One of the most spectacular waterfalls in California—if not the continent—this 129-foot-tall, fern-draped cascade seems to come out of nowhere. Located 60 miles northeast of Redding—in an area of the Shasta Cascade region that from a distance looks like a rumpled collection of weathered cinder cones and broad plains under a cloud-free sky—Burney Falls is one of California’s biggest surprises. It’s no wonder 26th President Teddy Roosevelt dubbed it “the eighth wonder of the world.”
Follow a short path to the main overlook in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. You’ll have to raise your voices to talk (or be happy in silence)—the broad wall of water faces you head on—booming over a mossy ledge, splashing down the fern-covered face, tossing gushers and shards of rainbows left and right—finally plunging so hard and fast into a clear pool that you can see flumes of air bubbles reaching deep below the surface. The main falls originate at the top of the cliff, but icy gallons of snowmelt also gush from the sieve-like volcanic rock face. Continue down the path to the pool—where you are likely to look but only briefly touch: the water never goes much above 42 degrees. Fishermen don’t seem to mind the chill; the big pool at the base, and Burney Creek above and below the cascade, are popular for catch-and-release fly-fishing.
To witness the falls at their most intense, visit during the spring, from early April through October, when snowmelt is at its peak. When you’re done oohing and ahhing at the foot of the cascade, there are five miles of hiking trails to explore within the park, and the Pacific Crest Trail passes though. For those who want to stay the night, there is a campground with 121 sites and 24 cabins.