Mary West: Exploring McCloud River Falls Trail
In the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near McCloud, California you find Fowlers Campground. Around Fowlers Campground you find the River Trail with three waterfalls on the McCloud River. Each falls site can be easily accessed by driving directly to the parking lot and day use area of each falls site. Or pick one and start a beautiful day hike.
For a change of scenery, I decided on the pronged waterfall season with a drive to Siskiyou County. Highway 89 is a lovely drive with open meadows and mountain views. I started at Lower Falls from the Lower Falls parking lot. Restrooms are located here as well as picnic tables and plenty of parking. I started here so I could walk downhill on the way back.
Lower Falls in the wet season is an awesome sight on its own. The stone observation deck and bench overlook a wide fall. After taking more than enough pictures, I stood on the edge of the mostly volcanic rock surrounding the falls from eruptions of Mount Shasta, the most recent about 200 years ago.
Walking along the river on the paved walk, beyond Lower Falls, you pass camp sites with information boards sharing a bit of history about the area and more restrooms.
At the end of the camp sites a sign tells you, you have a half mile hike to the middle falls. Leave the pavement and continue along the river. The dogwoods were in full bloom in May. This was such a beautiful section of trail. The birds provided a full chorus of song along my walk.
You might catch a glimpse of the middle falls through the trees as you approach. In heavy runoff these falls are spectacular. The mist billows up into the forest, thick with pine and the ever-present dogwood.
Once you tear yourself away from Middle Falls, the trail takes you up a switchback for a view from above the falls. Note the parking lot not far away on the paved trail to the top. It’s hard not to linger here but even more awaits you.
The Upper Falls create a white ribbon of rushing water down the river. The water is squeezed out between boulders. Again, note the large, paved parking lot. You may want to consider two cars and leave one at upper falls and one at lower falls. This would cut your hike by half. Or consider the idea that you get to go downhill and enjoy three waterfalls over again. The variety of spring flowers are a joy, and the trees are impressive if you can take your eyes off the river.
Coming down feels much faster. Before you know it you are climbing the stone steps back up to the day use area at Lower Falls. If you do the full out and back trail you will cover 8-miles but only a 330-foot change in elevation, first up and then down on the return.
To get there, you can take I-5 north, it is the fastest route, but if you have the time and inclination, consider taking CA 89-N. From the main intersection in the town of McCloud, drive east on Highway 89 for 5.5 miles. Turn right on the signed road for the McCloud River Loop. Continue for 0.7 miles. Stay right at the first intersection (turning left leads to Middle and Upper Falls). Pass the Fowlers Camp campground and turn left into the signed parking lot for the Lower Falls picnic area. Or take CA 89-N home. This way you can stop at Burney Falls on the way. You practically park in front of the falls at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. My Poppy Pass was accepted here. Not really a day hike. But if you love waterfalls it is a must.
Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide I, II and III (2nd edition Available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2017 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column and the 2020 Craft Award for her second book in the series-Day Hiker Gold Country Trail Guide by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram
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