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Woman at Castle Crags State Park
Bikers on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California
Woman at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Park Food Truck Hub in Redding, California
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Best Waterfall Hikes in Redding, CA During the Shoulder Season

By Choose Redding | 10/22/2020

Every spring, snowmelt trickles off the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, flows through gorges and canyons formed by volcanic rock, and powers its way through towering forests. Where does it end up? In part, it makes up the nearly three dozen waterfalls in Northern California, all within an easy, 90-minute drive of Redding.

Most of these waterfalls can be accessed along a regional waterfall loop that comprises Redding, Burney, and Mount Shasta—but other falls can be seen in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and elsewhere around the region. While spring and summertime is naturally the busiest time of year at these powerful natural attractions, the off-season might actually be the best time to visit.

Sure, you won’t want to swim in the chilly pools at the base of these falls in May or October—but you’ll be treated to a whole new experience away from the summertime crowds. Between April and June, for instance, most of the waterfalls are at their thunderous peak, buoyed by all that snowmelt. And in September and October, the forests surrounding these falls turn vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow.

So as you look to explore the waterfalls around Redding, here’s why you should make them an off-season priority—along with where to go and what you’ll see at each.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is home to numerous waterfalls—but few are quite as dramatic as the 220-foot Whiskeytown Falls. Whiskeytown Falls has been a local secret for decades—but it was officially outed in 2004, and has since become one of the area's marquee attractions. A 3.4-mile, round-trip hike demands more than 600 feet of elevation gain before arriving at the remarkable waterfall. When you arrive at the base of Whiskeytown Falls, a set of cement stairs lead to a viewpoint that showcases the upper viewing platform.

In a sense, Crystal Creek Falls is a “man-made” waterfall in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, thanks to the Central Valley Project's Trinity River Division plan in the 1950s and 1960s. Crystal Creek was rerouted as part of the venture, creating the scenic waterfall that can be reached via a 0.3-mile paved, flat, and ADA-accessible trail today. The ease of that trail also means you won’t deal with muddy trails in winter.

This is a quick and easy hike with a chance to take a quick dip in the cool waters at the base of the falls on a hot day. So while you’ll likely jockey for room in the middle of summer, chances are good you’ll have the falls to yourself on a crisp, off-season afternoon.

Even if Faery Falls was the only attraction along this 1.5-mile, round-trip hike, it would warrant inclusion on the list: The 50-foot waterfall fans out as it tumbles down a canyon wall, surrounded on both sides by a towering forest.

But there's more to the hike than one might expect. Along the way to Faery Falls, hikers pass the remnants of Ney Springs Resort, a long-forgotten getaway once prized for its mineral rich waters. Today, a few stone ruins, discarded machinery, a moss-covered rock wall, and a trickling spigot are all that remains of the former resort.

The pair of powerful attractions make Faery Falls a popular summertime destination—but the hike's year-round accessibility, the waterfall's high volume in winter and spring, and the lack of shoulder-season crowds make it a winner during the chillier months, too.

As the name implies, Middle McCloud Falls is the middle of three waterfalls flowing through a basalt-lined canyon. All three can be accessed from nearby parking lots, or done as part of a longer, four-mile hike, but it’s Middle McCloud Falls that you don’t want to miss.

Oddly enough, the waterfall is wider than it is tall—spanning 120 feet across and hosting just a 44-foot plume—making it one of the most beautiful falls not just on the trail but in all of California.

Its view is especially vivid in spring when winter runoff creates a kind of curtain that spans that entire 120 feet. By mid-summer and early fall, reduced water flow leads to a split in that curtain, forming a pair of distinct cascades. Early-season snowmelt makes the waterfall accessible in March and April, and colorful vine maple blankets the forest every autumn. If you're up for more waterfalls, the trail connects Lower, Middle and Upper McCloud River Falls.

Potem Falls lies in a deep canyon and falls 45 feet into a pool at the base below. The pool at the fall's base is popular with swimmers in the summer months, but during off season there's a good chance that you will get the waterfall all to yourself. In the fall you'll see the color of the autumn leaves, and spring is a fantastic time to visit to see the waterfall at full flow.

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