Sempervirens Falls, California

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Sempervirens Falls in April 2016

I like to head out to California for short trips, and San Francisco is one of the best places to start a journey. There are so many different things to be viewed in the area. There are a number of waterfalls in the area, but they’re spread out in all different directions. (Check out Mountain View FallsAlamere Falls, and McWay Falls as examples.) In Big Basin Redwood State Park south of San Francisco, there are a few waterfalls that require significant hikes to arrive at (Berry Creek Falls and Silver Falls). I didn’t hike to those falls since I had no wish to go that far. So instead I hiked to Sempervirens Falls.

I tend to get a late start (not a morning person), so when I arrived at Big Basin SP, parking was at a minimum for a beautiful Saturday in April. Parking is found along Escape Road, and I kept driving. The cars were parked alongside, so I just kept going. I found ample parking at the end of Escape Road, and realized that it would be easier to take a completely different path than I had originally planned.

At the end of Escape Road, I headed north past the fence where Escape Road officially “ends”, though it continues as a walking path. After a few hundred feet, I took a sharp right onto the Sequoia Trail. I continued along this path, crossing CA-236. The Sequoia Trail continues downhill to the falls (which are to your right as your reach Sky Meadow Road. The most difficult portion of the hike is the uphill climb on the return.

I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to see Sempervirens Falls, though the surrounding redwoods make up for the smaller than expected waterfall. It’s at most 20′ tall, and is rather narrow. Still, enjoy the scenery!

Directions:

  1. From CA-9, head in the general direction of CA-236. (CA-236 forms a loop so that you can connect from the north or south along CA-9.)
  2. CA-236 loops through Big Basin Redwood State Park. It’s a rather narrow road.
  3. Pay the entrance fee, and then find parking. If you find parking close to the entrance, you can follow the Sequoia Trail to the falls by heading north. Since I found parking as described above, I found the Sequoia Trail by the opposite direction.

Accessibility: 6/10 (steep uphill climb on the way back)
Height: ~20′
Hike: ~2 miles round trip

Where in the World is Sempervirens Falls?: map

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?

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

Canyon Falls, California

Canyon Falls in early November 2010

McWay Falls is clearly the main attraction at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the Pacific coastline of California. It’s very clearly marked and can be seen from the trail leading to a viewpoint.

But there’s another waterfall hiding in the park. Canyon Falls is overlooked. McWay Falls is beautiful, but I felt detached from it. You’re standing at a considerable distance from the falls. On the other hand, Canyon Falls is much more intimate. You can walk right up to the falls, and while it might not be as scenic, it is still beautiful.

Hiking to the falls is relatively easy. The Canyon Trail leads directly to the falls. The other trail that you might get lost on was closed when I visited, so I didn’t have to worry about that. The only tricky part is crossing McWay Creek. Now it’s not even that deep, but it’s just wide enough that you could easily get wet. If you’ve got the right shoes, then that shouldn’t be a problem. Just be aware that it is slippery crossing the makeshift log “bridge” (and I mean bridge very, very loosely).

Directions:

  1. From Monterey, head south on CA-1 to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
  2. Turn left into the entrance for the park. There is a state park day fee per vehicle.
  3. Instead of heading toward McWay Falls, head in the opposite direction toward the picnic tables and the Canyon Trail.
  4. You’ll cross McWay Creek on the way to the falls. When I visited, there were borders directing us to the falls (though there are no signs indicating it’s there). I’m not sure if those makeshift fences are always there.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: 0.6 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Canyon Falls?