California indeed has it all: stunning beaches, majestic mountains, vast desserts, and some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls.
The 6 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in California You Must See
Is California the best place to look for beautiful, roaring waterfalls? Probably not. Dry deserts, sand dunes, and canyons cover about a fourth of the Golden State. Central and some parts of Northern California succumb to expansive vineyards and almond orchards. Sandy and rocky beaches and untrodden mountains take hold of the remaining sections of the state’s wilderness.
Yet somehow defying its nature, California leaves room for some of the most beautiful and famous waterfalls in the world. Some California falls enhance their natural appeal with remarkable locations they are parts of. Others tumble down sheer mountain faces with such force that you can hear their “roars” miles away.
And there are a few falls that are neither the tallest nor the most popular. But these waterfalls resist California’s dry season and impress with their steady flows throughout the year.
We’ve long given up on catching elusive waterfalls at their peak flows in Southern California. These seasonal torrents empty themselves way too fast. Apart from it, during that 2-3-week window when the falls rejuvenated after winter rains show their full potential, the number of people hiking to see them is overwhelming.
But every now and then, when a thirst for adventure overpowers our comfortable routine, we drive north. Generously dotted with towering mountains and dense forests, this part of California is also home to the most beautiful waterfalls and cascades.
WHERE TO FIND 6 OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WATERFALLS IN CALIFORNIA
The king of California’s waterfall kingdom, Yosemite Falls stands 2,425 feet high from the top of Upper Fall to the base of Lower Fall. As the name implies, the waterfall resides in Yosemite National Park, towering over the impeccable Yosemite Valley.
The gushing waterfall in Central California allures visitors of all walks of life throughout the year. Its cascading display, however, varies from season to season. Giving in to state’s dry summers, Upper Yosemite Fall reverts to a thin stream that plunges over a sheer cliff and drops down until it meets Lower Yosemite Fall that is not at its highest performance either.
During cold winters, the tallest waterfall in California refreshes. Snow envelopes trees surrounding the falls. Ice often appears at the bottom of the pool. Peace and tranquility settle over the park. It’s a wonderful time to admire waterfalls in Central California.
But wait just a few months when rain and melted snow invigorate the land, and Yosemite Falls, significantly enlarged in size, reminds you once again why it’s regarded as one of the superior waterfalls in California.
Nestled along California’s most beautiful drive, McWay Falls is one of those waterfalls that are better known for their pristine surroundings than their unique features.
One of the highlights of Big Sur, the plunge waterfall is shielded by a picturesque cliff from one side. To the right, a secluded cove with golden sand unfolds and stands guard over the 80-foot cascade.
The mighty Pacific Ocean in front entices McWay Falls to empty directly into it. The tidefall accepts this invitation during high tide. At low tide, it drops just slightly away from the playful waves and lets its stream slowly run to unite with the ocean.
McWay Cove, however, is what makes the site one of the most secluded waterfalls in California. At one point, a landslide created the beach and permanently closed access to the now dangerous McWay Falls area.
Today the McWay Falls Trail stops abruptly at an observation point with gorgeous views of the most elusive waterfall in the Golden State. Beyond this point, only local wildlife disturbs the peace and serenity established in the area.
Not the largest or most popular, Burney Falls is hands down one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California. Many consider it the most spectacular falls in the state. I can’t disagree with that.
The 250-foot-wide waterfall sits in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Northern California. It was named after Samuel Burney, the first pioneer to settle in the area. Enchanted by its natural beauty, President Roosevelt called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Burney Falls drops from a height of 129 feet into a large pool at the base. The ice-cold water lingers here only as long as it takes to reach Burney Creek and flow farther to Lake Britton.
This water circulation process repeats throughout the year. Originated from the park’s underground springs that emerge at and above Burney Falls, the water flows at nearly 100 million gallons every day. This alone allows the waterfall to pay little to no attention to seasonal fluctuations typical for Northern California and keep its steady flow throughout the year.
The most reliable waterfall in the state, it’s especially beautiful early in the morning when tall trees sway in the wind, birds fill the air with their songs, and broken branches under the feet of occasional hikes disturb the forest idyll.
Central California gathers most of its waterfalls in one place. The most remarkable of them, including Bridalveil Fall, are nestled in Yosemite National Park.
The waterfall steals your attention shortly after you enter the park. It towers over the forest with small meadows and a network of hiking trails. You can see it from the road and iconic overlooks, such as Tunnel View, Inspiration Point, and Valley View.
Bridalveil Fall plunges from a 617-foot-high cliff. At the bottom of it, massive rocks separate the pool from the Bridalveil Fall Trail. Hikers like to climb the slippery boulders and feel cold sprays of water on their skin.
The mist around Bridalveil Fall can reach the magnitude of a rain in spring when California waterfalls are at their peak flow. In summer and early fall, the waterfall reduces its outflow significantly. Only tiny drizzles reach the hikers, closest to the site. But the overall coolness and calmness of nature doesn’t cease to impress even then.
Unlike the other two waterfalls in Yosemite, we didn’t get to see Vernal Fall during its peak flow. We hiked to this beautiful waterfall in Central California only once, in the middle of the mercilessly hot summer. But even during that time, Vernal Fall was a site to behold.
Large amount of water dropped from a cliff and cascaded down along stair-like boulders. The current flew farther down under the Vernal Fall Footbridge and followed the direction of the Merced River.
The footbridge from where the view of the roaring, 317-foot waterfall opens up is just one stop along the 5.4-mile, round-trip Mist Trail. After running across the river, the trail continues to ascend until it reaches the top of Vernal Fall and later the top of Nevada Fall.
The two California waterfalls are like two peas in a pod. You can’t hike to one without inevitably resorting to gaze at the other. You may skip the tedious hike only when exploring Yosemite with kids. In that case, retrace your steps to the Misty Trailhead and take a dip in the ice-cold Merced River.
Kings Creek Falls
Kinds Creek Falls is a beautiful member of the waterfall family in Northern California. Located in Lassen Volcanic National Park, the falls impresses with more than just the final plunge over irregular-sized boulders.
En route to the waterfall, the stream conquers several obstacles, resulting in a specific multi-layered prelude to the waterfall. During the dry season, when the flow of Kings Creek Falls recedes, this watery show may be just the most beautiful section of the park.
Yet you can’t see the smaller cascades until you feast your eyes on the main waterfall first. The Kings Creek Falls Trail runs in reverse. One-way trail veers to the left at the intersection with a path that completes the loop.
The official trail goes up and down before it levels out near Kings Creek Falls. The beautiful, Northern California cascade-waterfall opens up from an overlook platform above it. You can venture farther down in search of the unique vantage points. Keep in mind, though, the area is slippery. Walking down the rocky outcrops can be dangerous.
Once back on the official Kings Creek Falls Trail, you make a loop and finally walk past the cascades. This section of the hike is sprinkled with small “waterfalls” that carry heavy weight in beautifying a part of California that was affected by the 2021 Dixie Fire.