10 Breathtaking Waterfalls You Need to See in Northern California

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Mossbrae Falls in California is a waterfall over a mossy cliff with several streams.
Mossbrae Falls

Some of the most beautiful scenery in the country is found in northern California. From Half Dome at Yosemite National Park to the majestic forests of Redwood National Park, northern California isn’t short on spectacular views.

But it’s not just the news-makers that are noteworthy. Hidden in the undergrowth and along hiking trails are cascading falls that glisten in the afternoon sunlight.

Let’s look at 10 breathtaking waterfalls in Northern California that you’ll want to put on your must-see list as you travel the West Coast. Let’s dive in!

Do You Have to Hike to Waterfalls in Northern California?

If you want to see these waterfalls, you do need to hike in at least 0.25 miles. The longest hike is over 4 miles. Some are loops, while others are out-and-back trails.

However, you can see Yosemite Falls without taking a trail due to its height.

From behind, a woman hikes over large boulders through the forest.

How Big Are Waterfalls in Northern California?

Most of these waterfalls in Northern California aren’t known for their size. With the exception of Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, these waterfalls aren’t grand in terms of height.

It is their intimate, peaceful settings and spectacular scenery make them worth the visit. In fact, Kings Creek Falls is only a mere 30-foot drop. But it’s simply beautiful.

Traveler’s Tip: This California hike leads you to Seven Waterfalls.

10 Breathtaking Waterfalls You Need to See in Northern California

Although these waterfalls in Northern California are in different areas, one of the best places to view several falls is in Shasta Trinity National Forest. This area is full of vegetation, creeks and rivers, and wildlife.

Not only will you enjoy hiking to see these waterfalls, but you’ll love the overall atmosphere of the area.

1. Kings Creek Falls

Kings Creek Falls meanders down the rocky slopes in the forest of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Kings Creek Falls

Located in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Kings Creek Falls is a 30-foot waterfall along a 2.3-mile loop trail. There is a fenced overlook that provides a beautiful view of the falls. Make sure to stay behind the overlook fences as the terrain can be dangerous.

If you hike the entire loop, it will take between 90 to 120 minutes. The trailhead can be found about 12 miles from the Southwest Entrance on Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. Parking is very limited, so get there early.

2. Hedge Creek Falls

Hedge Creek Falls is a great family hike.

Near Dunsmuir, Calif., is a short, easy 0.6-mile out-and-back trail to Hedge Creek Falls. There’s a small viewing platform on the other side of the waterfall. The trail takes you to the waterfall and then under the waterfall to the platform.

Hedge Creek Falls is a serene, single-stream waterfall that plunges through the rock formation. It’s not grand but rather a peaceful, intimate setting.

3. Potem Falls

Potem Falls is narrow at the top and then fans out at the bottom to a large pool of water.
Potem Falls

Another short, easy 0.6-mile out-and-back trail takes you to Potem Falls near Round Mountain, Calif. This 69ft waterfall is narrow at the top and then fans out at the bottom to create a beautiful scene.

There’s even a pool at the bottom where you can take a swim on a hot day. The long gravel road to the trailhead isn’t the most well-kept, so drive slowly and be careful with low clearance vehicles.

4. Rainbow Falls

See two of the best attractions in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Located within Devils Postpile National Monument, Rainbow Falls is a 101-foot waterfall best known for its beautiful rainbow created by the mist. It’s best to see the rainbow at midday when the sun is at its peak.

Visitors must take the mandatory shuttle bus by boarding near the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center. One stop will be a drop off for hikers who want to go to Rainbow Falls. It’s a 2.5-mile hike to the waterfall. 

5. Horsetail Fall

Horsetail Fall illuminated orange by the sunset at El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California.
Horsetail Fall

El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited attractions in Northern California. Horsetail Fall cascades over the eastern edge of El Capitan but only during winter.

It can be backlit by the sunset in mid to late February, casting an orange glow. It’s simply stunning and an extremely popular event known as Firefall.

Just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge is the Yosemite Falls parking lot. The viewing area is 1.5 miles from the parking area near the El Capitan Picnic Area.

6. Mossbrae Falls

Check out how to get from Hedge Creek Falls to Mossbrae Falls.

Another waterfall near Dunsmuir, Calif., is Mossbrae Falls. It’s unlike any other waterfall on this list as it spreads very wide and cascades over mossy vegetation. It’s 175 ft wide and only 52 ft tall.

Living up to its name, Mossbrae Falls falls over lush greenery into the Sacramento River, creating a beautiful scene. The hike to the falls can be dicey as it requires you to walk along railroad tracks with one side close to drop offs into the river.

7. McCloud Falls

Sunshine beams through the trees in the California forest and illuminates the McCloud waterfall.
McCloud Falls

A 3.6-mile out-and-back trail near McCloud, Calif., will lead you to McCloud Falls. There are several pools along the hike where you can swim with caution if desired.

The trail is easily accessible and doesn’t have a huge increase in elevation. There are three viewpoints: the Lower Falls Viewpoint, the Middle Falls Viewpoint, and the Upper Fall Viewpoint. Paved lots lead to paved observation areas.

The Lower Falls feature a 12-foot to a 15-foot drop into an emerald pool. The Middle Falls are wider than they are tall and drop about 50 ft. Unlike the Middle Falls, the Upper Falls is a chute waterfall plunging 30 ft into a pool.

8. Burney Falls

Burney Falls is a rushing waterfall that falls into a beautiful blue pull.
Burney Falls

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is home to Burney Falls, a 129-foot tall waterfall. The pool at the base never gets above about 42 degrees, so don’t plan to take a swim. However, it’s a great place for catch-and-release fly fishing.

Burney Falls is a spectacular sight; one President Roosevelt supposedly called “the eighth wonder of the world.” One hundred million gallons of water flow daily through these old lava fields. The park is off Highway 89, just north of Burney. A 0.25-mile trail leads to the base of the falls.

9. Yosemite Falls

Hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls usually takes an entire day.

The peak flow of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park is in May, when most of the snowmelt occurs. There are three separate parts to Yosemite Fall: Lower Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Upper Yosemite Fall.

It’s one of the world’s tallest waterfalls and can be seen from Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge. A strenuous, all-day hike will take you to the top of the falls, but an easy, wheelchair-accessible trail leads to the base.

10. Phantom Falls

Phantom falls is a tall, skinny waterfall streaming over a cliff in near the North Table Mountain.
Phantom Falls

A 4.1-mile out-and-back trail will take you to the 135-foot Phantom Falls near Oroville, Calif., in North Table Mountain. This trail will also visit five other waterfalls.

In the early afternoon, the sunlight hits these west-facing falls for a beautiful view. Phantom Falls only flows from the stormy season in fall to spring. But the beauty of North Table Mountain is stunning during the spring blooms, too.

Fall in Love with These Waterfalls in Northern California

These waterfalls in Northern California feature some hidden gems and iconic attractions. If you’re looking to experience the natural beauty of this part of the state, you can easily see several of these falls in one day. Plus, this entire landscape is breathtaking.

So the next time you plan a trip to Northern California, don’t miss out on hiking to see a few of these waterfalls. Which one do you want to see first?

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