McWay Falls, California

McWay Falls in November 2010

I have this fascination with waterfalls that fall into lakes and oceans. There’s something so scenic about water falling into water. In California, there are a number of waterfalls that fall into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls is one, and it is very beautiful, but because it requires a rather long hike, you’re likely to be one of just a few people visiting the falls. On the other hand, McWay Falls doesn’t require much of a hike, and is therefore far more popular. And understandably so, the California coastline is stunningly beautiful.

McWay Falls is approximately 80′ tall, but it is a rather narrow waterfall. This can tend to make the waterfall look small, and this is partly because you’re not exactly close to the waterfall. At the viewpoint, you’re standing above the waterfall maybe a few hundred feet away. So while it’s a beautiful view, it may not be one of the most intimate waterfalls I’ve seen. I actually found Canyon Falls, McWay Fall’s smaller upstream relative, to be more intimate, as I think I was the only one visiting the falls, and you’re only feet away. And there are other waterfalls in the area you should check out. I haven’t visited many of those waterfalls.

Directions:

  1. From Monterey, drive south on CA-1 for approximately 40 miles. The parking area for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park should be on the left, if I remember correctly.
  2. After paying the state park entrance fee, follow the trail to McWay Falls. The signs make it very clear what to do. If you head in the opposite direction, you’ll find Canyon Falls.

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Height: 80′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

A small drop above McWay Falls (as you’re hiking to the falls)

Where in the World is McWay Falls?

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Yosemite Falls, California

Yosemite Falls in mid-May 2011

I love waterfalls, but I have this pet peeve that has arisen. You may notice that I don’t officially rank any waterfall on a scale. I may not exactly love every waterfall equally, but I find that it’s all so subjective. What I find as interesting, you may find as uninteresting. There’s a tendency to believe that just because a waterfall is one of the tallest or widest, that it’s automatically one of the best. And that’s not always the case.

And yet for Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, I can say it is undoubtedly an awesome waterfall. At 2425′ tall, it is not THE tallest, but it is up there. It’s height is part of why it is so awesome, but it is also its surroundings. The almost vertical rock walls mean that Yosemite Falls actually has two major portions that are plunge down. Because it’s so tall, it can be viewed from a significant portion of the valley. That means you will be provided with a multitude of different options for shooting the falls.

The most obvious choice is via one of the main trails that lead directly to viewing points for the falls. One of them is handicapped accessible and leads directly to the base of the lower drop. If you’re there at the right time, you’re guaranteed to be sprayed with water. But expand your options. Try different places. You’ll be surprised how you can frame the falls in between the towering pine trees. But even when you’re not thinking about Yosemite Falls, still look for it. Along the way back from Vernal Falls, you will be able to see Yosemite Falls off in the distance. And yet because it’s so tall, it’s presence is still powerful.  There is also a much more difficult trail that leads further up to the falls, but it is strenuous, and caution is advised.

Now for the tricky part…You’ve got to show up at the correct time of the year to see Yosemite Falls. In the winter, you may see water flowing, but you’re guaranteed some snow. Even in May, which is one of the best months to see the falls, it snowed! By the time July and August roll around, the falls may be reduced to a trickle or be non-existent. This is true for many of the other falls in the park, though not all.

It’s definitely worth a visit to Yosemite National Park even if you’re not into waterfalls, though I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be amazed by the sheer number of them in the park. Even with fog shrouding the falls at times, it was still a mystical experience.

Directions:

  1. In late April and early May, the best choice of roads is likely CA-140. (I was on CA-120, and discovered after some distance that the road was closed near the park entrance, and had to take an alternative route). Call (209)-372-0200 for current road conditions.
  2. Head east along CA-140 from Merced/Mariposa to the entrance for the park.
  3. At the entrance, you will need to pay the $20 entrance fee, which is good for 7 days.
  4. Yosemite Falls can be viewed from many different places in the valley. It’s pretty difficult to miss it when it’s flowing.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 2425′
Distance of Hike: This varies depending on the view you want…Anywhere from 0 to 5 miles one-way

Where in the World is Yosemite Falls?

Tahquitz Canyon Falls, California

Tahquitz Canyon Falls in December 2014

I got to California today, and had some time to do a hike. My nephew also came along and really wanted to go hiking at that exact moment. I know there are a number of different places I could have chosen, but I had wanted to visit Tahquitz Canyon Falls for a while.

It is a slightly expensive proposition at $12.50 per adult ($6 per child) as of 2014, but it is a very enjoyable hike and the trail was obviously well taken care of. There are a number of marked stops along the way indicating interesting points. At 2 miles round trip, the hike isn’t particularly difficult, though there is a small elevation gain. The main attraction is the waterfall, at about 60′ tall. There is also rock art, though it was different and less noticeable than most of the other places I’ve visited.

You’ll have to choose wisely when visiting the falls. From July to September, the park is only open on weekends. In other months, it is open every day, but only until 5 pm or earlier. You will need to arrive by 3:30 pm to guarantee you can make it back to the parking area by 5. It’s December, and so in the shade on the trail, it can also get rather cool. I’m very glad I wore a hoodie/sweatshirt.

Directions:

  1. Head south along CA-111 into Palm Springs.
  2. Continue forward into Palm Springs along CA-111B for a few miles (At some point, the road may be called S Palm Canyon Drive.)
  3. Turn right onto W Mesquite Avenue.  Continue along this road until you reach the parking area at the end.
  4. Pay the entry fee in the visitor’s center, and then follow the pretty obvious trail.

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderate)
Distance of Hike: 2 miles round-trip
Height: 60′

Where in the World is Tahquitz Canyon Falls?

Sturtevant Falls, California

Sturtevant Falls in December 2013

I usually remember the waterfall, but my memory of Sturtevant Falls is somewhat fuzzy. I do remember the before and after of getting to and from the falls, and that might just have something to do with the blurriness.

I had already visited Paradise Falls earlier that day, and was now driving east from that area. I have read there is often difficulty finding parking, but by the time I showed up, there was more than adequate parking in the designated area. I went and paid the day-use fee, and then I may have wandered around for a bit on the wrong side of the road (but I might I’m getting another waterfall mixed up here).

At some point, I realized I need to head downhill, which was not what I had originally expected. And as I saw people walking “far below”, I realized this was a steep downhill journey. Now, it’s not terrible, but it still keeps reminding you that you have a steep uphill return. This is also the point where I started feeling somewhat dizzy and nauseated. I remember wondering whether I should turn back since this was just the downhill portion. I kept going. I pushed myself into high gear because I also was worried I wouldn’t get back until after sunset.

So I think I turned around pretty soon after getting to the falls. There wasn’t much water there, so I wasn’t extremely excited. I had seen the more interesting (on that date) Paradise Falls before this. So I hiked back up the road. I actually felt better on the way back, though I do remember exerting a lot of energy. It’s a paved road for the steep portion, which might make it a bit easier.

After getting back to the parking area, thinking I might need something to eat, and then eating a pretty big meal, I realized I was actually sick. So that’s mostly what I remember, though overall, it was a very minor ordeal. I think that part may have blocked out the memory of the falls (or maybe it was the thought of the hike back up!).

Directions:

  1. Take the 210, exit 32, and head north on N Santa Anita Ave.
  2. Keep driving until this turns into Chantry Flats Road. (The divided road merges at this point.)
  3. Just keep driving until you arrive at the main parking lot. Pay the entrance fee if you have not already purchased it elsewhere. (I don’t know what the policy is about parking on the side of the road outside of the parking area, so pay attention to any posted signs.)
  4. Cross the road and head downhill along the paved forest route 2N40.
  5. Follow the trail to the falls. It’s about a 1.6 mile one-way trip.

Accessibility: 3/10 (moderate/strenuous)
Height: 50′
Length of Hike: 3.2 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Sturtevant Falls?

Bridalveil Falls, California

One of the most stunning waterfalls in Yosemite National Park is Bridalveil Falls. While it’s only about 1/4 the height of Yosemite Falls (Bridalveil Falls clocks in at 620′ tall), that’s still pretty darn tall. You may notice a few other waterfalls before this one, but this is likely to be the first prominent waterfall you see as you enter the park.

The attribute Bridalveil Falls shares with Yosemite Falls is that there are so many different places to view the falls. With so many options, you may get the feeling that you’re seeing a completely different waterfall (though you’re not). As you follow the loop drive, there is a parking area very close to the falls. It’s a short walk along a paved trail to the base. In mid-May, the waterfall was thundering, and the spray made it almost impossible to photograph at the base, though it did guarantee you would get soaked in a very short amount of time. I was able to get some great shots at the start and along the trail where there wasn’t so much spray.

As you’re looping around the main road in the valley, you’ll notice Bridalveil Falls again, and you get that totally different view of the falls. The clouds may be low enough to shroud the cliff tops. The height of the falls might become a little bit lost (which, after a certain height, is tricky to gauge), but you will get a fantastic view of the much bigger picture that is Yosemite National Park.

Directions:

  1. Head toward Yosemite National Park. CA-140 into the park is usually the best bet for being open, though you can also enter via CA-120 or CA-41 at certain times of the year.
  2. If you want to park at the Bridalveil parking lot, you will turn onto CA-41 (Wawona Road) for a VERY SHORT distance to the parking area, which will be on the left. It’s a short hike to the falls.
  3. If you want to view the falls without stopping at the parking lot, follow the loop road to the Northside Drive (the northern portion of the road).

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy, don’t remember if it was uphill on the trail?)
Height: 620′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip (though can be viewed from other spots)

Bridal Veil Falls in mid-May 2011

Where in the World is Bridalveil Falls?

Black Point Beach Falls, California

One of the Black Point Beach waterfalls (May 2013)

I love to find waterfalls that are along shoreline, and California has a few very impressive examples, including Alamere Falls and McWay Falls. Both of those are south of San Francisco. If you head north along California 1, you’ll a few other less impressive waterfalls along the California shoreline (and maybe one or two others that are more interesting).

The beach and cliffs around Black Point Beach are stunning, I will admit that! But the waterfalls there are usually trickles, at best. I’m not sure that many people will go out of their way to find these two, though they do exist. I can imagine after an impressive rainfall that they might just perk up a bit, but otherwise, you’re better off searching for other waterfalls and activities in the region. (Stornetta Falls, another possibly more intriguing waterfall further north, was essentially dry during my late May 2013 visit, which suggests your best bet is much earlier in the year.)

Directions:
1) While driving along CA-1 heading north, you’ll pass through Salt Point State Park. Continue along CA-1 for 7 miles or so.
2) Pay attention, because on the left, you’ll come upon a gravel parking area for Black Point Beach. Park here. (There may be a fee.)
3) From this parking area, follow the trails somewhat northwest toward the shoreline. At the cliff’s edge, you should find a stairway down to the beach. I wasn’t a big fan of this (don’t like heights), but bucked up and headed down.
4) Once on the beach, head to the right (north). You may find two or three falls along the beach, depending on the recent rainfall levels.

Accessibility: 9/10 (stairs!)

Where in the World is Black Point Beach Falls?: map

The second visible waterfall

Meeks Creek Falls, California

In the search for waterfalls, there are three main outcomes: 1) You find the waterfall you’re looking for; 2) You don’t find the waterfall at all; or 3) You find something different than what you were looking for. Outcome 1 has happened a lot, and Outcome 2 has happened more than one might expect. Option 3 happens every once in a while, and Meeks Creek Falls happens to be one of those examples.

The other waterfalls that were more popular were clearly more popular the weekend I visited the Tahoe area! Eagle Falls was extremely busy, so I didn’t stop, and instead decided to try Meeks Creek Falls. As I started on the hike, I can clearly remember that it was warm (without much shade) and that the horse flies (or whatever pest they were) were out in force. After about the first mile, though, you enter a more wooded area, it cools down, and the flies aren’t as abundant.

After that first mile, you start hiking uphill, and you’re very close to Meeks Creek. And apparently somewhere along the distance I hiked is a rather tall (85′ or so) waterfall. I had absolutely no luck finding this waterfall. I HEARD waterfalls, but couldn’t seem to find any trail that led to the main objective. (There are no signs to the falls.) So I kept hiking and hiking, probably more than I needed to. I’m one of those hikers that need to have a goal, and once I felt the goal was out of reach, I got bored. So I turned around.

I was still convinced to find something, though, and luckily Meeks Creek has a lot of drops on it! I found one ~20′ waterfall, and it might have continued on downstream, though I wouldn’t have any clue.  There was another ~8′ drop I found, though I don’t remember if it was above or below the first fall. I was just cool with finding something. The moral of the story…Who knows?

Directions:

  1. From South Lake Tahoe, take CA-89 heading northwest.
  2. About 16 miles from the point you started along CA-89, you will come to the Meeks Bay Resort (on your right). Just across from this is the Meeks Bay Trailhead (on your left).
  3. Park in this area, which has a lot of spaces along the highway. You’ll find the start of the trail pretty easily. I’m not sure how long the distance to the main waterfall is…I probably walked 5 or so miles round-trip.

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderate)
Height: 20′
Length of Hike: ~5 miles round-trip

A drop on Meeks Creek (late May 2013)

Another drop on Meeks Creek

Where in the World is Meeks Creek Falls?

The Cascades, California

The Cascades in May 2011

Yosemite National Park has so many amazing waterfalls, that not all of them are strongly advertised. You might be able to find a few of them on a map, and The Cascades might be on one of them, but I can’t find it on a map now! With Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and many others, it’s easy to forget the other amazing waterfalls!

I think you’ve officially entered the park by the time you see The Cascades, but I don’t believe you’ve entered the main loop. And that may be why it can be easy to miss. You may not see The Cascades depending on the direction you’ve come. I had tried to enter via CA-120 (headed south), but discovered that there was still snow falling in May. So I turned around, and connected onto CA-140, which heads into the park, and is open more. From 140, it’s almost impossible to miss The Cascades, unless you’re overwhelmed by some other breathtaking view. Still, it’s pretty hard to miss.

The total waterfall is 500′ tall (approximately), though I’m not sure about the height of the portion that is most visible. I have seen other pictures of the whole falls, but to me, it actually seems less impressive in the whole. Focusing just on the last drop, it seems to be very similar to the lower portion of Yosemite Falls. In May 2011, the flow over the falls was intense, which made stopping worthwhile.  Another waterfall, Wildcat Falls, is very close by.

Directions:

  1. Head east along CA-140, entering into Yosemite National Park. You will have passed the pay station already.
  2. A little less than 2 miles from the CA-140/CA-120 junction, you’ll find the parking pull-off for the falls. I didn’t have any difficulty finding a spot. (Use the junction as a guide. If you’ve passed the junction and you’re headed further into the park, you can turn around to find the falls. You could just try and see the falls on the way out, unless you’re taking a different route.)

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 500′ (that can be viewed)
Length of Hike: roadside

Where in the World is The Cascades?

Paradise Falls, California

Paradise Falls in late December 2013

I know there are a number of waterfalls in Southern California, and I’ve wanted to visit the area for a while. The winter and spring are apparently the best time to visit, so I flew out this past weekend for warmer weather. (As a side note, I know there are differing view of “warm” depending on where you live, but a low of 45 F is still much better than 14 F. Don’t tell me I’m coming to cold weather after leaving Michigan.) I ended up being sick for a portion of the time, so I didn’t see as many waterfalls as I would have hoped. Of the three I did visit, all had some water, though.

Paradise Falls was the first waterfall I visited. It is north/west of Los Angeles. While the parking area was bustling, there seemed to be an equilibrium of people leaving and entering, so I was able to find a parking spot quickly. There are a number of hiking trails, so I was disoriented for a short time, but finally (and without much stress) found the trail to Paradise Falls. Much of the trail is easy hiking, except for the last third or so, which involves hiking downhill. It’s not terrible by any means, though. The hike I took later that day (to Sturtevant Falls) involved a longer downhill hike.

The falls are busy, and there is a certain unique smell (consider that a sign indicates one water source for the falls is municipal). Even so, I think it was my favorite of the three in terms of an actual waterfall. If you’re in the area, and you want to enjoy the outdoors, this is definitely a great place to do so.

Directions:

  1. From US-101, take the exit onto Lynn Road (in the Thousand Oaks area).
  2. Head north on Lynn Road for a few miles.
  3. Turn left onto Avenida de los Arboles, and drive to the very end of this road.
  4. At the end, you’ll find the parking area. You’ll want to follow the Mesa Trail. Keep going until you find the sign indicating the trail to the falls.

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderate)
Height: 40′
Length of Hike: 2.4 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Paradise Falls?

Webber Falls, California

Webber Falls in June 2013

I traveled to the Reno/Tahoe region this past weekend. On Sunday, I had some time before heading back to the airport, and had stayed in Truckee. Of all of the waterfalls in the region, Webber Falls seemed like the easiest to visit in the amount of time I had available.

Webber Falls is about 15 miles or so outside of Truckee, though the drive is a little bit longer than that. The drive itself is really beautiful, and in the end you’ll be rewarded with a really great waterfall. I was actually more impressed with the waterfall than I originally expected to be. (One of the books that I was using as a reference has the worst possible picture of Webber Falls.) It is something like 75′ tall, and at the peak flow in late Spring, it’s really worthwhile. As an added benefit, I was the only person there. The bugs were rather annoying, though.

Now let me mention a few things about the falls that I feel I should mention before I forget. In both books I was using (which I think were newer editions), the directions indicate there is a dirt road that leads down to the falls. This is partially true, though this road is now blocked by boulders. This means you should park on the side of the road at a dirt turnoff. In the end, I actually think this is much more appropriate, as the final dirt road would not have been appropriate for a normal car. Also, the hike is not any significantly further from the road. Just make sure to follow the sound of rushing water.

Second, I don’t think I’ve seen much mention of how possibly dangerous the area around this waterfall could be. While the hike is very short, it leads to some very steep cliffs that are almost all around the falls. The terrain around the falls is not very firm, but surprisingly slippery. I could imagine some reckless people being careless suddenly slipping, only to find that there isn’t much distance to the cliff edge. I found that it was “easier” to head left to get better (and slightly safer) view of the falls. Be careful!

Directions:

  1. Take CA-89 north from the Truckee area. (The signs weren’t very clear as I was going through Truckee.)
  2. Go for about 14 miles north along CA-89. Look for the sign to Independence Lake and Webber Lake.
  3. Turn left onto this road. After only a few yards, turn left again onto Jackson Meadows Road.
  4. Drive a little over 6.5 miles along Jackson Meadows Road. Look for a sign/road for Lake of the Woods.
  5. Just a few hundred feet after this, there is a pullout on your left. As I mentioned, there is a road after this pullout, but it is blocked. (I found it easier to drive a little further down Jackson Meadows Road, and then turn around.)
  6. From the pullout, head downhill, and essentially keep going fairly straight, maybe veering slightly to the right. There is a loop “parking area”, and from there, the very short trail heads to the falls.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate, the hike the falls is easy, but exercise extreme caution when at the falls)
Height: 76′
Length of Hike: 0.3 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Webber Falls?