Basics: Feather Falls has to be one of the best waterfalls in California (outside of Yosemite), especially in the spring when it is huge! It is located in Plumas National Forest and can be visited year-round. The hike is 7 to 9 miles depending on which trail you choose to take. There is an elevation loss of about 1000 feet on the way to the falls.
Directions to Trailhead: From Oroville, drive east on Hwy 162 for 6.6 miles. Turn right on Forbestown Rd. After 6 miles, make a left on Lumpkin Rd. In another 11 miles you will see a sign for Feather Falls. Make a left at the sign – the trailhead will be 1 or 2 miles further.
Trail Description: We started our hike at the Feather Falls trailhead. There is no entry fee, plenty of parking (at least on a weekday) and there are pit toilets (though they must be relatively old because they were very smelly and very dark). We met two very cute stray dogs when we first pulled into the parking lot. I almost wanted to take one, or both home with us.
This trail would be good for running or biking, but it’s also great for hiking. It’s single track but relatively wide, with soft padded dirt and a gentle grade almost the entire way to the waterfall. Before long, the trail reaches a fork. The left fork is the shorter (and I assume steeper) descent down to the falls. We had planned to take the short route down and the longer trail back – making it a loop – but unfortunately a bridge had washed out and the shorter trail was closed.
The hike started winding through Jeffrey pine, cedars, blooming dogwood and generally very dense forest. We saw strawberry plants (without berries) and some blackberry vines. Before long we came through some thinner, previously burned areas. Rob mentioned we should look for mushrooms – I did for about 30 seconds until my mind and eyes wandered back to the trail ahead of me.
We crossed two bridges – one with a raging waterfall under it. Eventually the trail left the forest for a southern-facing slope. We walked through chaparral – Toyon, Manzanita, some poison oak and many wildflowers. At this point I couldn’t even hear the river anymore. I started to wonder how long this hike was, but soon enough the trail wound back into the forest and eventually we heard the sound of roaring water. We spotted some interesting plants including California nutmeg!
Finally we reached a fork in the trail where the shorter path meets the longer path and both continue on one trail a half mile further to the falls. This was one of the more steep parts of the hike, but it went by quickly because we knew we were almost there! The roaring waterfall came into view! At the junction above the falls, we headed left towards the overlook. This is a very popular hike and it is clear why – the lookout is really cool! We ate lunch on the lookout. Then, feeling re-energized, we headed up the other path to get to the top of the falls.
It was pretty cool looking down the waterfall from the top. There is a fence so it isn’t too scary. But exercise caution – it’s still possible to fall outside of the fenced area! The fence was put up because somebody did fall at some point.
I thought the hike back to the car would be more difficult. We descended hundreds of feet on the way in, but the path is so gently graded it felt pretty easy. We passed a lot of people walking the opposite way. I guess we got an early start. When we were about one mile from the parking lot, I looked to the left and happened to spot a large pile of mushrooms growing out of a stump. I pointed them out to Rob and he exclaimed they were oyster mushrooms! He climbed up to inspect. I looked down to my feet and spotted something way better! I told him, “forget the oysters, I found something way better!” His response: “It’s not a morel is it? It can’t be. What is it?” It was a morel. We proceeded to find five more. Not a huge pile, but enough for a delicious risotto!
When we got back to the car we came across two animal control officers loading up their truck. We asked if they were here for the stray dogs, and they said that they had finally rounded them up (with quite some difficulty) after several days of trying. Hopefully the dogs will find a good home – they were very cute.
Feather Falls was the perfect day trip. It’s nice to have such a great year-round hiking option, especially when the Sierras are still buried in snow.
More Info: The US Forest Service has published a nice pdf for this hike.