And so there I was, at the crack of dawn, floating in the pool below Middle McCloud Falls. Yes, it was freezing, but I also felt so insanely alive…
McCloud Falls (or McCloud River Falls) is comprised of three waterfalls tucked away in Northern California near Mount Shasta. In this post I’m sharing must-know info you need to read before visiting McCloud Falls for a safe & fun trip + photos and hiking tips along with suggestions of fun things to do in the area! Let’s go!
McCloud River waterfalls consist of the Lower, Middle and Upper Falls and HOLY MOLY you guys, this gem quickly made the shortlist for my favorite places in California. I love the Mount Shasta area and find myself up there are least once a year.
But I kept missing McCloud Falls, never seemed to have time to get over there. BOY, I wish I did sooner because this natural gem is out of this world and I’m here to drop all my tips for visiting so you can have a great trip!
- Around 4 miles if you are hiking, it’s fairly easy for most skill levels
- You can drive to each of the falls and park at overlook lots
- Summer is best season to visit
- Pack out your trash 🙂
McCloud Falls Hiking Etiquette
Before we get started with tips for visiting the McCloud waterfalls, let’s chat hiking etiquette and safety tips to make sure you stay safe and keep the falls open for future visitors!
Pack Out Your Trash
First and foremost, always be respectful to the land and nature. There aren’t many trash cans here, so please bring a trash bag and be prepared to pack out any of your own trash. I was appalled to find SO many empty bottles, wrappers and even things like shoes and clothes stuck in the rocks at the base of the falls. Take your shit with you! (Also, who can forget their shoes?!)
I also encourage you to bring an extra bag to fill with any trash you find on the trails. Pay it forward and leave the area better than you found it! We love these compostable trash bags from Grove so you aren’t adding more plastic to a landfill.
Visit On A Weekday or AM To Avoid Crowds
There will be crowds on weekend afternoons!! If you want to avoid people, visit these waterfalls on a weekday if you can swing it. There will be fewer people.
Or, go early in the morning. We arrived just after sunrise on a Sunday morning in July and were the only ones in the park minus a cute grandpa and grandson fishing at Lower Falls and a few photographers peacefully doing their thing. When we left around 8:30am, we passed 10 cars coming in. Early bird gets an empty park!
Stay On The Main Trail At Middle Falls
No matter where you are hiking, it’s important to stay on the main trail to reduce erosion. I noticed a LOT of little side trails people have made around Middle Falls but please do not take these. They are steep, dangerous and if they are walked on too much, it will cause landslides and destroy the vegetation.
The main trail down is wide and has a gentle slope so it’s easy to walk up. Taking a side trail really will just make it harder on yourself and it will only take you an extra 5 minutes to walk where you suppose to walk, so please stay on the main trail!
Bring Your Own Water & Snacks (No Stores In The Park)
McCloud Falls California are in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t any general stores on-site and there is just one small nearby town that’s about a 15-minute drive away. During the summer it can get over 100 degrees. SO, please remember to stay hydrated by bringing extra water. I like to keep a gallon of water in my car to refill after exploring!
Wear Sturdy Boots
It’s always a smart idea to wear sturdy footwear when hiking, especially if you plan on scrambling over the boulders to get to the swimming hole at the base of Middle Falls. Don’t make my mistake by only bringing sandals! They were NOT safe to be crawling around in. Here’s some of my favorite go-to hiking gear you should consider bringing!
Arrive in You Swimsuit
There aren’t bathrooms down near the water and the restroom up top on the parking lot wasn’t very clean. I recommend you wear your swimsuit under your clothes so you can easily shed the hiking gear and hop into the water! All of us girls are wearing Summersalt swimsuits in these photos.
Donate $5 To The Park
McCloud Falls is inside the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. This means there is no state park, national park, or recreational fee to come and visit. BUT, because it is free doesn’t mean the park has enough funding to maintain it. Based on the sheer amount of trash all over the place, I could tell this park needs more help.
PLEASE PLEASE consider bringing an extra $5 to drop in one of the donations stands that is located near the signs at each of the parking lots for the three tiers. Let’s all chip in to keep this park clean and safe for future visitors!
McCloud Falls – The Three Tiers Of Waterfalls
Now let’s chat about the three waterfalls! First and foremost, decide if you are coming to hike the trail or drive. You can park at Lower Falls and hike the McCloud River Falls Trail, which is about 4 miles round trip. This trail connects you from Lower Falls to Upper Falls.
OR, you can simply drive to each of the waterfalls as each one has a parking lot and overlook, along with a trail to get down near the water. Since my friends and I just did a 6-mile hike the day before AND we arrived at sunrise (aka were tired AF) we opted to drive to each of the falls and park in the lots.
McCloud Lower Falls Info
The Lower McCloud falls are the shortest of the falls. You overlook it from the top and can walk on the rocks above the falls (versus looking up at them at the bottom of the falls.)
Lower Falls requires the least amount of steps down to get access to the falls (about two flights of stairs) so this is a great option if you or someone you are traveling with wants to get up close and personal but can’t do a longer trail. There’s a small picnic area over here and I think there’s good fishing in the pools above (based on the locals who came here!)
If you are hiking the McCloud River Trail, park your car here to access the whole trailhead!!
McCloud Middle Falls Info
This is the showstopper at 50 feet tall and 100 feet wide! This waterfall looks a lot like Burney Falls if you have ever been but here it’s easier and safer to swim in the pool at the base.
The hike down to Middle Falls is more like a stroll. The dirt path is to the right of the overlook. Please stay on the main trail. At the base you’ll come out to a viewing area and a LOT of boulders. You can climb these boulders to access more private parts of the falls to sit, swim, etc.
This is the one we went swimming in. We climbed the boulders to reach the far left side of the pool which was deep and secluded (and out of the way of the early AM photographers!) Man, the water was cold AF but I felt so alive going for a morning swim here. Highly recommend you bring a swimsuit to take a dip!
For my photographer friends: the falls face West. At sunrise the sun was completely behind the falls and didn’t illuminate the pool or the falls until around 8am. Come at sunrise for soft, indirect light.
McCloud Upper Falls Info
Upper McCloud Falls is probably the least visited of the falls. We didn’t take the path down to the base but online forums mention it’s a bit steep and rough. It’s worth seeing from above, there is a nice overlook!
This area is more forested than Middle Falls and I saw a few people van camping overnight in this lot. Verify if it’s allowed but I think it would make a nice spot to spend the night!
History of McCloud Falls
This area was once home to primarily the Shasta, Pit River and Wintu Native American tribes. They would travel each spring-fall to the McCloud Falls area to hunt elk and fish for Rainbow Trout. The land was also a great source of medicinal plants and of course, water!
There are still tribe members living in the area (I’m pretty sure that charming grandpa and grandson fishing were Native.) The Pit River Tribe frequently helps the US Forest Service on restoration projects. Again, help honor Native Americans and Mother Earth by keeping this park clean! It’s not hard.
Commonly Asked Questions About McCloud Falls
- Are there bathrooms? Yes! Each of the falls has an outhouse bathroom. They aren’t the cleanest but hey, they are bathrooms!
- Can You Swim at McCloud Falls? Yes! You can swim in the pools below Middle Falls with ease.
- Can You Cliff Jump? McCloud Falls cliff jumping is not allowed and highly dangerous, so please do not come here to cliff jump
- Is McCloud Falls Dog Friendly? Yes, but they must be kept on-leash
- Is McCloud Falls A State Park? No, it is managed by the US Forest Service.
- What is the Fee? No fee. Again, because it’s part of a national forest, there is no fee. BUT I highly encourage you to bring $5 as a cash donation to help maintain this beautiful park!
- What is the McCloud CA Elevation? 3,271 feet
Campsites & Hotels Near McCloud Falls (Aka Where To Spend The Night!)
As I mentioned, McCloud Falls are kinda in the middle of nowhere up in Siskausko County. The nearst town is McCloud but it’s small with just once gas station that I saw. There are three lodging options for you in this area: hotels, camping or free camping.
- Fowlers Campground: The official McCloud falls camping grounds. It’s right next to Lower Falls making it a great home base if you want to hit the trails early or spend a day swimming at Middle Falls. Price is $15 a night and sites fill up fast, so book far ahead
- Free camping: There’s a LOT of free camping in this area of California because so much of it is US Forest Land. I share tips for finding free camping spots in this blog post. There are some really nice ones on Mount Shasta proper on your way to Bunny Flat.
- Comfort Inn Central Weed: This is the cheap hotel we booked, around $150 a night. It’s nothing fancy but a clean and safe basic hotel that is about 40 minutes from McCloud Falls.
- Railroad Park Resort: This hotel has been on my bucket list for years. The rooms are all in old train cars!! How cool is that?!
Other Nothern California Waterfalls Nearby You Can Visit
Around 10,000 years ago, this area encountered 13 volcanic eruptions. That’s what the land is so vast and full of gems like waterfalls, lakes and mountains! There are a LOT of cool waterfalls up here. These are three that I’ve been to and love if you want to check out during your McCloud Falls trip!
- Mossbrae Falls: This requires a hike on active train tracks (though they are working on building a proper trail!) but the waterfall is really pretty and peaceful!
- Faery Falls: Hike about a mile up a dirt road & be rewarded with a tall waterfall that has a shallow pool for wading in. I personally loved rinsing off in the stream of water!
- Burney Falls: This is the other famous Mt Shasta waterfall that you may have seen all over TikTok. This one is a lot like McCloud as in there’s a large parking lot and easy walking trail down to the water. This one requires a fee, though.
Fun Things To Do In the Mount Shasta Area
There are SO many fun things to do in the area! Here’s some suggestions.
- Eat at Yaks on The 5: THE classic roadside dinner of the area, it’s a must-stop! Food is locally sourced, too.
- Hiking: SO MANY awesome trails here! Head to Alltrails to find one that fits your skill level!
- Skiing: If you’re here in the winter try skiing on Mount Shasta.
- Drink craft beer at Mount Shasta Brewing Co (it’s really good!)
- Boating on Lake Siskiyou: This lake is right outside town and a popular place for kayaking and boating!
- Visit Other Waterfalls: Hit up on of the waterfalls I mentioned above!
I hope this helps you plan a fantastic trip to these beautiful Mount Shasta waterfalls! They’re beautiful and worth the drive up to Northern California.
If you have any tips to add, leave a comment below so everyone can see. Got questions? Drop a comment or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll try to help!