McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
Travel Update Summer 2020: Most destinations, sites and parks reopened with limitations. Check the official websites and read our crucial ‘BEST TIME TO GO' and ‘AVOIDING THE CROWDS’ tips:
The best time to visit Burney Falls? Find the answer right here. Additionally, we included a complete guide with tips you must know! Although the park gets crowded in the pleasant summer months (read our crowd tips below) and cold in the winter, Burney Falls is an amazing year-round destination. The flow at 100 million gallons every day is excellent throughout the year. Other waterfalls have the most impressive flow during certain seasons only. The reason is its source from volcanic underground springs.
Make sure to scroll down to our '9 Top Tips and Facts' at the end of this article.
The climate around Burney Falls is controlled by its predominantly mountainous topography. The highest elevation in the park is almost 3,100 feet (950 m). Please keep in mind that regardless of the season it’s cooler at the base of falls. Due to the mist visitors often say it feels about 10 degrees (about 5°C) colder down there at the pool.
Spring (March, April, May)
- Weather: Mild, rainy in March
- Crowds: Light in March, busier in April/May
Temperatures starting to rise, getting more pleasant. However, in March it’s often still chilly and drizzly (average high 57°F / 13°C). March is the month with the most rainfall in spring (early March snowfall is still possible). In April it’s getting a little warmer (average high 62°F / 17°C) and there is considerably less rain. But still, check the weather forecast and always bring a rain jacket and dress in layers as weather can change quickly. Although half of the trees at Burney Falls are coniferous and provide an evergreen forest year round, the other half (mostly California black oak) blooms in spring. Depending on the year and the varying temperatures, the trees begin to bud as the weather in April warms, leaves begin to shoot out and grow as we progress into and through May and by June the foliage is pretty full. There is also a period of nice flowering along the creek in mid-spring. Crowds: In April it starts to get busy, especially on weekends and public holidays, even more in May, when temperatures rise even more.
Summer (June, July, August, September)
- Weather: Warm and mostly dry
- Crowds: Very crowded
Warm and lots of sunshine. The highest temperatures at Burney Falls can be experienced during the summer month with an average maximum of 89°F (30°C) in July and August. Even in September temperatures are still very pleasant. Rain is rare in the summer. When it gets hot in the summer months the waterfall and the mist at the pool provide some nice cooling effect. However, it can get chilly down at the falls at times, even in the summer months. Better bring an extra top. Highlight: In the morning with enough sunlight you can spot rainbow reflections in the mist above the pool. However, the waterfall itself is always in the shadow, even on the sunniest day. Unlike other waterfalls, Burney Falls has an impressive flow even during the dry summer months. It’s high season and heavily crowded, with a peak from mid-June until the end of August.
Fall (October, November)
- Weather: Still pleasant, colder in November
- Crowds: Lighter but still busy in September, less crowds in October
It gets colder but October is usually still pleasant (average high 69°F/21°C) while it’s getting chilly in November. There is also a possibility of snow later in November. The leaves start turning in October and you can experience the beautiful fall foliage with vibrant displays of gold, scarlet, and orange. Especially when you are down at the falls, you’ll spot beautiful reflections in the pool from the rich hues of autumn leaves. Although crowds start to dissipate slightly after Labor Day weekend, it’s still busy in September. In October crowds thin out even more, although it can still be busier on weekends. However, October is significantly less busy compared to summer and spring of course.
Winter (December, January, February)
- Climate: Cold, snow, and ice
- Crowds: Virtually none
It’s getting cold (average high 43°F / 6°C). However, even in the winter, it's a stunning experience when sometimes the whole park is covered with snow while the waterfall is still flowing.The mist from the falls is freezing in the trees, covering everything. It looks like you’re in a fairy tale. Also, tiny icicles decorate the cliff and make it even more gorgeous. A downside in the winter: Due to ice and snow it's sometimes impossible to get to the bottom to see the falls. This happens quite often from December to January and a few times in February. Even without snow, the path to the falls can be quite icy which makes it dangerous to walk down. Although there are some rails where you can hang on to, there is a danger of slipping. Especially kids or seniors should be very careful. Keep in mind that when you are down at the falls, it gets a lot colder because of the mist.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Theresa at McArthur–Burney Falls (Summer) by m01229, CC BY-SA, cropped
It can get very busy between April and October, especially on weekends and public holidays (California Public Holidays). The peak months with the highest visitation are from June to August. How to avoid the crowds and enjoy a much more pleasant stay at the falls:
Early / Weekday:
Try to go mid-week and be there around 8:30 or at least by 9 AM. Arrive even earlier if you visit on weekends. It usually gets crowded between 10 and 12 AM, with a constant stream of visitors on the trail into the afternoon. Particularly parking becomes quite difficult during peak season and on weekends. The parking lot is packed and tour buses come and go. Please note that if you park along Highway 89 outside of the park, your car can get towed! When you go on a weekday and combine it with getting there early, you’ll experience a much quieter park even in high season. Also, the light is perfect in the mornings until noon. If you visit in the winter months, it's possible to have this beautiful place all to yourself.
Sweet Spot Months:
In September after Labor Day (first Monday of Sept), the whole park gets a little quieter while it's usually still busy on weekends. The temperatures are still great and the light is wonderful. But still, try to visit mid-week in September if possible or be there early (see above). October is even better in terms of crowds. If you'd like to visit before the busy season starts, try late March or early April.
Entrance fee: $8 - $10 (more info at the bottom of the article). Open From sunrise to sunset. In the summer from 6 AM - 6 PM. However, rangers at Burney Falls usually don't close at 6 PM sharp.
Clothing (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Depending on the season and climate you need different clothes at Burney Falls. In general, it's best to pack lightweight clothing items that work for every kind weather at the falls. It's also recommended to dress in layers if you visit in late autumn, winter or early spring, as it gets a lot colder when you are down at the falls. Dressing in layers allows you to make quick adjustments. We love to check Amazon Outdoor Clothes regularly. From our experience, they offer the best variety of high-quality clothes and other outdoor gear: Outdoor Recreation
Teddy Roosevelt described the falls as the “eighth wonder of the world”. Not high but very beautiful. The state park offers comfortable cabins and nice campgrounds. Very popular for families at weekends. There are short hiking trails and the Pacific Crest Trail leads through the park. Read on for tips, facts and everything else you need to know.
With a height of 129 feet (39 m) and a width of 250 feet (76 m) Burney Falls is not the biggest waterfall in the state. However, it’s definitely one of the most stunning. This originates from the fact, that the water is not only flowing over the high ledge. There are also hundred of openings below in the cliff where water bursts out, plunging into the pool below. Together with the deep blue light reflections in the water at the bottom and rainbow colors in the mist when the sun is shining, this creates a captivating image of an enchanted waterfall. Moreover the falls flow at the rate of about 100 million gallons each day all year long. Unlike other waterfalls, this one never runs dry. Not even in the hottest summer months, when the upper part of Burney Creek can dry. Because water keeps flowing underground through the basalt layers until it (almost) reaches the falls. Take a look at the photographed panel below for a detailed overview of the geology.
Hikes / Walks
Five miles of hiking trails wind through the area with evergreen forests. An overview of the trails can be found here: Burney Falls Trails Map.
Burney Falls Loop Trail (primary trail):
This 1.3-mile beautiful backcountry trail (All-Trail Details) starts at the parking lot and leads directly down to Burney Falls. The falls are visible from most of path while you hike down. However, the stunning view once you reach the pool area is the best. After arriving you can sit on rocks and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous falls. Walking down on the paved and well maintained trail is usually easy and quick. Be careful in the winter, as parts of the path down can be icy in December and January. Slightly more challenging in general is the way back up because of its steepness and some stairs. However, there are benches and rocks where you can rest if you need to. There is also accessible fishing landing and lake overlook along the route. Restroom facilities are provided at the trailhead. The trail is family friendly and for all skill-levels. There are definitely some great photo opportunities along its way and not only at the waterfall itself.
Headwaters Trail (part):
The accessible part of this trail is less than a mile with accessible fishing pier along the trail. The trail leads upstream along Burney Creek. Trailhead and parking lots are located at the Falls Overlook parking area.
Pioneer Cemetery Trail:
It’s a 1.6 mile round trip. A hiking and biking trail which follows a historic wagon trail to the Pioneer Cemetery.
Pacific Crest Trail (part):
Portions of the PCT which leads through the park, are accessible.
Over 120 campsites with no utilities. Fee: $35 per night. A nice campground which underwent recent renovations, including new bathrooms! Also, the campsites are spaced out nicely. Visitors report that the campground itself, as well as the bathrooms, are very clean. All campsites are just a short hike from both the lake and the falls. You can make reservations up to seven months or as few as 48 hours before your arrival: (800) 444-PARK (7275).Helpful resources: Camp Site Reservations, and Campground Map 2018
Several one and two room cabins within walking distance of the falls. Fees: 18' cabin $85 per night (4 people, one bunk bed + 2 extra mattresses)). 24' cabin $105 per night (6 people, two bunk beds + 2 extra mattresses). The cabins are insulated and equipped with propane heaters, padded platform bunk beds, wood floors and six-foot covered porches. Each cabin comes with a campfire ring, outdoor table as well as enough space to pitch a tent outside. Restrooms and showers are nearby. Bring battery-powered lanterns as the cabins have no electricity. Helpful resources: Cabin Reservations
Seating up to 100 people, may be rented for groups in a shaded area. For rental details, call the park office at (530) 335-2777. Also many first-come, first-served family picnic tables near the lake, the creek, as well as close to the visitor center.
9 Top Tips and Facts
- If you only have a few hours, just hike the short main trail and spend your time on the rocks in front of Burney Falls. It’s a mesmerizing, breathtaking view
- Take a look around at the wildlife along the water’s edge
- The water is cold, even in the summer. However, you are not allowed to swim in or near the falls anyway
- Dogs are allowed but with very strict rules and limitations. They are not allowed on the main trail! You can only hike the Cemetery Trail
- The primary trail is not wheelchair accessible due to some stairs and its steepnees. However, there is an alternative option to get down to the falls by wheelchair described here: Wheelchair Traveling - Burney Falls
- Camping reservations are required (see the camping section above)
- Fishing is possible at Burney Creek or at Lake Britton. Licensed anglers check here for current fishing regulation.
- Get to Burney Falls early in the morning and try to avoid weekends (see above)
- Photography tip: The main trail (1.3-miles loop) provides some of the best views of Burney Falls
Burney Falls Pros and Cons
- Not the tallest waterfalls but absolutely gorgeous
- Impressive flow year-round
- Overlook to view the waterfall about 150 feet from the parking lot
- Even if you can't walk down to the falls, the view from the overlook is great as well
- Great, spacious and clean campground
- Lots of bathrooms - very clean as well
- Well stocked store with free Wi-Fi
Not so great:
- Gets crowded, especially in the summer (follow our tips above)
- In the winter, it's possible that you can't walk down due to ice and snow
- Download the Official Brochure
- Burney Falls Website
- Official Website - CA Gov: Check for updates/closures
As of 2018 the entrance fees increased slightly. Tip: Bring exact cash in case rangers are not around to collect. Fees per vehicle:
- Day-use fees from $8 to $10
- Extra vehicle camping fees from $8 to $10
- Boat launch fee from $8 to $10
- Senior citizens discount day-use fee from $7 to $9
- Dump station Fees from $8 to $10
- Oversized vehicle fee from $16 to $20
- There is a myth that former Tarzan actor and Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller was diving off Burney Falls
- In 2015 a guy named Nick Coulter jumped off of the 131-foot Burney Falls ledge: YouTube Burney Falls Cliff Jump
- Usually, the flow is at 100 million gallons of water each day. In February 2017 the number increased to a spectacular 250 million gallons: Burney Falls Flow 2017 (scroll down to the video)