The Mossbrae Daylight’s special run from Dunsmuir to Black Butte on June 20th highlighted the efforts to build a new trail to Mossbrae Falls on the Sacramento River. The falls are one of the most beautiful and unique in northern California. Cascading down rocky, moss-covered cliffs into the Sacramento River, the falls is not a single stream. Instead, it is a collection springs bursting from the cliff and raining down into the river below. The combination of dense forest, rushing river and wispy waterfall is a magical scene. The only drawback is the difficulty getting to the waterfall. Until 2010, hikers could follow the railroad tracks for a little over a mile to a lovely elbow in the Sacramento where the falls were located. However, late in 2010 the Union Pacific Railroad blocked off access to the parking area. This prevented from hikers parking near the tracks which eliminated the preponderance of people making the trip to the falls. Now only those willing to hike much further or are clever or obnoxious parkers make the journey.
Ever since the trailhead closure, efforts have been underway to gain public access and construct a trail to Mossbrae Falls. A number of possible routes were investigated, routes on both sides of the Sacramento River were considered. Numerous interested parties have invested considerable time and resources to this process and it seems that a general consensus as to the ideal route has been reached. These groups include the City of Dunsmuir, the Mount Shasta Trails Association, a local landscape artist and trail engineer (this person has been involved in most of the new trail construction around Mount Shasta for several years and is an important part of many successful trail building teams) , as well as other concerned parties in the form of the Friends Of The Mossbrae Trail and private citizens.
The leading proposal for a path to Mossbrae Falls is to construct an extension of the Hedge Creek Falls Trail. The current route begins near I-5 and descends gently down into Hedge Creek’s canyon. It then passes behind Hedge Creek Falls and continues downstream on the far side of the creek. The trail ends at an overlook above the Sacramento River. Here there is a good vantage of Mount Shasta and the rushing river below. The proposed route to the waterfall would continue beyond the overlook and proceed upstream along the Sacramento for about 0.3 miles. It would then cross over the river on a newly constructed foot bridge, just downstream from Mossbrae Falls. The bridge would have an excellent view of the falls curving around a sharp bend in the river.
A number of improvements along with the trail itself have been suggested. It is important to remember that this proposal is actually an expansion of the city park at Hedge Creek Falls. Consequently, the facilities at the trailhead would be upgraded, making them appropriate for what would be no doubt be one of the most popular trails in the Mount Shasta area. The path itself would be paved and well graded to allow hikers of all abilities to make the walk. This would necessarily require the construction of a bridge across Hedge Creek just downstream from Hedge Creek Falls. A new overlook, higher up from the first and boasting a better view, would be built. Another improvement would be the addition of a picnic area tucked into the flat at the falls that lies between the river and the railroad tracks.
All of these improvements would make this trail a premier and popular pathway. Amazingly, most of the funding is in place, thanks to some private donors and the generosity of Union Pacific. It is natural to view the railroad as an antagonist since they blocked off access to the falls but, truth be told, they have actively pursued the construction of the trail and have committed substantial monetary support to the effort. They are aware how important Mossbrae Falls is to the community and want to facilitate public access to this landmark. As things stand now, the single most significant obstacle to the construction of the trail is the ownership of the land necessary for the trail to travel upstream along the east side of the Sacramento River. This property currently belongs to the Saint Germain Foundation, owners of the old Shasta Springs Resort property. The primary effort of Friends Of The Mossbrae Trail has been to convince the powers-that-be at St. Germain to sell the narrow strip of land to the City of Dunsmuir. Thus far, this single issue is the key to the logjam that prevents the trail’s completion. St. Germain is justifiably protective of their privacy and strongly discourage trespassers. Part of the proposal for the trail is the construction of a fence that would block access to both the railroad track and the St. Germain property.
There are obviously other issues that must be overcome in order for the trail to be completed. One of the most significant is the construction of the footbridge across the river. There is no road access along the river, which means the only avenue of getting construction equipment to the site would be via the tracks. This would likely include a rail crane. This is another way the Union Pacific will play a role in providing access to Mossbrae Falls, since any time a crane is on the tracks is time freight or passengers are not being pulled up the Sacramento’s canyon. As far as what kind of construction would be employed for the bridge, that is too early to tell. However, given the similar engineering challenges (lack of access for construction equipment, comparable river sizes), it is possible that the bridge would looks something akin to the PCT bridge as it crosses the McCould river just below the McCloud Dam.
So what do I think of the proposal? Obviously it would make a fantastic, world-class waterfall trail. A hike on this proposed trail would include Hedge Creek Falls (and a chance to go behind the waterfall), a unique view of Mount Shasta and the Sacramento River, an excellent, riverside section of trail capped by a view-endowed span across the water and the beautiful area around Mossbrae Falls. All these components would be packed into a fairly short trail. It would probably be only about 1.5 miles or so, round trip. Indeed, this would rank alongside the McCloud River Falls Trail and the Burney Falls Trail (and the Trinity Alps’ Canyon Creek, though that is another story) as one of Northern California’s premier waterfall trails. I do have some reservations about rerouting the trail across a bridge over Hedge Creek Falls rather than behind the waterfall (a truly unique aspect for a California trail) and the proposal to pave the entire route. Obviously, both of these additions would make the trail more accessible and that is a good thing. However, if the pavement and Hedge Creek Bridge detracted from the natural experience, then that would be a loss. If that is the price of being able to build a trail to Mossbrae Falls, then it would be a price worth the cost.
It seems that the decision now lies with the leaders of the St. Germain Foundation. It is up to them whether they sell a narrow strip of land along the river or not. I hope, for the sake of the community, that they are willing to do so. If they are, then the Mount Shasta area will be blessed with a tremendous hiking trail. In an area as spectacular as Mount Shasta, it takes a lot to elevate a trail beyond the ordinary and into the hiking firmament. A trail that combined Hedge Creek Falls, Mossbrae Falls, The Sacramento River and Mount Shasta would do just that.
Sights on a Mossbrae Trail (click to enlarge):