at Hedge Creek Falls. At this point, the trail continues behind the waterfall providing an intimate feel for hikers. Somedays, you can spot rock climbers attempting to ascend the igneous rock wall that reaches 30-35 feet to the source of the cascade.
Then it’s just a quick hop over to NorCal’s most unique waterfall:
Mossbrae Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Mt. Shasta/Dunsmuir area due to its incredibly unique features. Let’s just say, it’s not your typical waterfall. The difference between Mossbrae Falls and other NorCal waterfalls is that it seems the rock and moss are continually bleeding fresh, mountain water.
Mossbrae Falls is actually a series of springs that burst from the cliffs above the Sacramento River and then rain down into the water. Mossbrae Falls is composed of two primary clusters of spring-fed waterfalls, which reach about 50 feet high and 150 feet wide. The presence of the river beneath the falls enhances the scene and makes for one of the prettiest sights in the Mount Shasta area. There are numerous springs feeding the falls so they are great year-round.
Next, it’s a quick drive up to Mount Shasta for historic hike:
6. Faery Falls
Combining history and nature, the Ney Springs Canyon Trail near Siskiyou Lake in Mount Shasta City is an easy hike through the 19th century ruins of Ney Springs Resort with a waterfall payoff. With the length of the trail being only 1.2 miles at a low-elevation, this is an easy hike that can be done any time of the year.
A little over 3/4 of the way up the trail, you will find the old ruins of the Ney Springs Resort, a popular destination for local tourists in the 1800’s. From there on continue approximately 0.25 miles down the trail to gain access to Faery Falls. Depending on water flows, you will find a lively 40-ft cataract with a great vantage point.
Now you’ll head east towards the McCloud area for three incredible waterfalls with the same namesake:
7. Lower McCloud Falls
Lower McCloud Falls is the smallest of the three tiers of McCloud Falls, but it has the easiest access and is the most visible. The falls also have multiple mid-tier platforms for people to jump into the water when the temperature is suitable.
With a parking lot sitting next to these falls, this is the most crowded of the three falls, but the more you walk up the trail to the higher falls, the less crowd you will see…
When you head up the trail, you will walk smack dab into:
8. Middle McCloud Falls
Middle McCloud Falls is the largest and most popular of the three McCloud waterfalls. The large pool below creates a fantastic swimming hole and the shear size and symmetry of the waterfall make it the perfect location for photographers.
This destination will be rather full with visitors during the summer but can give anyone spectacular views any season. And extreme athletes will make the pilgrimage to this spot year-round. Especially cliff-jumpers:
And if you continue just a short way up the trail, you’ll find another gem:
9. Upper McCloud Falls
Upper McCloud Falls is a big beautiful waterfall but it typically takes a backseat to the more popular Middle and Lower McCloud Falls. Also, Upper Falls can be difficult to descend into the canyon to get down to the water. But you can still find views at the vista near the top of the trail.
When you can get a look at Upper Falls from up close, it can be quite beautiful:
Now as you head east, you will see the biggest and most impressive waterfall on this list:
10. Burney Falls
We’ve spent a lot of time admiring NorCal’s king of all waterfalls, Burney Falls. We’ve asked the question “did Tarzan dive off of Burney Falls?” We also showed you it is possible to jump off of Burney Falls (although very, very dangerous and probably illegal). But getting enough of the NorCal destination that President Theodore Roosevelt named the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” isn’t possible.
Located just north of Redding between Lassen Peak and Mt. Shasta in California’s lava country, is famous for its 129-foot waterfall, which cascades from Burney Creek down into Lake Britton. The falls are a sacred place for the Pit River Indian Tribe, who have held ceremonial rituals here for thousands of years.
The year-round falls are formed by melting snow from Burney Mountain, which travels through underground streams before hitting solid rock and flowing back to the surface. Each day, more than 100 million gallons of water plunge over the falls.
11. Montgomery Creek Falls
Montgomery Creek Falls is the smallest waterfall on this loop, but since it is located right off of the bridge, you can see it from Montgomery Creek Road. This waterfall has multiple tiers, with the biggest tier at the bottom. If you want to see the upper tier of the falls, it’s just a quick walk up the hill.
After this little waterfall sits two of the most beautiful waterfalls to round out the loop:
Everybody loves Hatchet Falls (or Lions Slide Falls, depending on who you ask). A Montgomery Creek swimming hole, Hatchet Creek cascades down creating Lion Slide Falls and a large pool beneath. It’s one of the most recognizable, as well as most popular, swimming holes in NorCal. Its familiarity amongst locals is most certainly due to the giant fallen tree that lays right in the middle of the falls, creating a makeshift stairway for swimmers to climb and jump into the water.
At Hatchet Creek, kids can swim around in a shallower area formed by a dam. The waterfall and creek are easily accessible after a short trail walk. It’s the perfect place to spend a summer day. Another popular feature with this swimming hole is the cliffs on either side of the falls where adrenaline junkies can perform cliff jumps.
And if you have anymore energy, you can hit up NorCal’s most blissful waterfall:
13. Potem Falls
Located near Montgomery Creek, CA off of Hwy 299, Potem Falls is a 70 foot waterfall on the Pit River arm of Shasta Lake. For good reasons, it has become a popular weekend swim spot in recent years. The easy quarter-mile hike to the Potem Falls watering hole makes it an attractive option for families. If you desire some peace and quiet, take a mid-week trip to the falls when it’s often deserted. Potem Falls also makes for a romantic date spot.
Approaching the narrow, but scenic Potem waterfall, you’ll encounter a large pool perfect for swimming and lounging around. In Latin, “potem” means “to drink”, and after seeing the translucent water of Potem Creek, you might be compelled to do so. However, we don’t recommend it.
Have fun on your road trip or just take it in one waterfall at a time. You won’t regret visiting any of these beautiful waterfalls!
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine