Burney Falls is one of the most exquisite waterfalls in California and is contained within the 910-acre McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. The 129-foot waterfall is the central feature of the 1.3-mile Falls Loop Trail, which is a popular, family-friendly trail that is rated easy to moderate. In addition to the majestic waterfall,, you will also see a number of birds and wildlife, including kingfishers, owls, woodpeckers, squirrels, and bald eagles.
The loop trail begins at the Falls Overlook, across the street from the Visitor's Center, where interpretive signs relate the volcanic origins of the park and falls. There is a steep descent of switchbacks taking you down about 150 feet as the path travels to the base of the falls. You'll likely see photographers scattered along the way taking pictures of of the iconic views from several lookouts. The trail is not wheelchair-accessible and does entail a couple of steep climbs along the short loop - although there are water fountains along these switchbacks to cool off. Dogs are not allowed on the trail. There are also several spaces to step off the trail and enjoy a picnic, so bring snacks and spend some time soaking up the misty air and the roar of water all around you!
* Note that entrance fees to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park are required to reach the trail ($8-10 per day), and the park hours are from sunrise to sunset. Visitors are discouraged from bringing pets to the park as they are not allowed on trails near the falls, on the beach at Lake Briton, or to be left in unattended vehicles.
The Burney Falls Loop Trail is relatively straightforward as the path is well-maintained, signed, and the sound of the roaring waterfall will not let you stray far from your destination. The trailhead is directly across from the Visitor's Center, where parking, restrooms, a nature lab, exhibits, and a sun shelter with wi-fi and phone charging are available. The Visitor's Center hours are from 11:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m.
While the park and trail are open year-round, keep in mind that the temperature drop at the base of the falls is generally 10 degrees cooler than the starting point at the overlook. It is wise to bring an extra jacket or hoodie if descending even in the summer. Peak visitation is between June and August, so if you want to avoid crowds at this popular destination, come early on a weekday in the summer or come after Labor Day, when the park quiets down.
The trail sets out from the overlook at the parking lot and the falls are in sight most of your way down. Starting from the trailhead, you will turn right and follow two paved switchbacks that will take you to the falls in just about 10 minutes. There is a spacious area to the right of the falls off the trail that offers a spectacular view for a picnic, photo ops, or just a moment to take it all in.
The return trip is the more exhaustive, as you are climbing back uphill. Past the picnic area, the trail turns to dirt and leads you along a creek for about 0.7 miles, when you will reach a bridge and turn right. There will next be a switchback that leads you up the hillside and brings the greatest elevation gain in the hike. There are benches along the way, however, and still magnificent views as you make your way back to the top.
The trail continues past the falls and to another pedestrian bridge. Cross the bridge and climb up slightly before turning left and returning to the parking lot. Please note that several trails that offshoot from the Falls Loop Trail are closed due to erosion and storm damage. Check the State Parks website before planning your trip: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=455.
Burney Falls is fed from water both above and below the falls via underground springs and provides a flow of about 100 million gallons per day, year-round. The mossy, jaw-dropping waterfall was formed from volcanic activity and erosion dating back over a million years. It is due to the retaining of rainwater and snow melt in the porous basalt of the area that a large underground reservoir consistently feeds the falls even in dry summer months.
The Pit River tribes date back in this area thousands of years along the Pit River and in the nearby valleys and meadows. In 1976, the Pit River Tribe was federally recognized as a tribe consisting of eleven different bands, who speak two related languages: Achumawi and Atsugewi. The downriver bands lived somewhat nomadic lives historically, moving for sustenance and in response to fluctuating water levels. They harvested deer, trout, salmon, birds, and small mammals as well as gathering acorns, roots, fruits, and herbs in the area.
The falls were named after Samuel Burney, a pioneer settler in the area in the 1850s. Burney's descendants are attributed with saving the waterfall and nearby land from development by purchasing the property and donating it to the California state government in the 1920s. Upon visiting the falls, President Theodore Roosevelt allegedly referred to the site as the eighth wonder of the world. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park was established in 1926, making it the second oldest state park in the California State Parks system. Burney Falls was named a National Natural Landmark in 1984.