Burney Falls and Lake Britton is one of our favorite day trips to take from McCloud. The park is only 40 miles east of town on Hwy 89, which is a lonely drive through soaring pine forests. There is no food or gas between McCloud and Burney Falls so make sure you’ve hit the bathroom before you depart!
There are two “must do” activities when you arrive. First, go to the park and see the falls. Burney Falls may be the most beautiful waterfall in all of California, and certainly in the Top 10 nationally. There is easy viewing from several observation areas immediately across from the parking lot, but this is only the beginning of your adventure!
Regardless of your age, follow the well-established trail down to the pool below the falls. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get back up – we’ll tackle that later. On the way down, notice how the falls seem to change as you observe the cascade from different vantage points. Once you’re down, the kids will have fun “touching” the water flowing from some of the side falls, but are only rewarded with the ability to do this after scampering across the rocks. While swimming is allowed, it is not recommended, as the water is rather cold year-round.
Now, for the part about getting back to your car….
Head downstream for a ways until you encounter an arched bridge. Here you’ve got a decision to make. For those that can handle a moderate hike (not long, but a bit steep in some areas) go ahead and cross the bridge to complete the trail loop back up the other side of the gorge, eventually crossing the river again above the falls not far from the parking lot. Johanna handled this without any difficulty as a 5-year-old, although we made sure to keep her hand in ours at some of the steeper areas of the hike.
During one trip when Cindy’s mother had joined us, Pat and I let the rest of the family hike back up the other side of the falls while we continued downstream, never crossing the arched bridge. This part of the trail meanders through the woods and along an inlet of the lake for about 1.5 miles down to the lake’s boat ramp area. For the most part, the trail is level or slightly downhill and my 78 year-old mother-in-law handled it like a champ! Cindy had returned to the car via the other path and then drove down the hill to the ramp area to pick us up. Perfect!!!
The second “must do” in the area is to check out the famous Stand By Me bridge located just north of the park on your way back to McCloud. After you cross the river on the highway bridge, turn left into an unpaved parking area when you will find an old rail bed in front of you. Cross the highway on the trestle (if you dare) or simply cross the street and pick up the path on the other side. About ¼ mile down the path you find the scene from the movie. Our kids love reenacting the railroad scene from the movie and are looking forward to the span being reopened as part of the Great Shasta Rail Trail project that will literally link Burney Falls to McCloud for hikers and bicyclists alike via this old rail bed.