California is well known for its beaches and national parks. However, waterfalls are also a popular destination considering how refreshing the cold water and shade can be during those hot summer months in California. And if you go after a rainy season or a good snow winter, the power and magic in these peaceful places are even higher.
Not only the large number of waterfalls make California unique, but also the diversity of the waterfalls in California is absurd. Throughout the state, you can find waterfalls flowing into a beach, waterfalls with scenic pools, waterfalls in the middle of the forest, and even in the desert.
Interactive Map of 25 Best Waterfalls in California
1. Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls has a combination of Upper, Lower, and Middle waterfalls making up the largest waterfall in North America. Its base can be visited with a light and pleasant walk. But if you have time and disposition, the cool thing is to face one of the trails that provides an even more beautiful view from other angles of the park.
Yosemite Falls is seasonal and tends to dry out between August and November. To feel the power of the waters of Yosemite and see one of the largest waterfalls in the world up close, check the 1-mile Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. This is an easy trail that will reward you with breathtaking views of both the Upper and Lower Yosemite waterfalls.
2. Burney Falls
Burney Falls is a waterfall inside McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, a park located in Shasta County. The park itself offers a variety of entertainment options including trails for hiking, fishing, rafting, climbing, canoeing, among other activities.
The waters of Burney Falls come from underground sources and form a 131-ft high waterfall. The exuberance of the waterfall caught the attention of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who called it “the eighth wonder of the world”. The waterfall was then declared an American natural landmark in 1954. The 2-mile Falls Loop Trail is a very quiet path that is easy to reach even for those with limited mobility. The trail leads to the “Big Pool”, a large pool formed at the end of the waterfall.
3. McWay Falls
Located at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls is an 82-ft high waterfall that flows into the sands of a beach. In order to try to preserve the small Californian beach, the entrance was forbidden, but it is possible to observe it from the top of a lookout.
Regardless of the chosen parking spot, in just a few meters the paths will meet on a single trail, and, with almost no effort, you will be admiring McWay Falls. Follow the trail, stopping along with it, to be able to observe the waterfall, the beach, and the rocks from various angles. The entire trail is very short, less than 1 mile long. If you continue on the trail, you can have a wide view of the Pacific Ocean. And for the more adventurous, there are 7 hiking trails available in the park including the Waterfall Overlook Trail and the Canyon Trail.
4. Alamere Falls
Offering scenic hikes in a remote area, Alamere Falls cascades down a 30-ft cliff onto a rugged beach. Unlike Mcway Falls in Big Sur, there you can get close and take a bath in the waterfall. The beach is also very beautiful, and a very nice place to have a picnic.
With a total of 8.5 miles, the trail is considered moderate and takes between 1.5h and 3h to be completed. Be sure to start at the Palomarin Trailhead that is a moderate hike and requires some cliff climbing.
5. Eagle Falls
Located at Emerald Bay State Park, Eagle Falls features a short hike leading to this dramatic tiered waterfall cascading down a pine-studded granite cliff. The park was landmarked in 1994 for its glacier-carved granite and offers panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.
The falls are about a 15-minute walk while the trail that goes to Eagle Lake is about 1.8 miles. The area has very nice trails of wood platform and stone steps however because of the ice it can be very slippery. Be sure to check out the overlook across the street while you are there as well.
6. Bridalveil Fall
The famous Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park drops from a height of 617 ft and it is one of the few that does not disappear during the dry season. Bridalveil will impress you with the lightness of its waters that plummet with the grace of a veil.
The half-mile trail starts at the Bridalveil Fall parking lot. This is an accessible trail, paved from the parking lot to the base of the waterfall, functioning throughout the year. Although the trail is short, it can be very slippery in the winter. Anyone who dares to go to the very end has a good chance of seeing the rainbow formed by the waters on sunny days. Take extra clothes or be willing to spend the day soaking wet!
7. Vernal Falls
The powerful 317-ft Vernal Falls features a shady, steep trail to the top and sweeping scenic views. Located at Yosemite National Park, Vernal Falls is one of the cascades found along the Myst Trail. The more you are willing to walk along the trail, the more incredible the views will be. Start early, take plenty of water and go slowly.
With hundreds of steps, the walk to Vernal Falls is mostly paved and takes less than 2 hours to get up to the Vernal. In general terms, going to the fall is 100% uphill and coming back is 100% downhill.
8. Escondido Falls
A popular hiking trail that crosses creeks leads to Escondido Falls with its upper and lower sections. This is a very nice hike with the first half made of asphalt and going through a residential area.
Overall, the walk is very easy unless you want to venture up to the upper falls, then it gets interesting. There is actually a rope for you to go up right at the start, and after that, you are putting your rock climbing mode to help you along the way to get to the second waterfall. Also, be aware of people coming down and going up since the path is not that wide, but just enough.
9. Feather Falls
Considered one of the best waterfalls in Northern California, the lush Feather Falls is home to a population of Western Whiptail lizards and offers excellent views.
With almost 9 miles round trip, the loop can be strenuous at times. Overall, it takes about 2 to 3 hours to reach the falls and the walk has an amazing view of Feather Falls halfway through the loop. Even though it is said to be moderate to difficult, the hike is still doable for all ages. But be aware that part of the trail can be washed out and dangerous during the rainy season.
10. McCloud Falls
Offering swimming, cliff jumping, and rock climbing, the McCloud Falls include 3 waterfalls: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. Each waterfall is unique and beautiful in its own way. Located about 45 minutes outside of Burney, you can drive to each spot on the falls or hike between them.
The area counts with a 6-mile loop, it is easy hiking and very enjoyable. Between the falls, the well-maintained trail varies between easy and moderate. Start with the Lower McCloud Falls and go all the way up. The Upper Falls is pretty steep and treacherous to get to.
11. Rainbow Falls
Numerous trails lead to the scenic Rainbow Falls within the lush forests of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Surrounded by tall pine trees, grassy hills, and the smell of nature, the area provides its visitors with scenic views. There is a “lookout” point where you can appreciate the falls and their entirety as well as the rainbow it produces. It is best to visit this place when the sun is at its highest.
The trail is only about 1.2 miles to get to the upper view of the falls. If you want to see the lower part, you can continue on the 0.7-mile path down with the designated steps. And best of all, there is an easy stairway to climb down to get to the stream at the bottom of the falls where you can wade. You can also swim under the falls if you can handle the chilly water.
12. Nevada Fall
The 594-ft Nevada Fall is surrounded by a scenic landscape, featuring hiking trails to the top and sweeping park vistas. Also on the Myst Trail at Yosemite National Park, Nevada Fall is an extension of the Vernal Falls. And if you keep going, you will be on the same path to Half Dome. So, the hike takes you on a series of picturesque views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, and of course Nevada Falls.
The down view shows the Nevada Falls and its way between the valley and greenery spread across it along with a beautiful view with granite rocks.
13. Kings Creek Falls
The Kings Creek Falls in Lassen Volcanic National Park features an overlook reached via a loop trail. Even though this is one of the most beautiful hikes in the park, it is well masked and hard to find. As you walk along the creek, you will see no sign of the falls. But after a few miles, you start hearing the peaceful sound of water falling down.
The easy hike down to the falls has a nice platform overlooking it and a path to climb down as well. Just keep in mind that this waterfall is at a high elevation, so the uphill hike back can be a bit more strenuous. Remember to be careful because the terrain is a little challenging and uneven. If you want to continue to hike deeper into the valley you can continue after the waterfall or turn back.
14. Brandy Creek Falls
Part of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and surrounded by granite rock, Brandy Creek Falls is popular for having 5 large cascading falls. To save energy and time, do yourself a favor and drive all the way up. Then you can start the beautiful 3-mile hike to the falls. The falls are beautiful, even in the middle of summer when the amount of water is much lower.
The trail itself gets wet from the falls and is definitely not for beginners or those with no agility given all the slippery rocks you might have to climb over. And even though the walk is easy on a paved trail, it is mostly uphill.
15. Cedar Creek Falls
Located close to San Diego, at the base of Cedar Creek Falls, the pool “Devil’s Punchbowl” makes for a glorious swim. Although the hike back is grueling, the trail to the falls is actually fun and gorgeous. If you are in good shape you will be fine, but for those that are not, the last 2 miles might be tough. But definitely worth the effort.
There are three seasonal creeks you need to cross on your hike to the waterfall, so prepare to wet your shoes. Be careful of rocks and other hazards, it is a long hike out.
16. Roaring River Falls
Roaring River Falls is a waterfall cascading over granite monoliths into a rock pool, accessed by a flat 1/4-mile path. The hike is easy and short, and the water is perfectly refreshing without being too cold making this destination perfect for families with kids.
With beautiful scenery surrounding the trail, this is a small climb. The falls are very loud and impressive, blasting a crack through solid rock and launching the white water into a deep blue pool. Also, the falls are located only 2 miles from the Canyon View Campsite.
17. Illilouette Falls
Hiking trails lead to tucked-away Illilouette Falls flowing on granite rocks at Yosemite National Park. It is easy to get down to the falls but backing up can be tough on the legs. There are many shortcuts along the hike, but they are not worth it.
You can get a good view from the Panorama Trail but need to sneak out to an overlook slightly off-trail to get a great view. Also, you can see the falls from Washburn Point, a popular lookout point towards Half Dome and Vernal & Nevada Falls, reached by a set of steps.
18. Grizzly Falls Picnic Area
Grizzly Falls Picnic Area is a stunning family-friendly and disability-accessible picnic ground. It is best to visit it as soon as the gates open in the spring to take advantage of the massive watershed from winter storms. Located in Kings Canyon at the Sequoia National Park, the waterfall is a short 100-ft walk from the parking area.
This area is great to take a quick dip in the chilly water and get right in the waterfall. The drive to this area is incredibly beautiful with rapids and the surrounding valley to admire.
19. Darwin Falls
Darwin Falls is the highest waterfall in Death Valley National Park at 80 feet with a dramatic oasis accessible via a hike. Featuring water in the middle of the desert, the cascade is unexpectedly powerful year-round.
Even though it is considered an easy 2-mile hike with quite a lot of shade it takes quite a while to get to the falls. This is mainly because rockfalls block the path quite often. The waterfall is only accessible via a series of scrambled rocks and is not possible for folks with limited mobility. But, for the adventurous a bit of rock climbing will take you to the spectacular upper falls.
20. Whiskeytown Falls
The 3.4-mile round trip hike to Whiskeytown Falls is well worth the trip. The trail is easy to moderate in difficulty and perfect for beginner hikers. Walk along and over beautiful creeks to the end of the trail to see this gem of a waterfall.
With good sun protection from trees, this is an uphill trail with many benches and rest stops along the way. In the beginning, once you cross the first bridge you will see lots of pretty flowers and get ready because that is where the challenge will begin. And once you see the second bridge that means you are super close to the waterfall.
21. Canyon Creek Falls
Located near Georgetown, Canyon Creek Falls is the most popular destination within the Trinity Alps Wilderness. With many campsites nearby, Canyon Creek offers plenty of hiking and backpacking opportunities. There is a climb downhill to access the waterfall and from the trail, only a small cascade can be spotted. The trail is 12 miles long and rated as moderate.
Interestingly, depending on the rain season you can see or hear from 5 up to 50 waterfalls along the trail to the Canyon Creek Lakes.
22. Eaton Canyon Falls
A hiking trail leads to a picturesque 44-ft tall Eaton Canyon Falls and shallow wading pool. With a fair amount of shaded areas, the 3.5-mile hike to the falls is nice and easy, with minimal elevation changes. Featuring a few stream crossings and boulder scrambles, this is a lovely canyon walk.
The first half mile is exposed, but once inside the canyon the air is much cooler. Interesting rock faces rise steeply on both sides, vegetation changes from chaparral to riparian. Visitors can also enjoy the zoo, botanical garden, and geological nature reserve at the Eaton Canyon Natural Area.
23. Horsetail Fall
Located at Yosemite National Park, the tall and thin Horsetail Fall is known for its orange-red glow at sunset on certain days in February. When Horsetail lights up from the angle of the sunset, it is called Firefall. This is because the light creates magnificent red and yellow colors that seemingly turn the water into fire. In other words, it appears that there is a waterfall of fire.
The annual Firefall gathering in the park has grown bigger and bigger and lasts for a period of about two weeks at the end of the month. The waterfall can also be viewed from the Tunnel View parking lot.
24. Marble Falls
At the end of a 3.7-mile trail at the Sequoia National Park, Marble Falls is awesome and powerful. The trailhead is just at the far end of the Potwisha campground and has a small parking area. The hike starts off following the Kaweah River upstream with tons of opportunities to stop and explore the banks.
After a few hundred yards you will come to a sign on your right reading “Marble Falls Trail“. At this point, the majority of the 1700 ft total elevation gain will begin as you hug a narrow trail up and around the canyon hills for roughly 2.5 miles. The falls themselves are amazing and a great place for a picnic and more exploring.
25. Potem Creek Falls
Located between Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Lassen National Forest, Potem Creek Falls is only a short hike away and offers amazing views. With a gorgeous waterfall, greenery, shallow and deep swimming areas, there is usually hardly anyone there making this a very peaceful destination.
The path down can be a bit difficult as there are no signs to signal the way. You can spend the whole day exploring the mountain roads, just do not get lost. There is a lot of areas out there with nothing more than small dirt roads with little to zero signs. Even the falls are not marked you just have to find the right pull-off. However, GPS will accurately get you there.