Siskiyou Lake—McCloud Falls—MacArthur-Burney Falls Loop

MacArthur-Burney Falls AU11-70

The Cascade Mountain Range, which stretches from Northern California into British Columbia, Canada, is known for its massive volcanic mountains, such as Mount Rainier and Mount Shasta, and also known for devastating volcanic eruptions (as in Mount Mazama, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Lassen). Perhaps less appreciated is the countless waterfalls that exist throughout the range, most notably in the Cascade Gorge area along the Columbia River. Less well known are some of the waterfalls in the extreme southern section of the Cascades, the part that spreads volcanic mayhem well into California. To be sure, there are not very many of waterfalls of much significant. But two in particular are important and special: Middle McCloud Falls and, best of all, MacArthur-Burney Falls.

In optimal weather conditions for photographing waterfalls (i.e., overcast or mostly cloudy), an 180 mile loop presents itself, which can be circumnavigated in one day, as follows:

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The loop first heads up Interstate 5 from Redding past Lake Shasta and Castle Crags to Lake Siskiyou, right under massive Mount Shasta:

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This lake, and Mount Shasta along with it, are probably best photographed in the evening with a bit of sun to warm them up. But still, even if you’re not there at the right time of day in optimal weather, it’s always worth a short sniff. Another great location nearby is Castle Lake. Take the first left after driving across the dam. It’s seven miles to one of the few glacial cirque lakes that you can drive to in the Klamath Mountains (Kangaroo Lake is the other one).

From Siskiyou Lake, we head back to Interstate 5 and head south to Highway 89, which will take us east towards McCloud. A few miles past McCloud we come the McCloud River loop, a road which passes right above Middle McCloud Falls. A small parking lot and an even smaller restroom greet us at the McCloud Falls overlook. There are trails down to the falls on the right and to Upper McCloud Falls on the left. McCloud Falls is quite impressive, even in autumn, when not as much water gushes over it:

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In the spring and early summer, there can be too much water flowing over this falls, leading to thick mists that muddies resolution and spreads droplets all over one’s lens and camera. In autumn we get splashes of fall color around the falls and the river and not all the annoying mists and droplets. If you’re late enough in the season, you might even get a bit of snow:

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What is not desirable is too much snow: for then the road to the falls will be closed, or at least inaccessible to all but the clinically insane.

From McCloud Falls we venture 40 miles to jewel in the crown of our loop, MacArthur-Burney Falls State Park, home to one of the most spectacular but least well known waterfalls in California:

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One of the nice features of MacArthur-Burney Falls is that, since it is fed by underground springs, it flows at full level all year round. Indeed, because of the underground source of the falls, the water is 40º and chills the air all year round, even in the blistering heat of summer. A fine cold mist spreads up from the falls and can cause problems to photographers if they are not careful.

The last stop of the trip is a brief sojourn to Lake Bretton, a lake on the north end of MacArthur-Burney Falls State Park. If you’ve paid eight bucks to get in to see the falls, no reason not to see the lake as well. In autumn, there are bits of color scattered around the lake:

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From Lake Breton, we head back to Highway 89, taking that road south to Highway 299, which will take us back to Redding.

There is nothing of any photographic significance in Redding. The first thing you do when entering Redding is to figure out how to get out of Redding.