20 Waterfalls in California

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California is known for its temperate climate, the glitz and glamour of the big cities, and its breathtaking scenery and natural attractions. As the most populated state in the USA, it can be hard to find places to get away from all the noise, and one of the best ways is by going outside and getting some fresh air at many of California’s finest natural landmarks.

With coastal scenery, forest foliage, sprawling valleys and snowy peaks, California truly has it all. What makes all these jaw-dropping views even more impressive than the plunging spray of a natural waterfall? If you’re keen to explore some of the country’s tallest, widest or even most unique waterfalls, look no further than these breathtaking waterfalls in California. 

Waterfalls in California

20 California Waterfalls To Cool Off 

1- Burney Falls

best waterfalls in southern california
Burney Falls is one of the photogenic waterfalls in California.

Located within the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, Burney Falls is Shasta County’s most popular waterfall, known for its year-round scenery and beauty.

Burney Falls can be accessed via a short walk from the parking lot to an overlook, by hiking down to the base of the falls, or through a loop trail that takes you around and behind the falls.

Coming in at 129 feet (39m) tall, Burney Falls is less recognised for its height and more for its stunning surroundings, from the foamy blue pool at the base of the falls to the waterfall’s multi-tiered cascade down a lush green hillside.

Burney Falls is a must-visit waterfall for anyone heading to or from Northern California.

Burney Falls is at 24898 State Highway 89, Burney, CA 96013.

2- Salmon Creek Falls

best waterfalls in northern california
Beautiful Salmon Creek Falls is a California waterfall surrounded by lush green vegetation.

Salmon Creek Falls is one of California’s finest hidden gems, nestled in the mountains of Big Sur’s southern region along the coastal Highway 1.

This 120-foot (36m) waterfall in California is best known for the pleasant pool at its base, which is a popular spot for swimming and rock jumping during the spring and summer months.

Salmon Creek falls is reached after a short hike through dense forest foliage, and you can choose to hike to the top or bottom of the falls for two different perspectives.

Salmon Creek Falls is at Salmon Creek Trail, Big Sur, CA, 93920.

3- Yosemite Falls

hiking trails with waterfalls in northern california with frosty rocks
Yosemite Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in California. This is what it looks like in early April with frosty rocks.

Yosemite Falls is California’s tallest waterfall, clocking in at an impressive 2425 feet (739m) and one of Yosemite National Park’s finest natural attractions.

Yosemite Falls can be viewed from many points throughout Yosemite National Park, including the popular Yosemite Village, or via a short trail leading to the base of the lower falls.

For more seasoned explorers, a strenuous all-day hike up a historic trail built in 1873 will take you to the top of Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls is a must-see stop for anyone planning a visit to Yosemite National Park or for waterfall fanatics everywhere.

Yosemite Falls is at Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Village, CA, 95389.

4- Darwin Falls

darwin falls california waterfalls
The lovely Darwin Falls is another waterfall in California with a pool.

Darwin Falls is in Death Valley National Park, where eastern California meets Nevada.

You might not expect to find a lush green oasis leading to a stunning waterfall in the middle of the desert, but Darwin Falls certainly proves that anything is possible.

A short hike through a canyon lined with desert shrubbery leads to the waterfall’s base, or one can continue on a longer hike past the falls.

Darwin Falls coalesce into a foamy basin of greens and blues at the bottom of the falls, and the spring’s drinkable water is fed to the nearby Panamint Springs Resort.

Darwin Falls is at Darwin Falls Wilderness, Darwin, CA, 93522.

5- Phantom Falls

Phantom Falls, also known as Coal Canyon Falls, is an impressive tourist attraction in Oroville, a small town nestled between the big city of Sacramento and the dreamy vacation destination of Lake Tahoe.

The waterfall is 166 feet (50m) high and hangs over impressive basalt columns, dropping off into a canyon flanked by season blues, golds and greens from surrounding plant life.

Phantom Falls is a seasonal waterfall (hence its name), flowing only during early spring and drying up in the summer months, so plan your trip accordingly.

Phantom Falls is at Phantom Falls, Oroville, CA, 95965.

6- McWay Falls

waterfalls in southern california
McWay waterfall is in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California.

One of the most popular stops along Big Sur, McWay Falls is an enchanting coastal waterfall with an 80-foot (24m) cliffside plunge cascading over a pristine, private beach below.

McWay Falls can be seen from various trailheads within the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or from a pull-off along Highway 1.

This picturesque waterfall is a must-see natural landmark, and visitors flock to central California to see McWay Falls and its surrounding scenery.

McWay Falls is at 52801 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920.

7- Mossbrae Falls

glowing waterfalls in california
The lush and lovely Mossbrae Falls is one of the prettiest waterfalls in California.

Mossbrae Falls are some of California’s most aesthetically pleasing waterfalls, yet recent developments have made them difficult, dangerous, or even illegal to access, depending on your route.

In the past, they were open to public use, although due to one of the routes crossing active railroad tracks, public access has been limited until a safer trail is constructed.

Nonetheless, many visitors make the perilous trek to Mossbrae Falls every year.

It is considered one of California’s most jaw-dropping waterfalls: numerous springs pour out of a gorgeous moss-covered hillside, creating a shimmering cascade effect appearing as multi-tiered falls.

If you’re willing to risk it, Mossbrae Falls will stun and surprise any visitors with its array of natural beauty.

Mossbrae Falls is at Mossbrae Falls, Dunsmuir, CA 96025.

8- Faery Falls

At the height of Northern California, near the infamous Mount Shasta, are the surreal Faery Falls, a 50-foot (15m) waterfall known for the temperate wadable pool at its base.

Along the short hike to Faery Falls, you will pass the remains of the Ney Springs Resort, an abandoned site for enjoying the natural mineral springs.

Faery Falls is a site at over 100 feet (30m) wide, making it a must-see waterfall in California for anyone looking to soak in the blues and greens of the state’s natural beauty.

Faery Falls is at Faery Falls Parking, Mt Shasta, CA, 96067.

9- Alamere Falls

Alamere Falls is a coastal waterfall located in Point Reyes National Seashore and is known for being the tallest waterfall in the Bay Area at a foaming 40 feet (12m).

Uniquely, Alamere Falls is considered a “tide fall”, a waterfall that feeds directly into the ocean.

Three different hikes lead to Alamere Falls, with the shortest coming in at 13 miles (20 km), so be sure to plan your trip accordingly and bring lots of water.

Alamere Falls is at Palomarin Trailhead, Bolinas, CA 94924.

10- Nevada Fall

hiking trails with waterfalls in southern california
Nevada Falls along Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park is another lovely waterfall in California to see.

Yosemite National Park delivers again with another of California’s most impressive waterfalls, Nevada Fall, which towers at an impressive 594 feet (181m).

This iconic waterfall is known for its misty spray and whitewater foaminess, giving it the name of Nevada (Spanish for “snowy”).

Nevada Fall connects to another waterfall, Vernal Fall, and forms the scenic Emerald Pool that hikers often swim in despite park restrictions warning against it.

Visitors can view Nevada Falls from many different points in Yosemite National Park, or they can choose to hike to the top of the falls during a round trip with over 2000 feet (609m) of elevation gain.

Nevada Fall is at Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, Mariposa County, CA 95389.

waterfalls in california
Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park is a popular waterfall in California, USA.

11- Cedar Creek Falls

Widely considered San Diego’s most scenic waterfall, Cedar Creek Falls is located within the Cleveland National Forest and is a popular hiking destination year-round.

Cedar Creek Falls is beloved for the impressive swimming pool at its base, and the waterfall itself stuns at about 100 feet (30 m) tall, tumbling down over rugged rock structures.

The hike to reach the waterfall, visitors must trek downhill through a canyon, taking in panoramic hillside views of the San Diego River Gorge.

To prevent the area from getting too crowded, Cedar Creek Falls requires a permit to hike, so make sure to plan in advance and reserve your spot online before your trip.

Cedar Creek Falls is at 15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065.

12- Three Sisters Falls

Three Sisters Falls is a beloved three-tiered waterfall in the Cleveland National Forest, accessible via a 4.4 mile (7 km) dog-friendly, canyon-side hike.

The falls cascade down three granite stone levels, each tier creating its own small pool, perfect for cooling off or enjoying the view.

Three Sisters Falls also connects to the Eagle Peak hike for anyone looking to extend their journey and see more of the area’s impressive landscapes.

The hike to Three Sisters Falls can be difficult at times, with many cliffside scrambles and sun exposure during the warm months, so make sure to come prepared to see one of San Diego’s finest views.

Three Sisters Falls is at Three Sisters Falls Trail, Descanso, CA 91916.

13- Potem Falls

Tucked away in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is Potem Falls, a 70-foot (21m) waterfall with lush green scenery straight out of a fairytale.

Potem Falls is less busy than other waterfalls in the area, and visitors are often lucky to have the entire area to themselves, from the short walk through the trees to the glistening pool at the base of the falls.

The waterfall is at its strongest flow during the winter and spring, although it is still an impressive stop annually and attracts visitors looking to swim during the summer.

A rope swing is attached to a nearby tree for recreational swimming and fun, while many flat rocks are also laid out for sitting and observing this little slice of paradise.

Potem Falls is at Fenders Ferry Rd, Round Mountain, CA 96084.

14- Bonita Falls

San Bernardino National Forest is home to many natural attractions, one of which is Bonita Falls, a series of narrow falls that tumble over boulders in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The hike to Bonita Falls is about two miles (3 km), attracting visitors of varied experience levels, although the trail is unmarked and can be difficult to navigate without a map or specific directions.

The base of the falls is perfect for admiring the view, wading in the cool water, or snapping some shots of Bonita Falls’s misty spray.

Bonita Falls is at Bonita Falls Trail, Lytle Creek, CA, 92358.

15- Feather Falls

Feather Falls is a hidden gem within the Plumas National Forest, deep in the scenic Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

A 4.5-mile (7 km) hillside hike takes visitors to the Feather Falls observation deck, where they can admire its spectacular 410-foot (124m) plunge over the cliffside.

Feather Falls is a year-round fall, although its flow is most impressive during April when the surrounding snow is melting and feeding into the waterfall.

Although most recognisable for its size, Feather Falls is well-loved for its positionality, with jaw-dropping canyon views, smaller creeks and moss-traced rocks creating a picturesque scene for visitors.

Feather Falls is at Bryant Ravine Rd, Oroville, CA 95966.

16- McCloud River Falls

At the base of Mt Shasta, off California’s scenic Highway 89, are the three-tiered McCloud River Falls, famously divided into three different waterfalls fed by the same flow.

Upper McCloud Falls can be viewed from a car-accessible viewing area or along a forest trail, and is a powerful 20-foot (6 m) fall flanked by two mossy green rock faces.

Middle McCloud Falls is about a five-minute walk or a short drive away from the Upper Falls and provides a wide, tree-lined view of the falls tumbling from the McCloud River.

Most popular are the Lower McCloud Falls, taking visitors to an up-close view of the waterfalls, with picnic benches scattered in the forest and a rocky pool at the base of the falls for swimming on a hot summer day.

McCloud River Falls is a must-stop natural landmark for taking in forest views, admiring the plunging three-tiered falls, and breathing in the fresh, open air.

McCloud River Falls is at Upper Fall Rd, McCloud, CA 96057.

17- Grizzly Falls

best waterfalls in california
One of the popular waterfalls in California is Grizzly Falls, which is on the way to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon.

Grizzly Falls is a beloved picnicking and hiking destination buried in the Sequoia National Forest, which is viewable from the road but best enjoyed by stopping to get a closer look.

This 70-foot (21m) waterfall is only a short, brisk stroll from the parking area to the base of the falls, where visitors can feel the spray from Grizzly Falls on a breezy day.

The waterfall varies in size based on the season, and the road to access Grizzly Falls sometimes closes during the winter due to weather conditions, so be sure to plan your trip in advance to get the best view.

For visitors who want to stop and enjoy this natural beauty, the parking area is connected to a wide space for picnicking, so consider stopping and staying long enough to enjoy the majesty of the falls. 

Grizzly Falls is at Grizzly Falls Picnic Area, 47050 Generals Hwy, Three Rivers, CA 93271.

18- Heart Rock Falls

Nestled within the San Bernardino National Forest is the town of Crestline, home to the scenic Heart Rock Falls.

A cascading 20-foot (6m) waterfall nestled next to a picturesque heart-shaped hole in the rock makes Heart Rock Falls, also known as Seely Creek Falls, such a unique hiking destination.

The heart-shaped rock depression is a popular spot for taking photos, and the foaming falls right alongside the rock only add to this place’s appeal.

Heart Rock Falls can be reached through a short hike, approximately 2 miles (3 km) roundtrip, with creekside views either way.

Heart Rock Falls is at 250 CA-138, Crestline, CA 92325.

19- Limekiln Falls

Vibrant greens and towering redwoods greet visitors taking the hike to Limekiln Falls, an attractive split waterfall located in the little-known Limekiln Falls State Park of Central California.

The path to Limekiln Falls is only about 1 mile (1.6 km) of picture-perfect greenery, crisscrossing Limekiln Creek via small wooden bridges until you reach the base of the falls.

Limekiln Falls reaches up to 100 feet (30m), and splits into two or more streams as it tumbles down the impressive limestone.

This area is also popular for camping, so make it a weekend trip to take in all that Limekiln Falls State Park has to offer.

Limekiln Falls is at Limekiln Falls State Park, Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920.

20- Rainbow Falls

waterfalls you can swim in california
A stunning waterfall in California is Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument.

One of Eastern California’s gems, Rainbow Falls is a stunning 101-foot (30m) waterfall in the Devil’s Postpile National Monument.

Rainbow Falls is most recognizable for the colourful, reflective rainbows that appear in the mist from the falls.

This waterfall can be reached via a relaxed 2.5-mile (4 km) trail and is most popular during the sunny months of July and August.

There are two easily accessible overlooks to view Rainbow Falls, or you can trek to the base and even enjoy swimming in the basin at the bottom.

Rainbow Falls is at Rainbow Falls Trailhead, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 93546.

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Layla Hughes is a freelance writer and lover of travel, who is currently preparing to live the digital nomad lifestyle and see the US, Canada and Mexico through the windows of a converted camper van. She grew up on the Central Coast of California and attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where she worked on the study abroad committee and studied English. Her favourite travel destination is North Carolina, where she is considering settling down after her thirst for travel is satisfied.