For our sixth, and last, hike during our week wandering the Golden State, we decided it would be interesting to visit a waterfall. After consulting Soares’ 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California (2014 edition), we picked Feather Falls as our goal. It was low altitude (so no snow issues), had paved access, and was described (at 410 feet) as the sixth highest waterfall in the United States. In this wet year, we also figured it might be a more spectacular water feature than usual (and we were right). So, bidding a fond farewell to the Garlic Capital of the World, to drove to much less fragrant Yuba City, California, and, after a night there, on to Feather Falls. We arrived to find one of the largest paved parking lots we’ve ever seen at a trailhead (it would be overflowing when we got back). What the guidebook failed to mention is that this is likely one of the most popular dayhikes in the Plumas National Forest. Fortunately, our habit of arriving early and hiking steadily kept us ahead of the crowds for the whole day.
The trail (particularly the upper one) is extremely well defined and very easy to follow. There are few signs, but your options are too limited to allow you to go wrong.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead, we came to a fork and went left. This is the lower route, which descends (you lose around 900 feet) in long switchbacks to a crossing of Frey Creek,
and then climbs gradually up through Wagners Valleys to connect with the upper trail shortly before the overlook for the Falls. It’s a little more water-worn and rugged than the upper trail but still pretty easy going. Along the way, there were a few places where we could see Bald Rock Dome off to the northwest.
There were a number of species of wildflower out along the trail but one of the more unusual ones was the Yellow Star-Tulip, which is endemic to California and found in the foothill oak woodland and yellow pine forest habitats of the Sierra Nevada and southernmost Cascades, from Shasta County to Tulare County.
After about three miles, we reconnected with the upper trail and followed the now single trail to an overlook of the Middle Fork of the Feather River. The river was raging rapids now, but when Oroville Reservoir is full (which hopefully won’t happen until they fix it’s spillway), the water backs up enough to allow boats to come upriver to see Feather Falls from water level.
Immediately past the river overlook, guard rails appear,
and these take you down to the airy overlook directly facing the Falls.
We could hear the roar of the Falls well before we could see them and when we finally got to the overlook, they were as big and powerful as promised – thank you wet winter!
By now, other hikers were starting to reach the overlook and it was time us to head back. We went back on the upper trail, which is longer but smoother than the lower trail, but does manage to gain back those 900 feet over 4.5 miles. Along the way we had another brief view of Bald Rock Dome,
but spent most of our time in the forest.
After a crossing of upper Frey Creek,
there was more forest,
and then we were back at the now overflowing parking lot.
There was just one couple ahead of us on the upper trail, but we must have passed 50 people going the other way toward the Falls – many with no obvious supplies of water, food, or hiking gear. Some were carrying their kids in their arms, which seems like something which would lose its luster over 9 miles, even on an easy trail. But the hike itself (8.8 miles round-trip; 1,100 feet of elevation gain) was well worth it to see a truly spectacular – thanks in large part to our unusually wet winter – waterfall. But the size of parking lot suggests crowds, so an early start on a weekend day or, better yet, a visit on a weekday (if possible) is suggested.