We feel very special in our corner of the High Sierra to be home to a multitude of fun waterfalls to hike to. If you’re planning on driving through our area, here’s some of the best in Northern California to see within Nevada County.
Why Waterfalls Make Us Feel Good
Before we jump into our list, have you ever noticed that standing by a waterfall provides a sense of calm? A bit of peace in your life. You FEEL happy. There’s a scientific reason behind that. When the river, stream, or creek leaps from a ledge or boulder, it releases negative ions into the air. When you’re near these “healing” waters, you soak them up as positive energy. Entering our blood stream, this produces serotonin and therefore makes us all naturally happier.
Protect, Preserve, Participate, & Perpetuate
It’s a fact spending time in nature helps you feel better, and Americans have realized that as well. 8.1 million more people went hiking in 2020 compared to 2019 and the popularity continues to grow. While it’s exciting to see so many individuals enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors, there is a flip side. This boom has set records on search and rescues as well as trash left in forests. It’s so easy to scold and chastise those that aren’t respecting nature. But there’s a good chance these individuals were never taught to respect the value of nature. Take it upon yourself to use these adventures to start teaching kids and friends about good outdoor habits and how to recreate responsibly. Introduce them to principals like “Leave No Trace” and live by example so others can enjoy.
Another example of a set of cascades with many names. It can go by Fairy Falls, Beale Falls, or even Dry Creek Falls. Located near the Beale Air Force Base, to get to them you don’t need to enter the base. Rather, you must take a four-mile trek on gravel roads to get to the trailhead in the Spenceville Wildlife Area. The journey to the falls is just as rewarding as the falls themselves. As you ascend, you’ll take in grass covered hills with cows grazing, colorful rocks, wildflowers, and even remnants of old mining equipment. The cherry on top is the set of falls themselves.
This land was once owned by Beale hence Beale Falls and had a mock German town for training during WWII.
When To Visit
The Spenceville Wildlife Area allow seasonal turkey and wild boar hunting during late summer and fall. Be sure to visit California Department of Fish & Wildlife before venturing out. When there’s active hunting, we recommend avoiding these falls. Luckily, the best time of year to visit them is in the winter months or early spring. Due to its low elevation, the foothills are nice and green, and by late February wildflowers begin to bloom. Summer and fall on the other hand are too warm, and you’ll probably encounter rattlesnakes on your journey.
Located near the town of Washington within Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, this set of falls can be found off of the same named trail – Humbug Trail. Following Humbug Creek, the trail descends it way under a forest canopy of fir, cedar, and black oak. About halfway down you’ll come upon the one-hundred-foot-tall beauty called Humbug Falls. A granite slot variety, the water pours through the smooth granite like Mother Nature decided to sculpt them herself. Be sure to continue to the end of the trail so you can take in the mighty Yuba River too.
Things To Know
Since they are within the California State Park System, to access these cascades you must pay a day-use fee. This small fee helps keep the park’s trails maintained and open. With that, winter storms can wreak havoc creating obstacles such as down trees or washed-out segments. Like Shingle Falls, be sure to visit the parks page ahead of visiting to confirm that the trail is open and safe. The best time to check out these falls is in the spring when the volume is at its highest and temps are cool. If you do visit in summer, be sure to go early at sunrise or at sunset because there are only a dozen parking spots available.
South Yuba River Falls (Spring Creek Falls)
Located inside South Yuba River State Park, this twenty-foot-tall fall is accessed via the Spring Creek Trail. What it lacks in height, the short albeit challenging hike more than makes up in the sheer beauty seen on your way. The unmarked trail begins on the northwest side of Edwards Crossing Bridge and is especially popular in the summer months. Due to the creek’s year-round flow, we recommend visiting in the spring or fall.
Tip: This is a VERY popular set of falls. If you do wish to visit them, go during shoulder season and at dawn or dusk. Expect to have a challenge finding parking otherwise (i.e., can be hundreds of cars attempting to see them). Be sure to have a Plan B.
Honorable Mention: Webber Falls
Although not in Nevada County proper, it’s only a short half-hour drive from the historic town of Truckee or a sixty-minute journey from Nevada City. One of the best waterfalls in Northern California to see, this one takes a bit of effort via a five-mile hike. The reward is a multi-tier plunge of the Little Truckee River into a mighty canyon. Fed by snowmelt, the best time to see this 76-foot-tall roaring flow is in late spring/early summer.
For Serious Adventurers Only
The last set of our list of the best waterfalls in Northern California within Nevada County require some serious effort to see. The road to get to Bowman Lake and Faucherie Lake falls are only accessible via a true four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance. It’s rugged country and far from civilization. You NEED to be prepared for a worst-case scenario since there is no cell service. This means bringing water, extra food, a first aid kit, topo map, and letting someone know where you’re going. Be prepared to staying overnight if an emergency arises. With that being said, this region is home to spectacular scenery of granite mountains.
Bowman Lake Falls
Depending on who you talk to, this set of falls that empties into the gorgeous Bowman Lake is known by many names. Some call them Bowman Lake Falls. Others Sawmill Falls and even Canyon Creek Falls. Each of these names fit based on its location. It flows out of Sawmill Lake via Canyon Creek and into Bowman Lake. No matter what name you choose, it’s well worth the journey to see these spectacular 120’+ cascades as they flow into the lake.
Lower Faucherie Lake Falls
From mighty plunges to hidden tranquil cascades, this list of the best waterfalls in Northern California in Nevada County is worth the effort to seek out.