While California is mostly known for its beaches, it is also home to over 1600 waterfalls. If you’re looking for waterfalls to see in California, don’t worry – we won’t tackle the entire list. Instead, we’ll focus on the region from Malibut to San Francisco and list out 20 of the best waterfalls in Central California.
As California locals, we have personally visited these waterfalls so you’ll be getting first-hand knowledge and lots of insider tips. Each of these Central California waterfalls is unique making them worthwhile day hikes and stops on road trips.
Keep on reading to discover 20 of the best waterfalls to visit in Central California!
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20 Best Waterfalls In Central California:
1. Yosemite Falls
Sitting at 2425 feet in height, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California and a must-see at least once in a lifetime!
The best time to visit Yosemite Falls is in the spring when the waterfall is flowing full of water from fresh snow melt. I’ve been to Yosemite National Park in the fall and winter seasons and often Yosemite Falls is completely dry (unless there has been recent rainfall).
Yosemite Falls is very easy to visit and requires only a 10-minute walk from Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead before you will be greeted by this natural beauty. For the best views walk over to the Lower Yosemite Fall Vista Point to see the waterfall from its base.
If you’re looking for a challenge, you can also hike a 6.6-mile-long trail to the top of Yosemite Falls. Keep in mind that Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is a challenging all-day-long hike with over 3200 feet of elevation gain.
Photography Tip: Come early in the morning around sunrise if you want to avoid the crowds. I recommend using a wide lens like this one to capture the entire waterfall in one frame.
2. Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls is another popular waterfall in Yosemite National Park. Vernal Falls is located in the east part of Yosemite Valley and can be reached by hiking the John Muir Trail to the Mist Trail.
The easiest way to see Vernal Falls is from the Vernal Fall Footbridge. This route is 1.6 miles long round trip and gains around 400 feet in elevation. I’ve done this trail several times with my mom since it’s very short and the scenery along the way is just stunning!
For a better view of Vernal Falls, I recommend hiking to the top of the falls. This option is much longer and gains 1000 feet of elevation so it’s more strenuous.
Vernal Falls is another waterfall that is best visited in the spring and summer months. In the fall and winter, portions of the trail often close due to slippery, dangerous conditions and trail repairs.
3. McWay Falls
McWay Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California and a must-see for those on a Big Sur road trip. McWay Falls is a unique beachfront waterfall located in a gorgeous setting surrounded by ragged ocean cliffs and turquoise water.
McWay Falls is located off Highway 1 and can be reached within an easy 5-minute walk from the visitor parking lot. You can enjoy breathtaking views and take a few photos of this waterfall from a designated viewing platform. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to go down to the beach itself.
Visitor Tip: It’s best to visit McWay Falls on a sunny day. I’ve come here on a foggy day and the entire waterfall was covered in a thick layer of coastal fog.
4. Tokopah Falls
When you think of Sequoia National Park, the first things that usually come to mind are giant, ancient sequoia trees. But did you know that this California National Park is also home to a cascading 1200-foot waterfall?
Many people who visit Sequoia National Park miss Tokopah Falls entirely. It took us a few trips to Sequoia National Park before we did this hike ourselves and were blown away by the beautiful scenery!
The hike for this waterfall starts at the Tokopah Falls Trailhead near Lodgepole Market & Grill. The Tokopah Falls trail is 3.8-miles-long round trip with a moderate elevation gain of 600 feet. This is a great location to go for a day hike, have a picnic by the waterfall, and enjoy the beautiful mountain views.
5. Eagle Falls
Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail is one of the best waterfall hikes in California. This short and easy Lake Tahoe trail has it all! During the hike, you can enjoy views of Emerald Bay, beautiful wilderness, a waterfall, and an alpine lake.
The entire Eagle Lake Trail is 2 miles long round trip. If you just want to see Eagle Falls, it’s only 0.2 miles from the trailhead to the Eagle Falls Bridge that overlooks the cascading waterfall. Along the way, be sure to stop by Eagle Falls Vista Point for panoramic views of Emerald Bay.
If you can designate extra time, I highly recommend hiking the full distance to Eagle Lake. This is a gorgeous alpine lake set in a pristine wilderness with spectacular views all around!
6. Escondido Falls
Escondido Falls Trail is a short hike in Malibu that leads to one of the busiest waterfalls in California. Located just an hour’s drive west of Los Angeles, Escondido Falls is a popular place to visit for LA County locals.
Because of its popularity, Escondido Falls can get very crowded, especially on the weekends. The best time to visit this waterfall is during the week, or plan to have an early head start to beat the masses on the weekends.
To reach this waterfall, you will need to walk through multiple creek crossings. I recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots to cross the creeks safely without slipping and falling.
Once you reach the end of the trail, there is a small area where you can rest and take a few photos of the 150-foot-tall waterfall before heading back.
Visitor Tip: Parking for Escondido Falls is very limited. If the designated visitor lot is full, you can try to find a spot along Highway 1. Keep an eye out for ‘No Parking’ signs to avoid getting a parking ticket.
7. Mist Falls
Mist Falls is one of the best hiking trails with waterfalls in California. This is a longer day hike within Kings Canyon National Park that is 8 miles round trip with around 850 feet of elevation gain. Mist Falls is located at the far east part of Kings Canyon National Park where Highway 180 ends so be sure to account for extra driving time on your visit.
The Mist Falls Trail starts at the Bubbs Creek and Rae Lakes Loop Trailhead. It follows next to the river the entire time and ends at the Mist Falls where you can enjoy epic views of the waterfall. There is also tons of wildlife in the area and you have a good chance of spotting a black bear on your hike (we sure did!).
This waterfall earns its name from the misty cloud that surrounds it as it crashes down the cliff. Unfortunately, the mist makes it very hard to get up close and take photos without getting your phone or camera (and yourself) completely soaked.
After Mist Falls, we recommend continuing along the trail to Paradise Valley for beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding granite mountains.
8. Bridalveil Falls
Bridalveil Falls is another gorgeous waterfall in Yosemite (there are so many!). This beautiful California waterfall is around 620 feet tall and flows down a steep granite cliff.
Bridalveil Falls is one of the first attractions as you enter Yosemite National Park so be sure to make a stop here. You can also see it in the distance from Tunnel View overlook.
This is a seasonal waterfall so by the end of the summer, it’s often down to a small trickle. When Bridalveil Falls flows full of water in the spring and early summer months, you can easily get soaked from the powerful waterfall mist!
9. Alamere Falls
Along with McWay Falls, Alamere Falls is another beachfront waterfall in California. This unique waterfall tumbles over a 40-foot-tall cliff and flows into the Pacific Ocean.
To reach Alamere Falls you will need to head on a challenging 13-mile-long day hike within Point Reyes National Seashore. Because of its remote setting, this coastal gem is one of the best waterfalls in California for outdoor enthusiasts who don’t mind ‘working’ for the views.
The trail follows through a forest, meadows, and next to rugged cliffs offering breathtaking views along the way. It is truly an unforgettable California bucket list experience!
Visitor Tip: Be sure to check the tide chart before heading out to Alamere Falls. High tide can make it difficult to access the waterfall on the beach.
10. Rainbow Falls
The breathtaking views of Rainbow Falls make this one of the most popular day hikes in Mammoth Lakes. This waterfall formed thousands of years ago and requires a moderate trek to reach it.
After backpacking the strenuous 13-mile-long Minaret Trail, we decided to add the extra 2.5 miles each way and stop by Rainbow Falls as well. Rainbow Falls trail starts at the Devil’s Postpile Ranger Station and follows along the San Joaquin River.
Once you reach the waterfall, there are several viewpoints where you can see the river rushing down the 100-foot-tall volcanic cliff. For better views, climb down the stairs to the base of the falls to see it up close.
11. Cascade Falls
This 1.3-mile-long trail is mostly easy but does have a moderately challenging section at the end that requires a bit of scrambling. I highly recommend wearing good hiking boots and bringing trekking poles to avoid falling and twisting your ankle on the rocks.
The best part about this hike is the gorgeous views of Cascade Lake along the way! The trail ends where the Cascade Falls plunges down a cliff into the Cascade Creek below it. At the summit, you will also be rewarded with great panoramic views of South Lake Tahoe all around.
12. Paradise Falls
Paradise Falls is one of the best California waterfalls to visit near Thousand Oaks. We have been living in Ventura County for a couple of years now and were pleasantly surprised when we found Paradise Falls on the AllTrails hiking app.
Paradise Falls is located within Wildwood Regional Park. There are several hiking routes within this park that you can take. For first-time visitors, we recommend following Paradise Falls via Mesa, Teepee, and Moonridge Trail on the AllTrails hiking app to stay on the right track.
This route will lead you to several interesting attractions including a Teepee with benches for resting, a cave, and the Paradise Falls that flows down a cliff into a pool below it. During the hike, be sure to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes can be often spotted along this trail.
13. Grizzly Falls
If you’re looking for waterfalls that are easy to access in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, check out Grizzly Falls!
Grizzly Falls Picnic Area is a great stop for those traveling through Kings Canyon National Park along Highway 180. There is a small area with picnic tables where you can enjoy lunch within a short walk of Grizzly Falls.
The area is perfect for relaxing and cooling down next to Grizzly Creek, especially on hot summer days. There is very limited parking so on the downside it can be challenging finding a parking spot.
14. Salmon Creek Falls
Salmon Creek Falls is a hidden gem along the rugged Big Sur coastline. This waterfall is not well marked and is easy to miss while driving along Highway 1. We recommend marking the location on your Google Maps ahead of time so you don’t accidentally drive past it!
To reach the Salmon Creek Falls you can take the 0.3 mile long Salmon Creek Trail which will lead you to the base of a beautiful 120-foot-tall waterfall.
Salmon Creek Falls is one of the few areas in Big Sur that allows dogs on a leash. Before you let your pup jump in the water, keep an eye out for seasonal algae that can be harmful to your furry friend. We didn’t see the warning signs until the end of the hike and immediately rushed off to rinse our dog off with fresh water.
The last part of the hike requires you to scramble across the river and up giant boulders to see the waterfall up close. This can be very difficult, especially for little kids, older folks, and dogs. There is a shaded area where people in your group can wait if they choose not to continue.
15. Berry Creek Falls
Berry Creek Falls is one of the most scenic California waterfall hikes located in a dreamy redwood forest. This waterfall is situated within Big Basin Redwoods State Park which is California’s oldest State Park.
To reach the park you will need to drive along the windy Highway 9 which is an incredible experience of its own! While in the area, we also recommend making a stop at Felton Town and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
The waterfall can be reached by hiking a 10-mile-long trail. While it sounds like a lot, the time goes by quickly as you’ll be distracted by the beautiful scenery consisting of ancient redwoods, wood bridges, turquoise creeks, and fern-covered river canyons.
Visitor Tip: After a devastating forest fire in 2020, parts of Big Basin Redwoods State Park are starting to slowly open back up. Be sure to check the Big Basin Redwoods State Park website and the AllTrails hiking app for the latest trail updates.
16. Roaring River Falls
Roaring River Falls is a beautiful waterfall in California that you don’t want to miss on a trip to Kings Canyon National Park. This waterfall is located along the Roaring River and can be reached by taking a short, paved path from the designated visitor parking lot.
Roaring River Falls is a cascading waterfall that flows down a rocky canyon into a wide pool below it. It is named after the powerful, loud current that sounds like it’s roaring as it flows down the river.
Due to the short distance, this is a great hike for families with kids. Just be sure to stay away from the river due to swift, dangerous currents.
17. Rose Valley Falls
If you live on the Central Coast, Rose Valley Falls is a great weekend adventure for the entire family. This waterfall is located near the Rose Valley Campground just north of Ojai town.
The trail to reach Rose Valley Falls is less than 0.5 miles long so it’s a great area to explore for families with little kids. This area also allows dogs on a leash, so bring along your furry friend too!
We most recently visited Rose Valley Falls in the winter season. There was some snow along the trail that local kids (and our dog) enjoyed playing with. In the winter months, I recommend wearing crampons to avoid slipping and falling on the icy, hard-packed snow along the trail.
18. Maple Falls
Maple Falls is one of the best-hidden gems on the Central California Coast. This waterfall hike is located within The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park which is a lesser-known redwoods park in California. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only one on the trail – we were!
What makes this hike unique are the old logging sites that you will pass along the way. The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park mostly consists of a second-growth forest as most of the original redwoods were logged in the 1800’s.
The last section leading to Maple Falls is the toughest and follows a narrow canyon along Bridge Creek full of giant rocks, creek crossings, and fallen trees. While it may feel like an obstacle course at the end, this trek is so worth it!
19. Tip Toe Falls
Tip Toe Falls is a scenic waterfall situated within Portola Redwoods State Park. This small, but mighty fall is surrounded by lush ferns, redwood trees and has a small pond at the bottom of it.
Portola Redwoods State Park is a great summer camping destination for those living in San Jose and San Francisco. To reach the park you will need to drive along a narrow, windy mountain road (which made my mom scream and cover her eyes the entire time – and no, it wasn’t THAT bad).
Once you arrive at the park, you can follow the 1.6-mile-long Iverson Trail to Tiptoe Falls. This hike is mostly shaded offering a wonderful escape from summer heat.
20. Seven Teacups
Seven Teacups is a wonderful waterfall hike option for those living in Kern County. This area features multiple cascading waterfalls with cup-like formations that flow down a granite canyon.
Seven Teacups is not the easiest of waterfalls to access and requires a bit of planning ahead of time. This trail does not get a lot of foot traffic so it’s very easy to get lost. I recommend downloading the Seven Tea Cups (7TC) via Dry Creek Meadow route on the AllTrails hiking app before heading out there to stay on track.
It’s best to do this hike in spring or fall to avoid the hottest parts of the summer. We hiked the nearby Johnsondale Bridge River Trail in the summer before and had to cut the hike short due to dangerous heat conditions.
Central California offers no shortage of breathtaking waterfalls, beautiful hiking trails, and natural attractions. We hope this guide has helped you find a few new waterfalls and day hikes to add to your California bucket list!
Looking for more things to do in Central California? Be sure to check out these posts next:
- 25 Best Beaches On The Central Coast In California
- 16 Amazing Places To See Big Trees In California
- 30 Best Central California Coast Attractions For Visitors
- 15 Best Boutique Hotels On Central Coast In California
- 15 Top Rated Catalina Island Tours
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