California's Most Spectacular Waterfalls

Burney Falls is a waterfall on Burney Creek, in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, Shasta County, California.
••• Patrick Leitz/Getty Images

Yosemite Falls may be California's most-photographed waterfall, but it's not the only spectacular place to see falling water in the state. Keep reading to find more places to see gorgeous cascades in the Golden State.

  • 01 of 07
    Yosemite Falls in the Spring
    ••• Yosemite Falls in the Spring. Ron Thomas/Getty Images

    Yosemite Falls isn't the only waterfall in the national park, but it's by far the most spectacular. Viewed from a distance, it looks like two waterfalls, but in fact, it's one continuous fall that takes a turn in the middle.

    And it's one of the tallest waterfalls in the world at more than 2,425 feet high. Yosemite Falls would be spectacular enough it that was all, but that's only the beginning.

    During the full moon, a rare "moonbow" can appear in its water spray. In the spring after a snowy winter, you'll find them flowing strongly, but they may dry up completely in the summer. In the winter, they can freeze solid. On rare occasions, the fast-flowing water freezes into a slush called frazil ice.

    Yosemite Falls is only one of the many waterfalls in the national park.

  • 02 of 07

    McWay Falls

    ••• Matthew Crowley Photography/Getty Images

    On the Big Sur coast, McWay Creek takes its final plunge over an 80-foot high cliff to land on the beach below, forming a rare "tidefall." 

    The falls and beach are off limits to foot traffic, but you can peer down onto the scene in Big Sur's Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. To get there, you park on the landward side of Highway One south of the main park entrance, then walk down a half-mile dirt path, through a short tunnel under the highway to the overlook.

    McWay Falls is a favorite stop on the coast drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

  • 03 of 07

    Burney Falls

    Burney Falls, CA
    ••• Burney Falls. David H. Collier / Getty Images

    Burney Falls may only be 129 feet tall—tiny when compared to Yosemite Falls, but it's nonetheless spectacular, with 100 million gallons of water tumbling over it every day, even in the middle of a dry summer.

    The falls are the centerpiece of McArthur-Burney Falls State Park northeast of Redding. Besides seeing the waterfall, you can camp in the park and go hiking in the surrounding forest. You'll have to plan far ahead for that, though. On holidays and summer weekends, the park fills to capacity and the entrance is closed with no place to park outside the gates.

    Here's how—and when—to make reservations at a California state park.

  • 04 of 07

    Alamere Falls

    Alamere Falls
    ••• Alamere Falls. albedo20/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It's a 13-mile round trip hike to see Alamere Falls, but a trek well worth the effort. At Wildcat Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore, Alamere Creek cascades down a 30-foot-high cliff onto the beach. 

    The waterfall flows year round but is most spectacular after winter and spring rains. 

    The hike is moderately strenuous, and it's a good idea to take plenty of water and snacks. If you can't make it in and out on the same day, you can reserve a campsite at Wildcat Camp and make a weekend of it. 

    Despite the long hike, parking at the Palomarin Trailhead gets filled up and so does the campground.

    The National Park Service cautions that social media posts and some guide books mention the Alamere Falls Trail which is about 8 miles round trip. They want visitors to know that the trail is not maintained and visitors often get hurt, lost or injured trying to use it.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Rainbow Falls, Devil's Postpile

    Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile
    ••• Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile. Frank Kovalchek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Rainbow Falls in the eastern Sierras is in the middle of the spectacular Devil's Postpile National Monument. The San Joaquin River pours over a 100-foot drop. If you, the water and the sun are aligned, you'll see rainbows in the mist.

    To get to the falls, you'll take a 6-mile round trip hike with a 548-foot elevation gain. On the way, you'll pass the Devil's Postpile, a spectacular rock formation made of columns of basalt. The trailhead is at the end of Reds Meadow Road, which is 10 miles from the Mammoth Mountain ski area. In the summer, you may have to take a shuttle bus from town to get there.

  • 06 of 07

    Darwin Falls, Death Valley

    Darwin Falls, Death Valley
    ••• Darwin Falls, Death Valley. Peter Unger / Getty Images

    A rare sight in the middle of the desert, Death Valley's Darwin Falls is a spring-fed waterfall that flows year round. To get there, take 2.5-mile-long, unpaved Old Toll Road off CA Hwy 190 just west of Panamint Springs. There's no formal trail, but the one-mile walk from the parking area is mostly level, although it involves some rock scrambling and stream crossings.

  • 07 of 07

    Fern Spring Falls

    Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park
    ••• Fern Spring, Yosemite National Park. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    We love this waterfall for its tiny size, with each cascade barely more than a foot tall. You'll find it in Yosemite National Park, just east of where Southside Drive crosses the Merced River.