McCloud Falls - Mt. Shasta, CA
McCloud Falls - Mt. Shasta, CA
A trail that offers a range of difficulty, mileage, and even multiple BIG waterfalls?!?! McCloud Falls is a ummmm... brace for the bad pun... hike from San Francisco as it lies just a few miles from Mt. Shasta in northern Northern California. It's actually a cool (and dog friendly!) little mountain town so don't be shy about making a weekend of it (we can even recommend a dog friendly hotel in Mt Shasta). So pile into the car, hit the road, and go get weird on the side of an active volcano with advanced beings from a sunken continent! (In addition to being a spiritual place for area Native American tribes, Mt Shasta is the focus of all sorts of new age-y goings on and for some reason is also believed by some to be the settling place of the Lemurians who inhabited a lost continent. And Mt Shasta is an active volcano, part of the same mountain range as Mount St. Helens).
- McCloud Falls consists of an upper, lower, and middle set of falls; each has a parking area nearby so your hike can be as easy as you choose to make it. If you do the full 4-mile out and back trail that takes you to each set of falls and back to where you parked, this trail would grade out as Easy or Moderate difficulty; if you stick to the upper and middle falls (1.5 miles) I'd rate it Easy. Most of the elevation change comes in getting to the lower falls.
- McCloud Falls is an on-leash trail. The pools near the base of the falls are popular places to go swim (for people and dogs) -- just be aware that the water is very cold. There's a few quiet places in the McCloud River that the trail winds alongside where your dog can wade in, but it is moving water (not a pool) so be sure your dog is a strong swimmer and that you're not anywhere close to upstream of any rapids or cataracts.
- I'm blanking on if there's any water sources so best to just pack it in. There are picnic tables at the various falls though, all set near-ish to the parking areas so you can actually do a nice little meal serenaded by the sound of falling water. There are trash cans around each of the picnic areas (but no poop bags -- bring your own).
- The nearby Fowlers Campground has an outhouse, but it's bad form to use the facilities if you're not actually camping there.
- The trail follows alongside the McCloud River as it winds through the forest, so it's mostly shaded. We were able to bring Mowgli on this trail, though the section of stairs on the way to the lower falls were a bit of a challenge for him.
How to Get There
Well first off, the town of Mount Shasta is 275 miles from San Francisco and the drive takes at least 4 hours. As someone who's done day-trips to places 4 hours away... maybe don't do this one as a day-trip. Just make your way to the I-5 freeway and go north until you're almost to Weed (it's a town) -- you'll see Black Butte dead ahead, with the 14,000-foot peak of Mt. Shasta looming off to your right -- the town is set just at the foot of the mountain.
To get to McCloud Falls from the town of Mount Shasta (Google Maps), take Mt Shasta Blvd South/ Highway 89 South/ Interstate 5 Business South (not the freeway itself -- it's basically just a main road leading out of town denoted with a green-colored freeway icon). Take the ramp for Mt Shasta Blvd S, and then stay right at the fork following signs to CA-89/ McCloud. This turns into Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway (how cool a name is that?) until you see signs to turn right for Fowlers Campground or Fowler Falls. This road takes you to the parking areas for each section of the falls (middle and upper falls to the left, and the lower falls to the right just past Fowlers Campground).
Short aside about the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway -- it's 500 miles long connecting volcanoes in the Cascade range from Oregon (the road completely circumnavigates Crater Lake) to Northern California -- really cool stuff if you're prone to geeking out over geology and are looking for a road trip.
- Honestly it's really tough to screw this one up. The trail is very easy to find from each of the parking areas -- just go towards the sound of the river and you'll find it. The trail is really well maintained, and for the most part follows the river. If you're heading up-river (ie away from the lower falls towards the upper falls) the river will be on your right. If you stray from the trail away from the river you'll run into a road. It's basically impossible to get lost here.
- The trail is in great shape, but if you're going to be swimming you may want to swim in shoes to protect your feet and to give you traction to climb out of the (icy cold) water onto the rocks. The rocks can get very slippery when wet.
- With the water being as cold as it is, all the usual hypothermia precautions apply -- bring a towel so you can dry off, don't hike in wet clothes if at possible, and don't get in the water if it's cold. The same goes for your dog -- if you and/ or your dog are going to be swimming, it's easiest to just park at the middle or lower falls (where it's easiest to swim) so you can drop off your wet towel rather than having to lug it up and down the trail.
- Last bit about swimming -- it's a river, and sections of it have cut through rock. That means that it can really move in some places. If you're going to swim, stick to the pools. Don't be an idiot.
- On the way to the lower falls there's a section of stairs -- as with everything about this trail they're well-maintained, but do keep them in mind if you have sensitive joints -- you may want to bring walking/ hiking sticks.
- It's hiking in Northern California, so be aware of poison oak and ticks -- it's for these two reasons that I always hike with my legs covered, and we always check each other and the dogs for ticks.
- We didn't see much wildlife, but I wouldn't be surprised to see snakes since you're so close to the water. Don't mess with them and they won't mess with you (which is something to be aware of for your dog if you encounter a snake while hiking).
A little more about Mt. Shasta
This place has so much cool weirdness about it that I had to share -- if you're anything like me you'll find this to be all the more reason to go. Check out the Wikipedia page for more details, which I'm sourcing from liberally.
Mt. Shasta is on the southern end of the Cascade mountain range which runs all the way up into British Columbia in Canada and includes a number of volcanoes including Mount St. Helens in Washington state. The Cascades have formed by the Juan de Fuca plate pushing under the North American plate (the California section is mostly the Pacific plate pushing under) and literally forcing the crust upward -- it's a big reason why the California coast is so rugged (the land is being forced upward and it's continuing to this day so erosion can only do so much to wear it down). As the plates going underneath go deeper they basically become molten -- with all sorts of pressures swirling around down there, sometimes this molten materially looks for a way to relieve the pressure by breaking through the surface, which is where things like volcanoes and hot springs come from. So anyway, Mt. Shasta -- volcano, rocks getting pushed up -- got it.
The mountain and surrounding area have been inhabited for over 5,000 years now, with much accompanying lore to explain the volcanic activity in the area. It's considered sacred by some and certainly is a center for a lot of religious activity -- you can find a number of churches, a Buddhist monastery, and even Native Americans conducting religious ceremonies in the area. Don't be surprised if you encounter many people taking time to express spirituality in their way in the Panther Meadows -- technically it's dog-friendly but I would discourage it, because there's been lots of dog-related issues in a place that's very special to many. Mt. Shasta was even one of the "high-energy sites" around the world (along with Mt. Fuji in Japan, among others) where thousands gathered for a mass meditation for the Harmonic Convergence in August 1987 when the bodies in the solar system aligned just right. If you've got a spiritual bone in your body, you may find the energy/ vibes/ whatever you want to call it in and around Mount Shasta to be special too.
An on to the less serious stuff, there's a few legends of a hidden city within/ on the mountain -- the first notable one started up in the 1880s, basically that advanced beings from a lost continent that sank into the ocean inhabit the mountain (the Lemurians, who seem to have a lot of parallels with Atlantians), and their habitations may or may not include a network of tunnels, and they could supposedly be seen wandering around the side of the mountain wearing white robes. The other notable example is the legend of the prospector JC Brown, who back in 1904 claimed to have discovered a lost underground city at the end of a cave that wound underneath Mount Shasta for 11 miles, filled with gold, mummies, and other treasures. In the 1930s, he convinced over 80 people to join and team to explore this underground city, but on the day the expedition was supposed to leave he just didn't show (and was never heard from again). Wacky, trippy stuff, and part of why I find this area so charming. OK, enough self-indulgence.
Area Resources and Recommended Equipment
- Like I said, the trail is really well maintained so you can get by with tennis/ walking shoes, though some stretches can get muddy.
- If you're going to go swimming, bring a towel (the water is really cold, so drying off can help ward of any risk of hypothermia).
- And the obligatory: bring poop bags.
- There's a few grocery stores in the town of Mt. Shasta if you need to stock up before your hike -- Berryvale Natural Foods (Yelp) is a really cool local place that has all sorts of healthy options for whatever you might need or whatever dietary restrictions you may have -- we got some tasty local honey when we stopped in, and they also have smoothies and deli sandwich options. Mount Shasta Supermarket (Yelp) has more traditional fare if the new age-y Berryvale isn't your thing, and there's a Rite Aid (Yelp) if you need non-food staples like sunscreen.
- There's a few options for dog friendly restaurants in Mount Shasta:
- Poncho & Lefkowitz (Yelp) offers Mexican food and gourmet hot dogs, with a dog friendly patio. Yes please. Only open for lunch Monday through Saturdays and with limited indoor seating, but man oh man.
- Bistro No. 107 (Yelp) is a burger restaurant with a dog-friendly patio a solid beer list (they also have a few wine options).
- Dos Geckos (Yelp) is another good dog friendly Mexican restaurant in Mt Shasta; dogs can only be on the patio, and it's open daily for lunch.
- Handsome John's Speakeasy (Yelp) is a solid watering hole with a dog friendly patio in downtown Mount Shasta. The bar has beer and wine (no liquor), and surprisingly offers some very tasty food options (much better than you'd expect at a bar). Closed Sundays, but the longer opening hours make this a solid choice to stop after a hike.
- Make a weekend out of it! The Best Western Tree House (TripAdvisor) is a unique option in Mt. Shasta, just steps from the restaurants in downtown. This pet friendly hotel offers free breakfast and has an indoor swimming pool (no dogs in the pool though). Some of the rooms even include a view of the actual mountain, which is reallllly cool. We've stayed there, so I can vouch for this place as a good dog friendly hotel option in Mt Shasta.
- In case of an emergency, Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital (Google Maps) is 21 miles (30min) from McCloud Falls, and is open Monday through Saturday. I haven't been able to find a 24-hour option, so email us if you're aware of one.
Similar trails: Cataract Falls (Mt. Tamalpais/ Marin County, CA).
Other trails in this area: Mount Eddy loop trail (Weed, CA), Hear Lake trail (Castle Lake/ Mt. Shasta, CA), and if you're feeling ambitious the Bear Basin Granite Lake loop trail (14mi with over 4,000 feet of elevation change -- Trinity Center, CA).