Hiking the McCloud Falls Trail: Three Magnificent Waterfalls!

Hiking the lower, middle, and upper falls of the McCloud River is one of the premier walks in the Mount Shasta area. This post has everything you need, including a detailed description of the trail, directions to the trailhead, a map, and several photos that highlight the stunning beauty along the route.

Middle Falls of the McCloud River: Autumn Color
Autumn at the Middle Falls of the McCloud River

The McCloud Falls Trail is in Two of My Hiking Guidebooks…

Day Hiking Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions. Includes trails in other regions of Northern California: Castle Crags, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Lava Beds National Monument, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Lassen National Forest, and the Redding area.

100 Classic Hikes in Northern California covers the best hiking trails in the Trinity Alps, Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Sierra Nevada, the redwood coast, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Includes numerous day hikes along with major backpacking trips.It’s Hike 48 in my Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions, and it’s Hike 43 in 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California, fourth edition. Both books are available at many bookstores, outdoor stores, and visitor centers. Of course, they’re also on Amazon and Bookshop.org.

 McCloud Falls Trail: Key Data

Distance: 3.8 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate; flat and easy for the 1.2 miles from the lower falls to the middle falls
Type: Day hike
Elevation gain:300 feet
High point: 3500 feet
Season: spring through fall; access road closed in winter after first snowfall
Contact: McCloud Ranger Station, Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Map: USGS Lake McCloud
Permits: No permits needed
Notes: dogs allowed, toilets at trailhead and near Upper McCloud Falls
Safety issues: Watch small children carefully near steep drop-offs and the river; Submerged rocks at/near the base of Lower McCloud Falls make diving/jumping dangerous

McCloud Falls Trail Trailhead Directions

Take CA Highway 89 for 15 miles east of the junction of 89 and I-5 (5 miles east of McCloud) and then turn south onto paved Forest Road 40N44, signed for Fowlers Camp and McCloud Falls. Go 0.6 mile and stay straight at a road fork, bear right 50 yards farther, and then continue another 0.7 mile past Fowlers Camp Campground to the trailhead at the Lower Falls of the McCloud River picnic area. Taking a left at 0.6 mile allows you to drive 40N44 to the Middle Falls overlook (1.0 mile from the fork) and the Upper Falls overlook (another 0.5 mile on 40N44, and then right on dirt FR 40N44B for 0.4 mile).

McCloud Falls Trail Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 41 14.448 W 122 01.526

The trail runs from the lower falls past Fowlers Campground to the middle and upper falls, and beyond.
The trail runs from the lower falls past Fowlers Campground to the middle and upper falls, and beyond. (Courtesy Caltopo.com)

Best Time to Do the Hike

The trail is quite popular during the summer months, especially on weekends, but summer is also prime time for swimming. Spring is beautiful with cooler temperatures and smaller crowds, and autumn features vivid colors on deciduous trees and shrubs, and on the Indian rhubarb along the river itself.

Autumn color: Indian Rubarb along the McCloud River
Autumn color on Indian rhubarb

Hiking the Trail: Lower McCloud Falls to Middle McCloud Falls

Let the sound of crashing water draw you to the railing and a prime view of the Lower Falls. Walk down the steps and then cross over rocks to the edge of the McCloud River, where you’ll see the 10-foot cascade plunging into a deep pool, a favorite swimming spot on warm summer days. Caution: Be aware that a big block of rock fell into the pool in 2019. Do not dive or jump into the water until you have swum underneath where you plan to dive/jump to be absolutely sure it is safe.

Indian Rhubarb (Umbrella Plant) Along the McCloud River
Indian rhubarb (umbrella plant) along the McCloud River in late spring

Take the paved path when you’re ready to continue upstream to the even more impressive Middle Falls. Walk along the southeast edge of Fowlers Camp Campground and to a bench and a sign detailing the region’s human history. You now travel a gentle, riverside dirt path that’s shaded by Douglas firs, with occasional help from dogwoods and other trees. You’ll always hear the rush of water over rocks from the nearby river.

Gain the first invigorating glimpse of the Middle Falls at 1.0 mile, then continue the last 0.2 mile to reach the stupendous cascade. Seventy feet wide and 35 feet high, the waterfall is split by a huge buttress and an intervening ledge before it bursts with a cacophonous roar into a sea-foam-green pool, simultaneously spawning sheets of swirling mist that drift downstream toward a steep cliff spiked with surreal hoodoos.

An angler tries his luck at the base of Middle McCloud Falls. Fishing is popular along the river.
An angler tries his luck at the base of Middle McCloud Falls. Fishing is popular along the river.

Hiking the Trail: Middle McCloud Falls to Upper McCloud Falls

The trail then switchbacks a steep 0.2 mile to reach the Middle Falls overlook at the rim of the canyon. From here you gaze down at the top of the Middle Falls and can also look farther afield at Castle Crags and other Klamath peaks to the west and at the southeastern flanks of Mount Shasta to the northwest.

Now follow the path as it hugs the canyon edge, being careful of the steep drop-off (watch children closely). Another half mile brings you to the Upper Falls overlook. Here the McCloud River charges through a long and narrow chute to pound a wide pool at its base.

The top part of Upper McCloud Falls as it descends into a steep chute
The top part of Upper McCloud Falls as it descends into a steep chute

Hiking Farther Up the Trail

The path extends another 13 miles upstream. It travels mostly level through mixed forest beside the river.

My Youtube Videos of the Three Waterfalls

The Lower Waterfall

The Middle Waterfall

The Upper Waterfall

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