A Highway 299 Waterfall Tour
By Kayla Anderson
By Kayla Anderson
Photos by Ryan Thompson
Stretching the width of California from the coast of Arcata to the desert of Nevada, Highway 299 winds through national forests, lakes and rivers. Since many travelers just try to get from one place to the other, many don’t realize that incredible waterfalls off the beaten path match some of the best waterfalls in the world. So the next time you’re traveling along Highway 299 in the dead of summer, consider pulling off and taking a dip at one of these Northern California wonders (from west to east):
Blue Lake/Mad River: There are plenty of swimming holes in these sleepy Humboldt County towns and some fun rapids for whitewater rafters. Campgrounds line the freshwater tributaries with fishing opportunities and the Pacific Ocean is a short drive away.
The Waterfalls of Whiskeytown: Whiskeytown Lake is a popular summertime retreat for activities from sailing to wakeboarding to fishing. But the many hiking trails around it also lead to gorgeous flowing cascades.
• Whiskeytown Falls: This 220-foot waterfall was a secret for decades. You can now reach it on a 3.4-mile moderate to difficult round-trip trail.
• Brandy Creek: This 3-mile round trip trail loop takes hikers to one of Whiskeytown’s wider waterfalls, featuring five 20-foot torrents gliding over granite rocks and pooling into a sapphire blue pond.
• Boulder Creek: Standing at about 138 feet, this 5.5- mile hiking loop leads to one of Whiskeytown’s taller waterfalls. Although getting there is more for advanced hikers, once you arrive at the cascading waters embedded in moss and ferns, you may feel like you are in another world.
• Crystal Creek: As the only man-made cascade in Whiskeytown built to divert water from Trinity River to the lake (and eventually end up in the Sacramento River), water enthusiasts can take a leisurely 1-mile roundtrip trail to get there and play in the natural water rock slides.
Hatchet Creek: Located just east of Redding heading toward Burney, a couple of waterfall gems can be found in the Montgomery Creek area, including the 46-foot-high, two-tiered cascade off Cove Road called Hatchet Creek Falls. Also referred to as Lion Slide Falls, a giant felled tree propped up against the side acts like a ladder for people to jump into the forest green pool below.
Potem Falls: Also part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and within the Montgomery Creek area, Potem Falls is a hidden jewel accessing the Shasta Lake’s Pit 7 reservoir. After winding down Fenders Ferry Road (after Round Mountain and before Montgomery Creek), pavement turns to dirt before you come across a pullout and the entrance to a quarter-mile-long trail. Walking along the switchbacks, dense trees and pretty ferns, you soon end up at the base of a 70-foot waterfall. Since the falls are mostly shaded, the swimming waters are a bit chilly but perfect on a 100-degree day. A rope swing sits to the left of the waterfall for those brave enough to try it out.
Burney Falls: A few more miles east on 299 and you reach the famous Burney Falls. Located within the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and nestled in the appropriately named Cascade mountain range, this 129-foot waterfall pours down into a misty basin. Regarded as one of Northern California’s most beautiful sights, Burney is a must-see on your Highway 299 waterfall tour.
Fall River: Pit River is the longest tributary of the Sacramento River and feeds most of its water into Lake Shasta. Fall River Mills is also where the Pit and the Fall rivers join and where hydroelectricity is produced. Tucked deep into the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, the waterfalls along the Fall River are easily viewable from vista points along the highway. It’s best to stop, stretch, admire the view and continue on to your next watering hole.
After you pass Fall River traveling toward Nevada, you’ll cross plenty of small streams on Highway 299 but few accessible waterfalls. However, if you’re traveling across the state in the middle of summer and have some time to kill, there are some cool spots in which to stop and splash around. Just remember that cell phone service can be scarce (so always take a buddy), you may want a 4WD vehicle to get to some locations, and hiking/jumping/diving/climbing on rocks/swimming is at your own risk.