South Siskiyou County, with its abundant lakes, rivers, and creeks, is home to a number of outstanding waterfalls. Many of these are easily accessible, while others require more effort. With a little planning and an early start, you can visit several of the area’s spectacular waterfalls in a one-day tour.
Mossbrae Falls and Hedge Creek Falls, in the vicinity of Dunsmuir, are two beautiful and varied examples of the south county’s many waterfalls. Mossbrae Falls percolates out of a broad expanse of verdant cliffside, before joining a shallow stretch of the Sacramento River. The setting feels almost tropical, with its rich abundance of ferns, grasses, and other water-loving flora. Unfortunately, the trail to Mossbrae Falls is closed at this time, while a new and safer access trail is being considered. Near Dunsmuir’s northern city limit, Hedge Creek Falls lies nestled in the coolness of a deeply shaded basalt gorge. The falls cascade for twenty feet through some of the area’s outstanding columnar basalt before resuming the journey to the Sacramento River. Spring is an especially good time to visit, as the creek’s flow is full and diminishes later in the season. Bring your camera and tripod.
Five miles east of the town of McCloud are the Lower, Middle, and Upper McCloud Falls. These three unique falls lie within a two-mile stretch of the beautiful and scenic McCloud River. The Lower Falls plunge ten feet through a distinct cleft in the rock before joining a large pool below. The Middle Falls is the largest and perhaps most impressive of the three falls. At 35 feet high and 70 feet wide, it provides a wonderful photo opportunity. For the more adventurous, Winter is an especially photogenic time to visit the falls. The relatively short ski or snowshoe in is well worth the effort and can yield striking results. The Upper Falls lie at the terminus of a long, beautifully sculpted basalt channel, then plunge some twenty feet to the emerald pool below.
Faery Falls, in the Castle Lake drainage, is one of the Mount Shasta area’s lesser known waterfalls. Located upstream from the once-famous Ney Springs Resort, Faery Falls rollercoasters some sixty feet over a granite cliff face, to join the Sacramento River below Box Canyon. A word of caution. While standing at the top of the falls a few years back, a friend and myself were unknowingly standing within six feet of a coiled Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. With the noise of the crashing falls, the dappled sunlight, and the animal’s excellent camouflage, we were completely oblivious to the snake’s presence until I turned and perceived a rattling tail out of the corner of my eye. Please be snake smart. Step cautiously over rocks and logs. All animals require water and tend to gather near these life-sustaining sources–including rattlesnakes.
Mount Shasta is home to Siskiyou County’s most dramatic waterfalls. Mud Creek Falls, Ash Creek Falls, and Whitney Falls comprise this area’s highest and most dramatic waterfalls. This being said, they are also the most difficult to access and require modest route-finding skills. Mud Creek Canyon, on Mount Shasta’s east side, poses the greatest obstacle in circumnavigating the mountain. A truly imposing feature, this canyon cuts a dizzying 2000 feet through the soft, easily eroding volcanic strata. The 150-foot falls are dwarfed in the immensity of this chasm and not easily approached due to the steep and unstable strata. Ash Creek Falls is accessed via the Brewer Creek Trail on the mountain’s northeast side. At 290 feet tall, Ash Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall on Mount Shasta. The two-and-a half mile round-trip hike requires some route-finding and bushwacking. Whitney Falls is another of the mountain’s spectacular features, plunging some 200 feet, before resuming its course through narrow, v-shaped Whitney Canyon. The creek’s flow is seasonal and greatest in the hot Summer months. As Whitney Creek is glacier-fed, fluctuations can vary significantly with the time of day. Depending on conditions, the creek may not flow until afternoon. The trail to Whitney Falls is more obscure and seeing less use since the Bolam Creek debris flow buried the trailhead in 1997. Since that event, the U.S. Forest Service is no longer maintaining the trail. As with all the mountain’s waterfalls, viewing is a challenge and requires off-trail experience, so please use caution and travel prepared. Approximately one mile to the southeast of Whitney Falls lies Coquette Falls. While I have never visited these falls, accessing them appears to be roughly similar to the other three–be prepared for a cross-country scramble. In the Summer months, temperatures can climb into the 90s, even at elevation, so carry plenty of drinking water and/or a filter or purifier.
Two great resources for hiking the Mount Shasta area are 75 Hikes in California’s Mount Shasta & Lassen Volcanic National Park Regions, by John R. Soares, and The Mount Shasta Book, by Andy Selters and Michael Zanger. Both offer detailed hiking information to several of the destinations mentioned above.
I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.
Until next time, happy image-making…