A fairly simple hike on well developed trails. The steeper portions in areas heavily traveled tend to be paved, with steps and low... more » rock walls where needed. This loop walk provides plenty of views of both the falls and Burney Creek.
Up towards the North Eastern corner of California midway between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen is a spot Theodore Roosevelt once proclaimed as "the eighth wonder of the world." It's Burney Falls, a truly magnificent 129 foot waterfall a short run upstream from Lake Britton. This is one of the California State Parks that's a bit more remote but that's not a problem. It's a long but simple drive out of Redding through some great scenic country, ending just outside the small lumber town of Burney.
The surrounding park is within the Cascade Range and the sparsely populated Modoc Plateau region. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial SP contains 910 acres of forest and five miles of stream side and lake shoreline on Lake Britton.
One of the interesting facets of the landscape is that volcanic action was the dominant force shaping this part of California. Burney Creek just doesn't appear to support the water needed to supply the falls, rather, most of the flow percolates through the porous lava rock in subterranean rivers. One of these underground aquifers feeds both Burney Creek and exits the surrounding cliffs into Burney Falls itself. While the falls ﬂow continuously year round, Burney creek is sometimes dry half a mile upstream.
The Park ﬂora also illustrates the volcanic origins of the region. Understory bushes are muted and sparse in this region compared to other areas. One of the primary reasons is that the soil is porous and the water quickly escapes below the shallow roots of the vegetation that would normally grow in this region.
Several Native American groups, particularly the Ilmawi Band of the Pit River Tribe, had villages in the region around the present-day park. They were known to use the technique of digging deep pits in order to trap big game animals. The nineteenth-century explorers and local settlers referred to these people as Pit River Indians in reference to this hunting technique. The falls were considered, and still are, both a deep cultural and spiritual landmark.
This region in the late 19th Century became economically important with the introduction of logging which continues to this day. In the early 20th Century, the Pit River's damming for hydo-electric generation and particularly the Pit River #3 Dam resulted in Lake Britton. A further planned dam nearly obliterated Burney Falls. Fortunately the landowner, Frank McArthur donated the falls in 1922 along with the surrounding land to the State Park system. The park honors McArthur's pioneer parents, John and Catherine McArthur.
The initial steep journey down to the falls base can get fairly crowded but as most park visitors aren't hikers, traffic thins to a trickle as one crosses the canyon for the rest of the trip. It's a good idea to bring at least a sweatshirt town to the fall's base, the spray cools the canyon considerably, you'll want a daypack as well to stash the clothing and carry both water, a snack, and insect repellant.
Heading up the opposite side of the canyon can be a long trudge for youngsters. Once at the top of the falls, the Burney Falls Loop Trail levels out.
HINT: The Fisherman's Bridge provides a major shortcut back to the Visitor Center or better yet, the General Store for that soft-serve ice cream bribe you gave the kids.
Upper Burney Creek's trail isn't difficult but provides numerous short rises and falls in the trail and broken shade. There's also plenty of easy access points to the creek for fishing.