For years, California’s unforgiving drought shrunk once-rushing waterfalls to thin streams. But after major snow and storms this winter, park rangers say the region’s falls are looking fuller and more photogenic than ever.
Northern California broke a 34-year-old precipitation record this year, with 89.7 inches of water recorded in the northern Sierra Nevada since last fall. In addition, the snowpack is 176 percent of normal for this time of year.
So much snowmelt is coming down that rangers are cautioning swimmers and boaters against dipping into the area’s high-flowing rivers. But the waterfalls feeding into them are safe for gazing at.
Debbie Sipe, executive director of the Auburn-based California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, said she expects the flowing waterfalls to be a much-needed boon for the recreation business, which suffered in recent years when water levels were low.
“The runoff is going to be spectacular, and the waterfalls are going to be beautiful, to say the least,” she said.
Gorgeous falls are plentiful in El Dorado and Tahoe national forests, but most of the roads and hikes to get to them are still snowed in. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can put on a pair of good boots and take the Pyramid Creek Trail to Horsetail Falls, but don’t expect park facilities to be open until summer. Keep an eye on Grouse Falls outside Foresthill, which won’t be accessible until Mosquito Ridge Road becomes drivable.
Some Sacramento-area falls gush year-round, while others lose their luster in June or July. To catch local water features at their peak, head to the Auburn State Recreation Area for a springtime day trip. Scott Liske, supervising ranger for the area, recommends these three:
Canyon Creek Falls, often referred to as the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls, can be accessed via the Canyon Creek Trail, which begins at the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River. The trail is roughly 2 miles round trip.
Knickerbocker Falls is a little tougher to get to, but it is probably the most spectacular waterfall in the park, according to Liske. Hikers can get a peek at it from the China Bar Trail, an intermediate 4-mile hike.
Devil’s Falls is roughly 50 to 60 feet high, and can be accessed directly by Yankee Jim’s Road. About 6 miles down the road (a half mile after the bridge), pull over and park for a great view of the falls. A little further down Yankee Jim’s you’ll find the slightly smaller Mexican Gulch Falls, also visible from the road.
For those looking to embark on an overnight trip, Sipe recommends traveling to the following Northern California waterfalls and camping nearby:
Feather Falls, just outside Oroville, is one of the tallest waterfalls in Northern California at 410 feet. The 8-mile Feather Falls Loop Trail earns you a view.
Alamere Falls in the Point Reyes National Seashore drops from a 30-foot cliff onto a beach and into the ocean. See it on the 8-mile Alamere Falls Trail starting at the Palomarin Trailhead at the southern end of Point Reyes.
McWay Falls, in the Big Sur area, is a narrow 80-foot waterfall that shoots from a cliff onto the beach. The fall is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and can be seen from State Route 1.