12 Best Waterfall Hikes in Northern California

Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite Falls. Michael Costa
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Between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Tahoe, there are plenty of reasons to think "water" when you picture Northern California, but we’ve got another one—the Bay Area is also home to tons of incredible waterfalls. It’s not easy to narrow them down, and you’ll definitely be inspired to spend more time exploring the many cascades Northern California has to offer, but these 12 are a solid start.

1. Crystal Creek Falls

The trailhead to Crystal Creek is ADA compliant, perfect for someone with limited mobility.
The trailhead to Crystal Creek is ADA compliant, perfect for someone with limited mobility. Don DeBold

Just 10 miles from Redding, Crystal Creek Falls is the perfect intro to Northern California waterfalls. From the parking lot in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, you’ll take the paved, level path to a well-maintained picnic area—the falls are just beyond that. Bonus: the trailhead is adjacent to the start of the James K. Carr Trail, which you can take to the nearby Whiskeytown Falls.

2. Yosemite Falls

You can't visit Yosemite and not visit the falls!
You can't visit Yosemite and not visit the falls! John Tregoning

No tour of California’s waterfall offerings would be complete without a trip to the tallest waterfall in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Falls cascades 2,245 feet from top to bottom, and its upper falls are among the highest waterfalls in the world. It’s a strenuous 7.2-mile hike all the way to the top, or a moderate two miles to the viewpoint at Columbia Rock.

3. Glen Alpine Falls

It's only a one-mile hike to the Glen Alpine Waterfall, but it's quiet and secluded.
It's only a one-mile hike to the Glen Alpine Waterfall, but it's quiet and secluded. m01229

Ready for a respite from the crowd? Glen Alpine Falls, just outside South Lake Tahoe, is tucked out of the way, and the one-mile roundtrip hike gets you up close and personal with the 30-foot cascade. To extend your hike, pick up a permit at the Glen Alpine Trailhead and wander up the backside of Mt. Tallac or into the Desolation Wilderness.

4. Devil’s Punchbowl Falls

At just 14 feet, this waterfall is diminutive compared to giants like Yosemite Falls, but it packs a big, well, punch. The 1.2-mile hike to Devil’s Punchbowl begins just outside Angwin. Getting to the top of the falls is easy, but getting to the base (and swimming hole) requires more effort and some agility to negotiate a stream crossing. This cascade is best seen right after a heavy rain, when the water really gets flowing.

5. Cataract Falls

Get views of waterfalls and the Pacific Ocean on the 7.7-mile trail to Cataract Falls.
Get views of waterfalls and the Pacific Ocean on the 7.7-mile trail to Cataract Falls. Miguel Vieira

Marin County is home to more than 500 miles of trails, so it’s really saying something that the trail to Cataract Falls is among the most beloved. A 7.7-mile loop hike brings you to Cataract Falls, where you will also find sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean—or you can check out the falls on a shorter 2.7-mile out-and-back hike.

6. Feather Falls

Recently measured at 410 feet (instead of 640 feet), Feather Falls may not be one of the tallest waterfalls in the United States, but it’s still worth the trek. Along the trail is a refreshing swimming hole (near Frey Creek), and the hike through Plumas National Forest, near Oroville, boasts incredible views. The Upper Trail is a moderate nine miles, while the lower trail is a strenuous seven miles. Feather Falls reaches peak flow between January and June, then slows down from July through October.

7. Hedge Creek Falls

Just outside the tiny town of Dunsmuir, Hedge Creek Falls earned its nickname, the "Million-Dollar Waterfall," when it was nearly destroyed by rerouting of I-5. Fortunately, the falls—and the million-dollar views of Mt. Shasta and the Sacramento River—are still intact. This 30-foot waterfall flows in front of a cave once rumored to be the hideout of Black Bart, a notorious 19th-century stagecoach robber. It’s less than a mile to the falls and the breathtaking views.

8. Potem Falls

You can get to the gorgeous Potem Falls on foot or by boat.
You can get to the gorgeous Potem Falls on foot or by boat. rubengarciajrphotography

Potem in Latin means "to drink," and although the gorgeous 45-foot falls into the Pit River near Montgomery Creek are tempting, there’s no potable water along the trail, so you’ll have to bring plenty of your own. The waterfall is accessible via an easy 0.3-mile trail or by boat.

9. Berry Creek Falls

If you want to work for your waterfall view, take the trail to Berry Creek.
If you want to work for your waterfall view, take the trail to Berry Creek. Miguel Vieira

The strenuous 9.5-mile hike through Big Basin Redwoods State Park on the Skyline to the Sea and Sunset Trails to Berry Creek Falls is totally worth the effort, winding through old-growth redwood trees on the way to the main attraction. Berry Creek actually encompasses four gorgeous, cascading waterfalls, including the aptly-named Silver Falls and Golden Cascade.

10. Burney Falls

You don't even have to leave the parking lot to see Burney Falls.
You don't even have to leave the parking lot to see Burney Falls. Amit Patel

Once described by Teddy Roosevelt as "the Eighth Wonder of the World," Burney Falls makes an incredible picnic spot—views of the 129-foot falls, the centerpiece of McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, are accessible right from the parking lot. A 1.3-mile trail circles the cascade, which begins in underground springs further inside the park.

11. Mist Falls

Mist Falls is a must-see if you are in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Mist Falls is a must-see if you are in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Miguel Vieira

The jointly administered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to glaciated canyons, tons of alpine lakes, and, of course, the namesake giant sequoia trees, but they also contain some incredible waterfalls. The hike to Mist Falls, one of the largest in the parks, is eight miles round-trip, and you’ll gain most of the elevation (600 feet) in the last mile before the falls.

12. Alamere Falls

The unique falls at Alamere pour directly into the Pacific Ocean.
The unique falls at Alamere pour directly into the Pacific Ocean. Colleen Morgan

A visit to Alamere Falls on Point Reyes National Seashore, deep in the Phillip Burton Wilderness, is no easy feat—it’s 13 miles round-trip. The park recommends hiking to Wildcat Campground, then heading to Alamere via Wildcat Beach at low tide. Alamere is special because of its status as a tidefall, meaning it falls directly into the ocean.

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