How to Visit McCloud River’s Three Waterfalls

Three breathtaking waterfalls to be savored along McCloud River Trail in Siskiyou County, Northern California

In the winter, due to snow, McCloud River Loop Road is closed from December 15 through March (or longer if there is snow). Details below.

McCloud River Lower, Middle & Upper Waterfalls

In the far north of California, you can relish three breathtaking waterfalls along the McCloud River near the historic mountain town of McCloud in Siskiyou County. Easily accessed along Highway 89, this favorite destination is just five miles east of McCloud and a short 20-mile jaunt from the more touristy Mount Shasta City along Interstate 5.

The McCloud River flows down a canyon formed of basalt (volcanic rock) and generates three waterfalls varying in height. The Lower Falls is a modest 15 feet, the spouting Upper Falls is roughly 30 feet high, and the most impressive of the waterfalls, McCloud Middle Falls, has a drop of 50 feet and a span twice as wide at 100 feet.

How To Get To McCloud Falls

McCloud Falls is about 75 miles from the Oregon border in north central California.

Eastbound on Hwy 89

Traveling along Interstate 5 in southern Siskiyou County, take Highway 89 east towards Lassen Volcanic National Park. You’ll pass the town of McCloud and continue for five and a half miles. Look for a sign on the left side of Hwy 89 that says Fowlers and Lower Falls | Shasta Trinity National Forests Campground. You’ll be turning right onto Fowler Public Camp Road.

Westbound on Hwy 89

Alternatively, if you’re traveling from the east or southeast, you’ll end up heading west on Highway 89 going past another very impressive waterfall called Burney Falls. Look for a sign on the right side of Hwy 89 that says Fowlers and Lower Falls | Shasta Trinity National Forests Campground. You’ll be turning left onto Fowler Public Camp Road.

For the Lower Falls, follow the road straight, you’ll see a sign to Lower Falls and Fowler Campground. This will take you to the Lower Falls parking lot.

To get to the Middle and Upper Falls parking lots from Hwy 89, look for signs to the Middle and Upper Falls. You’ll be taking a left off of Fowlers Public Camp Road onto McCloud River Loop Road.

Travel Distance & Drive Times to McCloud Falls

FromMi / Hrs
Redding, CA77 mi / 1.25 hrs
Klamath Falls, OR99 mi / 1.75 hrs
Medford, OR107 mi / 2 hrs
Reno, NV200 mi / 3.5 hrs
San Francisco, CA290 mi / 4.5 hrs
Sacramento, CA235 mi / 3.75 hrs
Portland, OR380 mi / 6.25 hrs
Seattle, WA550 mi / 9 hrs
Los Angeles, CA620 mi / 10 hrs

The Best Ways to View McCloud Falls

You’ve got your choice of walking the four-mile roundtrip McCloud River Trail to visit each of the falls, or if you’re pressed for time or otherwise unable to walk the trail, McCloud River Loop Road connects each of the falls.

For the most part, the McCloud River Trail hugs the McCloud River, sometimes overlooking the river.

Distances between Lower, Middle & Upper McCloud Falls:

  • Lower Falls to Middle Falls – 1-1/3 miles
  • Middle Falls to Upper Falls – 1/2 a mile

Lower Falls

You’ll start your hike by taking the stairs to the left of the stone overlook area. This will start you on the McCloud River Trail. It’s 1.3 miles to the Middle Falls. On the way, you’ll pass Fowlers Campground, which is open seasonally.

Middle Falls

Continuing on your hike, you’ll reach the riverbank area at the base of the Middle Falls. This is my favorite spot in all of the falls. You’ll be sheltered beneath the shade of trees watching the McCloud River spill over the Middle Falls and flow downstream past fallen trees and massive boulders.

Now for the challenging part, following the trail, you’ll have four switchbacks for a steep climb up to the Middle Overlook point, (but you can do it!) Once at the top, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the area including the winding river, and a view of the top of Middle McCloud Falls.

Upper Falls

The last portion of the McCloud River Trail to the Upper Falls is from high above the river. There is a narrow portion of the trail just before you reach the Upper Falls, so take care. When you arrive at the Upper Falls, go to the stone wall overlook for a great view of the Upper Falls through the trees. Be sure to carry on further to check out the rushing McCloud River just before it plunges off in the Upper Falls.

Lower, Middle, and Upper McCloud Falls each have their own parking lot, pit toilet restrooms, descriptive signage about the area, and overlook spots with stone walls. (Tip: in the off-season, bring toilet paper as there can be limited maintenance of the restrooms.)

Lower Falls

Once parked, walk past the restrooms towards the stone wall overlook spot to enjoy a view of the Lower Falls.

Middle Falls

From the Middle Falls parking lot, there’s a great overlook spot of the Middle Falls, but before you leave the parking lot you can catch a glimpse of Mount Shasta, McCloud’s 14,179-foot neighbor. Head to the trail to reach the stone wall overlook area.

From this vantage point, you might not realize that there is actually an unmarked trail that you can use to get down to the base of the Middle Falls and the river. It’s a little challenging given the steep grade and four switchbacks. But the trail winds through the trees and is incredibly worth it to view the base of the Middle Falls. It’s my favorite spot to view any of the falls. This part of the McCloud River Trail also leads to the Lower Falls.

Upper Falls

To get to the Upper Falls from the Middle Falls parking lot, head back out to McCloud River Loop Road and take a right. Look for the signs to the Upper Falls where you’ll take a right and then another right to get to the Upper Falls parking lot.

Past the restrooms are a nice stone wall overlook and a great view of the Upper Falls through the trees. Don’t miss a view of the rushing river before it spills out to become the Upper Falls. There is a nice picnic area at the Upper Falls too.

Leashed pets are allowed on the trail, as are bicycles and horses, but do take care of others.
For those with physical limitations – The hike from the Lower Falls to the base of Middle Falls is generally a gentle grade. It gets a bit challenging at the base of the Middle Falls. There’s a steep switchback with four turns on the trail from the base of the Middle Falls up to the Middle Falls Overlook.
Heights – From the Middle Falls Overlook to the Upper Falls, there is a narrow area of the trail with a steep slope down to the river just before you arrive at the Upper Falls. This could be a little concerning for those with a fear of heights.

When To Visit McCloud Falls

Easily accessible most of the year, McCloud Falls and its surroundings offer a different presentation throughout the year.

Snow Melt off in Late Spring

The waterfalls themselves are most impressive in late spring when the snow starts to melt, adding volume to the river. At this time, the Upper Falls are particularly pumping and shoot out before dropping down to the river below.

Summertime Camping at Fowlers Campground

With the nearby snowpack melted, the falls don’t have as much volume to them in the summer, but the riverbank trees and cool breeze flowing off McCloud River can provide a respite from the summer heat. As a bonus, Fowlers Campground, with its numerous canopied trees, is open. You can camp overlooking McCloud River and explore the area at your leisure. Definitely a worthwhile venture.

Smoke & Wildfires in Siskiyou County

It’s important to note that Northern California has been plagued by wildfires, particularly in recent years. Even if there aren’t fires nearby, watch out for smoke permeating the region. Check the air quality for the town of McCloud on Weatherbug before you travel.

Be sure to take care if you have a campfire (if it is allowed). Never leave a campfire unattended and be sure to extinguish it completely as winds can unexpectedly flare campfires up. The dry conditions of Siskiyou County are a major fire hazard.

Visit Fall Foliage at McCloud Falls

In the autumn, the surrounding trees give you an extraordinary display of fall foliage colors for a completely different feel than the rest of the year. The volume of the waterfalls depends on the amount of rain at this time. It can pay off to plan your visit after a local area rain. The switchback trail from Middle McCloud Falls overlook and the riverbank is a particularly beautiful walk, although a bit steep.

Enjoying McCloud Falls in the Wintertime

Winter is a unique story. Due to snow, McCloud River Loop Road is closed in the winter from December 15 through March (or longer if there is still snow). There is a locked gate just off of Highway 89, but parking is available outside the gate. Do not park on Hwy 89.

Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing is advisable if you want to view the waterfalls. Motorized vehicles like snowmobiles are not allowed. You can hoof it through the snow, but walking can be difficult in deep snow, but may still be possible depending on the amount of snow.

Camping at McCloud River and Falls

Seasonal camping is available at Fowlers Campground along the McCloud River. Enter on the same road as McCloud Falls.

Note: Due to fires in the area, it’s a good idea to check that the campground is still open.

Fowlers Campground is open seasonally from May 15 to around November 18. Reservations are available in the peak season from May 15 to October 15 with reservations open for booking six months in advance beginning at the end of the year.

Facilities are limited at Fowlers Campground. There are vault toilets. The only running water is from a spigot tap. No sinks or showers.

There are a total of 39 campsites. Eight sites are non-reservable and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. All sites are non-electric.

Campsites fees are an affordable $15 per night. RVs are allowed and have room for very large RVs.

  • Fowlers Campground is open seasonally from May 15 to around November 18. Reservations are available in the peak season from May 15 to October 15 with reservations open for booking six months in advance beginning at the end of the year.

  • Facilities are limited at Fowlers Campground. There are vault toilets. The only running water is from a spigot tap. No sinks or showers.

  • There are a total of 39 campsites. Eight sites are non-reservable and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. All sites are non-electric.

  • Campsites fees are an affordable $15 per night. RVs are allowed and have room for very large RVs.

Whatever time of year you visit, there’s no doubt that you will have a spectacular time visiting McCloud River’s three waterfalls.

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