Autumn in Northern California can be dry and crisp while it waits for the Pacific storms to roll in, but there's a lush oasis in the Cascade Range that stays green year-round.
100 million gallons of spring water gush out of Burney Falls every day.photo by Nancy James
Just under 300 miles north of San Francisco (via I-5 through Redding), between Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mount Shasta, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is named after Samuel Burney, a pioneer in the 1850s whose descendants have been responsible for saving the majestic 129-foot spring-fed waterfall and the surrounding land from development—the family purchased the forested property and gifted it to the state in the 1920s. Today, most visitors go for the falls—when you see them tumbling out of the volcanic rock festooned with lush green plants, you may think you're in South America instead of Shasta County—but there's much to do in this land of underground springs. There are several trails around, but, when you first arrive, be sure to walk down the paved path to the bottom of the falls to experience the wind created from the 100 million gallons of icy water that gushes here each day.
Cabins are available for rent year-round.(Courtesy of McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park)
STAY: Camping + Cabins
While there are a few hotels and rental homes in and around the town of Burney, the park's campground is also open all year. Sites are first come, first served through the fall and into spring; during the summer, you can book a site on Reserve America ($35/night). The park also has 24 one- and two-room insulated cabins ($83-105/night) with bunk beds and propane heat; bathrooms and pay showers are nearby.
We recommend packing plenty of groceries, but if you run low on supplies, the park has a convenient store and gift shop stocked with drinks, snacks, camp supplies, and souvenirs. // McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, 24896 California 89 (Burney), parks.ca.gov
Kayak among blackberry bushes and bald eagles on Lake Britton.photo by Brett James
Lake Britton + Stand By Me Bridge
The campground has easy access to the towering Burney Falls, but don't miss the other wonders within walking distance. Because the park was created by ancient volcanic activity, it is now covered with porous basalt that traps snow and rain and holds it in massive underground reservoirs. The icy water slowly trickles out of fissures in the rock through various creeks and, if you hike to the top of Burney Falls, you can see where the springs leak out.
Many day trippers to the falls fail to notice one of the best places in the area: The 4,700-square-mile reservoir known as Lake Britton is fed by the falls (and various other creeks) and is an ideal spot for boating, kayaking, and fishing. The site also offers great wildlife watching—look for Bald eagles, river otters, osprey, and some very large trout. Kayak into Burney Creek or over to the PG&E Britton dam. If you don't have your own boat, the Lake Britton Marina rents canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and small motor boats as well as boat slips. (For Boat rental reservations and information, call 530-335-5713, burney-falls.com.)
Eighties babies and fans of the late River Phoenix won't want to miss out on the photo opp at the McCloud River Railroad bridge: Spanning the lake just east of Highway 89, the bridge had a cameo in the 1986 film Stand by Me.
The Lake Britton bridge.(Wikimedia Commons)
Ahjumawi Lava Springs + Views of Shasta
If you have your own kayak or canoe, you can head to another hidden water haven. About 45 minutes from Burney Falls, Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park is another unexpectedly lush oasis in the middle of the high desert.The waters of Big Lake, Tule River, Ja-She Creek and Lava Creek converge at this spot to form one of the largest systems of fresh water springs in the country. So, it's unsurprising that Ahjumawi means "where the waters come together" in the language of the Pit River Native American tribe.
This park is only accessible by shallow watercraft, which can get up close and personal with a variety of water plants, frogs, herons, loons, and pelicans. When boating along the shoreline, keep an eye out for the rocky fish traps used by the Pit River Ajumawi (their preferred spelling) built to catch both Sacramento sucker and trout. Look out in the distance you'll see the 14,162-foot snow-capped peak of Mount Shasta. On a clear day, you can also see Mount Lassen to the south.
Mount Shasta makes an appearance at the north end of Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park.(Nancy James)
The parking lot for the Ahjumawi boat launch is only accessible via a dirt road from the small town of McArthur. If you are feeling adventurous, the park has three primitive boat-in camping areas ($7/night) with pit toilets and access to the springs. You can pay for your site at the self-serve station in the parking lot. // Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, Rat Farm Rd. (McArthur), parks.ca.gov
Country Cafe + Coffee For the Road
All this exploring will make you hungry, and while the towns of Burney and McArthur are small, there are several places to fuel up before heading home. In McArthur, Crumbs serves lunch and dinner. We recommend the juicy hamburgers and grown-up tator tots, but the restaurant serves sushi too. // Crumbs, 44226 State Highway 299 E. (McArthur), facebook.com/CrumbsRestaurant
When heading past Burney, stop at the Mt. Burney Coffee Co. for a latte or Almond Joy mocha. Coffee drinks here are made with Has Beans from Chico, and they even serve snow cones. // Mt. Burney Coffee Co., 37155 Main St. (Burney), 530-335-5282.