Three waterfalls, incredible autumn colors, and hardly any people. McCloud Falls might be the best waterfall hike in Northern California. There are bigger waterfalls in the state, but it’s the whole package that makes this 4-mile (round-trip) hike truly memorable. The entire way, you’re hiking beside the McCloud River as it charges through a basalt canyon. Right off the bat you’re greeted with Lower Falls—nothing too dramatic, but a beautiful tumbler that’s popular as a summer swimming hole.
The next mile of gentle walking takes you through a forest of Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and Pacific dogwoods, currently turning on a fall foliage display. Next up is brilliant Middle Falls, an elegant 50-foot-wide stunner and the most impressive of the three falls. A little farther up the trail you get a bird’s-eye view of the falls, and then it’s just a few minutes more to the third and final waterfall: Upper Falls. All in, this oasis comprises five tiers, but you’ll only see a couple at a time as the water squeezes through basalt rock and into pools. Good things come in three!
From Redding, drive 58 miles north on I-5. Take the Hwy. 89/McCloud exit and drive 17 miles east. Turn off the highway at the sign for Fowlers and Lower Falls. Park and start at the Lower Falls Picnic Area (map). Follow the river trail upstream (not downstream) to see the three falls. It’s approximately 2 miles one-way to reach Upper Falls. McCloud Falls is part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Dog-friendly!