Faery Falls, in lush Ney Springs Canyon.
We find ourselves in a strange limbo, quarantined and socially distant, for the sake of the community keeping our distance from our families, friends and neighbors. These certainly are strange days. However, in a stroke of good fortune, we are still able to spend some time outdoors and on the trail, so long as we maintain the necessary separation from others. It may be that time outside and on the trail may be more essential to our well being than ever, given how much time we are forced to spend at home. This being the case, the foot of Mount Shasta is a good place to be stuck, with great beauty and a plethora of trails. Yet even in that, we are in a state of limbo. The winter is passed, warmer days draw nigh but the mountain trails remain buried in snow. For the time being, the lower elevation trails will have to do.
Typically, at this point I do a spring hiking round up, collecting all the trails into one post and highlighting what is open at the time. Given the unusual circumstances we are currently in, it seems more appropriate (and interesting) to divide things up and devote a little more attention to opportunities to get out. With the wetter we have had recently, waterfall hikes seem to be a good place to start. It is interesting to note that most of the lower-elevation waterfalls, which are the most readily accessible this time of year, are generally located to the south of Mount Shasta.
Click to enlarge map. Waterfalls accessible by trail marked with red stars.
McCloud River Falls
Any discussion of Mount Shasta area waterfalls naturally begins with the trio on the McCloud River. This is the premier waterfall destination for the region. The proximity of the three falls, the volume of water going over the precipice and the distinctive appearance of each of the cataracts makes the entire experience difficult to beat. Add to the natural beauty the ease of accessing them, whether by car or along the McCloud River Trail and this is an unbeatable waterfall hike. If there is a drawback, it is the falls’ popularity. Fortunately for hikers, most people visit these waterfalls by car, leaving the trails relatively uncrowded.
Squaw Valley Creek Falls
The hike along Squaw Valley Creek is not one that is known for waterfalls. Rather it is the wild creek itself, beautiful, remote forest and the rocky gorges along the first 0.3 miles of the trail that attract hikers. However, hidden along the trail, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the creek takes a 10 foot plunge of a bedrock escarpment. It isn’t a huge waterfall but coupled with the lovely hike through the canyon, it makes a great destination. For hikers who are interested in longer hikes, the falls make a good highlight near the end of an 8 mile loop that includes a section of the Pacific Crest Trail and a two mile decent down Bear Trap Creek on a dirt road. The road is gated and sees little travel and passes through one of the densest forest canopies I have seen in the Mount Shasta area.
Hedge Creek Falls
Perhaps the easiest Mount Shasta area waterfall to reach, Hedge Creek Falls is nonetheless an area classic. Unfortunately, ease of access means it is not the greatest destination for an isolated hike. Nonetheless, morning and evening see few people at the falls and it is well worth visiting. In some ways it reminds me of waterfalls in the Ozarks and other limestone-based destinations, where the water has worn away some of the cliff to produce a cave behind the falls. This is certainly one of the highlights of Hedge Creek Falls, since the trial passes behind the cataract and continues on to an overlook above the Sacramento River. After a rain, when the falls are really going is a great time to experience its power potential. This will soon be the most popular trail in the region, once the trail from the lookout to nearby Mossbrae Falls is completed!
In many ways, Faery Falls is part of a greater whole. The entire area seems to exude a magic that the waterfall’s name implies. Near the falls are the ruins of the old Ney Springs resort. Not much is left standing but a well, some walls and a fountain but the site oozes mystery. Running past it is the highlight, which is Ney Springs Creek. Choked with house-sized boulders and numerous smaller cataracts, this one of the prettier creeks in the Mount Shasta area. The centerpiece is, of course, the falls. They are tucked back into a mossy grotto and thunder 40 feet down the cliff. The narrow space means you are likely to get heavily misted when there is a fair amount of water flowing in the creek. During the wet season Faery Falls splits into two wide drops that fan out over the rocks. It’s an awesome sight.
More than any other water waterfall besides the McCloud Falls, Burstarse Creek offers more falling water for the effort. Not only is Burstarse Falls an excellent waterfall on its own, but Lower Burstarse Falls is a worthy destination on its on. Indeed, many hikers get to the lower falls and believe they have made it to the main attraction and then leave satisfied with what they have seen. In addition to the two main falls, there are numerous cascades and smaller waterfalls along the creek. Burstarse Falls itself is an 80 foot giant, surging off of a large granite cliff in the Castle Crags. Accessing the main falls is a little challenging since there is only a faint trail leading through a narrow slot canyon but with a little care it is easy enough even for children. It is most definitely worth the effort.
Root Creek Falls
While Burstarse Falls might offer a number of cataracts for the effort, Root Creek Falls represents the opposite. There is almost no running water at all along the hike until the last 0.2 mile but the spectacle at the end is unsurpassed by any other in the Mount Shasta area this time of year. Root Creek Falls is like a slice of Yosemite splendor deposited here at the foot of Mount Shasta. The falls are a series of plunges over granite cliffs, totaling over 100 feet in height. The creek thunders from cascade to cascade through an increasingly narrow granite gorge. The falls alone are a grand sight but the scene is crowned by the mighty fang of Castle Dome jutting up into the sky directly above the falls. It really does seem like a vision from the renowned halls of Yosemite. The hike to Root Creek varies in length depending on trailhead but neither option is difficult and the reward at the end is magnificent.
It almost seems inappropriate to include Whitney Falls in this list of springtime waterfalls. It is more than likely that the falls will not be flowing during the spring. Despite the melting snow on the north side of Mount Shasta, most of the thaw runoff soaks into the porous volcanic terrain. Instead, this waterfall is fed in the summer by the melting of the massive Whitney Glacier. However, of all the main trails through the Mount Shasta Wilderness, the hike to Whitney Falls is the lowest and most readily accessible in the spring. A light winter means the trail could easily be open sometime in April. While the falls may be dry at that time, the hike itself remains a worthy one, with views of Mount Shasta, lava flows, deep canyons and far to the north across Shasta Valley and into Oregon. It is definitely a worthy hike, whether the falls are running now or not.