“Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” No offence to TLC, but you should definitely chase all the waterfalls. There are millions of waterfalls across the world and some of the best falls you will see are in California.
California is home to nine national parks, more than any other state in the United States, and some of the country’s best waterfalls can be found in those parks as well as state parks and natural monuments across the state. Waterfalls will vary in size and setting – some cascade over giant stones while others drop directly over sea cliffs and onto shorelines.
Visiting every waterfall in the state would take a very long time, so here is my list of the 8 best waterfalls in California.
The 8 Best Waterfalls in California
This list can only start with one of the most iconic waterfalls in the United States, Yosemite Falls. It’s impossible to explore Yosemite and not run into one of its many towering waterfalls. However, Yosemite Falls is unique in that it is made up of three different falls: Upper Yosemite Fall, its middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. Together, all three falls create a total 2,425 feet cascade of waterfalls. There are multiple locations where you can get excellent viewpoints of the falls throughout the Yosemite Valley. There is also a one-mile loop trail that leads to the Lower Yosemite Fall. If you’re up for an all-day hike, you can hike to the top of the falls and look out across the entire valley.
Named after American Pioneer Samuel Burney, McArthur-Burney Falls is known for being one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state of California. The falls serve as the main attraction of the memorialised state park, standing at 129 feet. The park was formed due to volcanic activity dating back over a million years ago and visitors can now see the fresh waters of underground streams flowing over black volcanic rock. The falls are easy to access from the main parking area and there are multiple hiking trails that will lead to different views of the upper and lower regions of the falls. This beautiful waterfall is incredibly easy to see and should definitely be on your bucket list.
Rainbow Falls has a fitting name as the mists from the 101-foot waterfall creates a vibrant rainbow that stretches across its basin! The gorgeous Rainbow Falls is one of the many attractions visitors can see while visiting Devils Postpile National Monument, a geological phenomenon featuring hexagonal basalt columns that date back over 100,000 years ago. There is a mandatory scenic shuttle that boards at Mammoth Adventure Center in Mammoth Lakes. Visitors can make their way to the falls via car when shuttle season is not operating. The hike from the parking lot is lovely and it’s recommended that you head to the falls at midday when the sun is at its highest.
Yosemite’s second most iconic waterfall, Bridalveil, is truly a gem for the Yosemite Valley. At 620 feet tall, Briadlveil is one of the first waterfalls visitors to Yosemite National Park will witness when entering the valley. This waterfall is extremely easy to access and hikers can take a paved pathway up to the base of the waterfall. That paved trail is wheelchair accessible and pet-friendly, and it only takes a few minutes to reach the end of the trail. Bridalveil can also be seen from Highway 41!
Located in Big Sur’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls is a treasure in an untouched paradise. The 80-foot waterfall used to empty directly into the ocean, however a landslide in the 1980’s created a sandy cove directly beneath the falls which is what onlookers can see today. These falls are rare because they can sometimes drop directly into the ocean when the tide is high enough. To see the falls, just get onto Highway 1 and find a parking space near the McWay Waterfall Trail. Take the trail down less than a half mile and there is an overlook with the perfect view of the falls.
Tokopah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park (1,200 feet) and the tranquil journey to the falls is one of the most popular hikes to complete in the park. These falls are elegant and cascading and you can follow the water down into the canyon while surrounded by towering giant pillars of rock. During the summer, there is a free shuttle that takes hikers to the Tokopah Falls trailhead just beyond the log bridge. If arriving by car, enter Sequoia National Park through the south entrance and park in the General Sherman lot; once you’ve reached Lodgepole, you can enter the trail.
Similar to McWay Falls, Alamere Falls is a beautiful waterfall that drops dramatically onto the southern region of Wildcat Beach. Visitors can walk past the falls cascading over a 40-foot-tall cliff and get up-close and personal with the rugged Point Reyes shoreline. Alamere Falls is located within the Phillip Burton Wilderness area, which spans over 33,000 acres of coastal grasslands and sand dunes. Officially, it’s a 13 mile hike via the Palomarin Trailhead to witness the falls, so make sure you start your day early to get a good parking spot!
Nevada Falls sits on what the world knows as nature’s Giant Stairway in Yosemite National Park. Along this staircase, Nevada Falls is located on the upper step and its sibling, Vernal Fall, sits on the lower step – anyone would be able to see two beautiful waterfalls in one hike. While the hike to the very top of Nevada Falls is only 7.2 miles, it is about a 2,000 foot elevation gain, which can be strenuous for some! A shuttle takes hikers right to the Mist Trail trailhead year round (stop #16), but if hiking is not your thing you can see Nevada Fall from Glacier Point!
There you have it, 8 of the most beautiful waterfalls in California. Which of these glorious falls will you check out first?
Plan Your California Trip
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