After nearly five years of drought, waterfalls and wildflowers are returning to California in full force. Part of the reason? The record amount of snowfall dumped across the state this past winter created — and in some cases replenished — the water supply for a number of California's waterways, including its waterfalls. As the snow continues to melt, you can experience these waterfalls in all their glory. Here are a few of our favorite destinations to help you get your bucket list started.
Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park
No where else in the world has as many waterfalls concentrated into such a small area as Yosemite National Park, so much so that Yosemite National Park could easily be considered a waterfall wonderland. While most hikers and photographers gravitate toward Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, we'd like to turn your attention to Vernal Falls. The 317-foot waterfall falls from the Merced River and is easily accessible from the famous John Muir Trail. Unlike Yosemite's other waterfalls, Vernal flows throughout the year and can be spotted from as far away as Glacier Point. However, it's at its best from April through June and actually separates into two or three distinct falls by late summer when the water flow decreases.
Rainbow Falls in Mammoth Lakes
Once part of Yosemite National Park, the 101-foot tall Rainbow Falls is the highest waterfall on the Middle Fork along the San Joaquin River in the Mammoth Lakes area. But that's not why it's so impressive. If you hike to the top of the waterfall around midday, the sun will be hitting the misty waters just right to create a series of dazzling rainbows, which is why it was named Rainbow Falls in the first place. Don't forget your camera or to cool down at the bottom of the falls by dipping your toes into the pool or going for a swim.
Burney Falls in McArthur-Burney Falls State Park
Picture this: You’re hiking down a beautiful, serene stretch of land when all of the sudden you feel the temperature drop and a cold mist hits your skin as the sound of pounding water fills your ears. Welcome to the magical landscape of Burney Falls, a place so beautiful President Teddy Roosevelt pegged it the Eight Wonder of the World. Located within McArthur-Burney Falls State Park in Northern California, Burney Falls pushes out more than 100 million gallons of water a day from nearby springs. While the falls are certainly worth seeing any time of the year, they are at their most abundant (and most Instagram worthy) in late spring when the run-off water creates a dazzling and altogether other worldly display. Pro Tip: For a unique experience, hike beyond the viewing platform to the bottom of the falls for a refreshingly misty and quite ethereal experience.
Grizzly Lake in Trinity Alps Wilderness
If you’re looking for an iconic hiking destination that is both challenging yet rewarding, look no further than Grizzly Lake. This 14-mile hike located in the Trinity Alps Wilderness is ideal for experienced hikers, not casual day hikers. With jaw-dropping scenery, vertical climbing, colossal granite summits, lush green meadows and an enormous waterfall, Grizzly Lake offers some of nature’s most amazing, untouched beauty, making the hard work to get there well worth the while. The Grizzly Lake Waterfall actually flows directly from the lake's surface straight off the side of a cliff and drops 600 feet into the meadow below. To experience the waterfall in full force aim for a hike in May or June when Grizzly Lake is guaranteed not to disappoint.
Bassi Falls in El Dorado National Forest
Timing is everything when it comes to Bassi Falls. During snow run-off season, Bassi Falls offers unbelievable views and showcases all of Mother Nature's power and strength in late spring; meanwhile, visitors in late summer or the fall would see only a steady trickle of water in comparison. Located in the Crystal Basin area of the El Dorado National Forest just to the west of Lake Tahoe, Bassi Falls is a relatively easy (although at times steep) hike compared to many of the other waterfalls on this list. We recommend making time to experience it early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is just behind the falls and then spending some time taking in the scenic views and exploring the granite boulders and towering pines before making your descent.
McWay Falls in Big Sur
Said to be the most beautiful place in Big Sur, McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall that flows from McWay Creek, just one of two in California that cascade directly into the Pacific Ocean. It won't take you long to figure out why McWay Falls is considered one of the most photographed destinations in Big Sur either. The natural wildflowers and pristine sandy beaches combined with the crystal clear waterfall and the enchanting cove leaves every visitor spellbound. McWay Falls is an easy — and honestly a necessary — stop for anyone taking a road trip along Highway 1 anytime of the year, but it's especially magical when the falls are on full display every spring.