Hike Bay Area Waterfalls - Berry Creek - Carson Falls - Mt. Diablo Waterfalls

02.28.08


Go with the Flow

The rain last weekend may have dampened moods, but here's the upside: it's also boosted the flow of local falls. Grab your hiking shoes and some pals—the waterfall season is open.  


Big Basin Waterfalls - Golden Cascade Falls

Hat Trick

Deep in beautiful Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a series of waterfalls that even Indiana Jones would be keen to find. Discover them by taking the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, a solid 11-mile loop (round-trip) that leads through towering redwoods, across multiple wooden bridges, and past fern canyons to the marquee highlight: three raging waterfalls, all within a mile of each other. First up is the photogenic park favorite, Berry Creek Falls; its 70-foot drop is spectacular after the recent rains. Take a breather on a wooden platform bench, then continue along the creek-side trail to Silver Falls. You can get up close to this one, feeling the mist while climbing the wet and muddy rock stairs that hug its slope. Last up is Golden Cascade Falls (pictured), a multi-tiered rushing watercourse that gets its deep orange hue from the rock minerals. Grab a seat on the trunk of a giant fallen tree and savor your waterfall hat trick.

To complete the 11-mile loop: From the Visitors Center, start on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. After about 4 miles, turn right on Berry Creek Falls Trail. Follow this past all three waterfalls, then turn right on Sunset Trail, which takes you back to the Visitors Center. Allow at least six hours to complete this loop. For more information, visit the California State Park website or this unofficial Website.


Carson Falls Fairfax Marin

Sleeping Beauty

Maybe it's because there aren't any signs, but a first trip to Carson Falls feels like traveling to a storybook oasis. Find this 100-foot series of cascading waterfalls just outside Fairfax in Marin County. But get there soon, because this beauty only awakes during the rainy season. Start the 1.5-mile jaunt (one-way) by climbing wide, rocky Pine Mountain Fire Road. While ascending, be sure to stop and turn around: the gently sloping spine of Mt. Tam comes into view, as do panoramas of San Pablo Bay and the Richardson Bridge. Leave the fire road and follow an unmarked trail into the forest, down a series of switchbacks until the falls come into sight. On a clear day, even in the winter, people will be relaxing on large rocks among the waterfall's multiple drops and pools. Look closely and you might even catch a glimpse of the fall's special residents: yellow-legged frogs. Pucker up!

From Highway 101 in Marin, exit Sir Francis Drake Blvd. toward San Rafael. Go about 6 miles to the town of Fairfax. Turn left on Pastori, immediately right on Broadway, then left on Bolinas Rd. Follow this 3.8 miles (go past the turn-off for Bon Tempe Lake and past the golf course). Park in the large pullout on the left (it fits about 20 cars). Cross the road, go through the rusty gate and up the fire road; this is Pine Mountain Fire Road. After 1 mile the road levels, turn left onto Oat Hill Fire Road. Hike .25 mile to an offshoot trail on the right. Follow this down .25 mile to the falls. Dog-friendly!

Topic 2 photo courtesy of Amy Peterson

Waterfall Mt. Diablo Donner Creek Canyon

Diablo Diamonds

With its looming peak and devilish name, it's hard to imagine Mt. Diablo having a softer side. But winter's rains bring an unexpected boon: four watery cascades spill off the mountain's northern flank. And getting to them is half the fun. Start the 5-mile hike (round-trip) with a gentle climb up Donner Canyon Road, passing an old cabin site and large oak trees. Follow the rushing creek before ascending an open slope that offers uninterrupted views of the Irish green canyons and hills leading to Mt. Diablo's summit. Then take Middle Trail, a narrow path that ducks through manzanitas, until it links up with the Falls Trail, which skirts the side of the mountain. Parts of this path seem better suited to goats, so take your time and watch your step. The upward climb rewards with increasingly better perspectives on the falls. Take a break on a grassy knoll and enjoy huge views of the northern valley. Don't wait to make this visit—these falls usually dry up by late spring and are best after a steady rainfall.

TIP: Quench your thirst afterwards at the Clayton Club Saloon. With cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling, the scene is Old West at its best.

To reach the waterfalls loop trail: From Walnut Creek, take Ygnacio Valley Rd. 8 miles east to Clayton Rd. Stay on Clayton Rd., which turns into Marsh Creek Rd. (don't turn right at the first sign for Marsh Creek Rd.), until it intersects Regency Dr. Turn right onto Regency Dr. The trailhead is at the end of the road. Hike the Donner Canyon Fire Road south. After about 1 mile, you'll come to the Meridian Ridge and Cardinet Oaks Fire Road junction; turn right onto Meridian Ridge. After a few hundred feet, turn left onto the Middle Trail, which climbs up and connects to the Falls Trail. Continue on the Falls Trail, which ends at Cardinet Oaks. Turn left and take this back to the Donner Canyon Fire Road. For a map of Mt. Diablo and more info, click here. Donner Canyon Road can be muddy after rains; wear appropriate shoes.

Topic 3 photo courtesy of Todd Anderson

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