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The Burney Falls Hike: A Must-Do Scenic Loop Near Burney, California

The Burney Falls hike should be at the top of your itinerary if you plan to visit scenic Shasta County in northeastern California. Even in a state that is known for its many spectacular waterfalls, Burney Falls stands out as a must-visit. It is just that beautiful.

Located in the Cascades Range, the waterfall is named for Samuel Burney, an early settler that lived in the area in the mid 19th century. In the 1920s, the land was gifted to the State of California, to preserve its beauty for future generations.

Burney Falls in northeastern California on a beautiful day

The trail to get to Burney falls is relatively easy, making it one of the most popular trails in the region. During the warmer months of the year, you will share the trail, and the beautiful waterfall, with lots of other visitors.

If you are considering the hike to Burney Falls in northeastern California, read on to discover what to expect on the hike, plus things to know before you go!

TABLE OF CONTENTS
What can you expect on the hike to Burney Falls?
Essential facts about the Burney Falls Loop Trail
How to get to the trailhead for Burney Falls
How long does it take to hike the Burney Falls Trail?
What to bring on the Burney Falls Loop hike
Tips for hiking the Loop Trail at Burney Falls, CA

What Can You Expect on the Hike to Burney Falls?

The most visited attraction in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, Burney Falls is the star attraction on this hike. The 129-foot waterfall, framed by lush flora, makes for a mesmerizing picture.

Unlike many other California waterfalls, Burney Falls flows year round. That’s a big plus, because you do not have to time your visit to Burney Falls for the few weeks after snow melt to see it at its best.

Burney Falls in California flows year round

The rock in the area around Burney Falls is basalt. The layers of porous basalt act as a huge underground reservoir for rain water and snow melt. This underground reservoir is what feeds the falls and keeps it flowing all year long.

Picture Postcard Scene

Burney Creek, which creates Burney Falls, arises from underground springs in the park and flows toward Lake Britton, growing in size as it approaches the falls, where it is joined by other springs to create the majestic display. The water is reported to flow at 100 million gallons each day!

While the waterfall features two main cascades, the many other smaller cascades around them create a picturesque 250-foot-wide curtain of water, with the rock face peeking through at intervals. Streams of water even originate at random spots in the rock face below the plunging creek.

The many streams of Burney Falls in California

At the bottom, the 22-foot-deep plunge pool of icy blue water is roiled by white foam from the power of the water flow. Mist swirls about the air, little rainbows dance, and mosses, ferns, and other flora frame the falls to create a lush setting. It truly is a must-see sight!

Along the Trail

The Burney Falls Loop Trail loops around the waterfall, but it is visible only at points along the trail. You will get your very first view of the magnificent waterfall at the trailhead, which is the Burney Falls Overlook.

The trail is lined with trees for the most part, which keeps it shaded and quite cool. It is an interpretive trail, with about two dozen informative markers along the way. Read the signs to learn about the park’s geology, flora, and fauna as you walk.

Hiking to Burney Falls in California

The trail leads down to the base of Burney Falls, where you can view the force of the falls in all its majesty, and feel the spray on your face. Apart from the beauty of the water and the surrounding rocks and forest, birders should look for black swifts, which are known to nest in this park.

Once you have had your fill of the falls, cross the arched bridge to continue on the loop trail to climb back up to the start point via a series of switchbacks, with a creek crossing at the top of the falls. You will get more views of the waterfall on the way up.

Bridge over Burney Creek at Burney Falls in California

Essential Facts About the Burney Falls Loop Trail

The Burney Falls Loop Trail is about 1.2 miles in length, rated easy to moderate, with an elevation change of about 160 feet. The trail is packed dirt, and looked well maintained when we visited.

The very brief walk (just a few dozen steps) from the parking lot to the Burney Falls Overlook is accessible. The walk down to the falls is about 0.3 mile, and the loop around the falls is a little over a mile. So you can do whichever option or combination of options appeals and still get a good view of the falls!

Burney Falls Trail Sign in northeast California

You can hike the Burney Falls Loop Trail year round. Enjoy wildflowers in the spring and leaf colors in the fall. The winter landscape here is enchanting, with ice and snow, but the area around the waterfall can be icy and dangerously slippery in the winter.

Dogs are not permitted on the trail, but they are allowed in the parking lot. The park recommends leaving pets at home.

There is a parking fee, $10 per vehicle for day use at the time of writing. Bring cash (small bills), as the kiosk does not always accept credit cards.

How to Get to the Trailhead for Burney Falls

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is located off Highway 89 (see map). From Sacramento, take I-5 N to Redding, then take CA-299 E to CA-89 N. It is a drive of about 3.5 hours from Sacramento with no traffic.

There is a parking lot where you can park. From the parking lot, it is only a few steps to the Burney Falls Overlook, which is also the trailhead for the hike down to the bottom of the falls. Trails are well signposted.

Hiking the Burney Falls Loop Trail in northeastern California in the fog

How long does it take to hike the Burney Falls Trail?

You could hike the Burney Falls Loop Trail in about 30 minutes, but with such a magnificent waterfall, and the pleasant scenery along the trail, we suggest allowing for ah hour at the minimum, preferably more so you can enjoy the falls at leisure.

There are other trails in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State park (about 5 miles total), so if they are open and you want to explore more of the park, allow for more time. The Pacific Crest Trail, the iconic trail that links Mexico to Canada, runs through the park.

What to bring on the Burney Falls Loop hike

Water

The loop trail is short, but you’ll want to stay hydrated, so carry an adequate supply of drinking water. This is true especially if you plan to linger at the falls for some time, or if you plan to hike more in the park.

Snacks or Picnic Fixings

If you visit between late spring and early fall and you enjoy picnics, bring along a picnic lunch and enjoy a meal by the falls! It is scenic and pleasant by the water even on a hut summer day.

If you visit early or late in the day and are not planning a picnic lunch, bring along a snack to enjoy while you admire the falls! We always carry protein bars and some fruit on hikes.

Trail in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial SP in California

Camera and Binoculars

Photographing waterfalls can be tricky, but if you enjoy long exposure photography, you will want to bring your gear. Burney Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California, and it’s a short walk to the falls, so it’s worth the effort to bring your best camera and lens.

Also, do not forget to take a quick video of the waterfall, whether with your camera or your smartphone…it’s a memory you will cherish.

If you enjoy birding, remember to bring your binoculars. We bring our Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars if we expect to see birds or wildlife. They are waterproof, and perform well in low light.

Shoes with Good Grip

You will want to wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes with excellent grip. The areas around the waterfall can be wet and slippery. In winter, watch for ice.

A view of he rock face around Burney Falls in California

Bug Spray

Bring bug spray: the trail is forested. We use a natural insect repellent for most hiking trails, and it’s what we used on this trail.

Sunscreen

You’ll want to protect your skin when you hike. Waterproof sunscreen lotion would be perfect for this hike!

Tips for hiking the Loop Trail at Burney Falls, CA

Here are some tips that will hopefully make your visit to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park an enjoyable one!

Find Out and Follow safety guidelines issued by the park

Ask for a park or trail pamphlet at the entrance kiosk, or check the California State Parks website for hiking and water safety guidelines. Swimming in the plunge pool is not permitted.

Looking down upon Burney Falls in California

Visit early or late in the day for more solitude

The Burney Falls Loop Trail is hugely popular because it is both scenic and not too difficult. Especially between the months of April and November, the trail tends to get really busy during the day.

If you visit early or late, you will likely enjoy a quieter walk, and the opportunity to enjoy the falls without lots of other visitors. Plus you will have a better chance of seeing birds and wildlife at these times.

The park is open for day use between 8 a.m. and sunset. We arrived at the park at opening time, and there were only two other cars there at the time. By the time we left, at about noon, the lot was full.

Arrive Early or Late for Parking

During the high season (April to November) the parking lot can get full by mid-morning, and stay that way until later in the day (about 4 p.m.). Once the lot is full, the entrance to the park is closed, and parking along Highway 89 is not permitted.

Arrive early or late to be reasonably sure of snagging a parking spot upon arrival. Also consider visiting on a weekday rather than on the weekend.

Steps on the Burney Falls Trail in California

Visit between Spring and Fall for Good Weather

Although Burney Falls flows year round and the park is open all year, you may want to visit between April and November for better weather. Winter is rainy season in California, and the park can get snow, with icy pathways and trails.

That said, summer days tend to be really crowded. For a more pleasant experience as it relates to crowds, visit in the spring or fall, visit on a weekday rather than on a weekend, or visit early or late in the day.

Enjoy the Flora and Fauna

Although Burney Falls is undeniably the major payoff on this hike, you will want to take note of the flora and fauna as well. You may see black swifts by the falls, or bald eagles flying overhead.

The forested Burney Falls Loop hike features many types of vegetation, from ponderosa pine to Douglas fir, oaks, and incense cedar. Fall is a beautiful time to visit for leaf color!

The park is home to many animals, from rabbits and squirrels to coyotes and foxes. You may spot other bird species as well: woodpeckers, ospreys, and peregrine falcons, for example.

Fall foliage at Burney Falls in California

Allow more time than you think you’ll need

We’ve said it several times already, but Burney Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls you will see in the Golden State. It reminded us of the waterfalls at Plitvice National Park in Croatia.

Don’t cram your itinerary for the day you plan to visit the falls with lots of other activities. Allow for extra time so that you can walk around and take yet more photos, or just watch the water make its mesmerizing way from the top of the cliff to the bottom for a little while longer.

If you enjoy plein air painting, the overlook is a great spot for capturing Burney Falls on canvas or paper.

The Rainbow Bridge over Burney Creek in northeastern California

Dress in layers

Even if you visit at the height of summer, it can be quite a bit cooler down by the waterfall in the canyon than it is up at the parking lot.

Dress in layers, especially if you plan to visit early or late in the day, or in the cooler months of the year. If you visit in the colder months, you will definitely want to bundle up.

We always throw our windcheaters or light jackets in the car when we go on hikes or road trips, no matter the time of year, and they’ve come in handy more than once.

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Enjoy hiking scenic trails? Check out these other articles on California hiking trails to walk:

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Discover the easy to moderate Burney Falls Hike in northeastern California! Plus tips for hiking the loop and viewing beautiful Burney Falls.

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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