Cataract Falls, Marin County. Photo: Kevin Etter, CC
Despite this year’s scant rainfall, waterfalls are once again flowing in Northern California, and you don’t want to miss the show.
Cataract Falls on the north slope of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County is probably the best-known waterfall in the Bay Area, and for good reason. It gets really big after a spring rain, sprouting up to nine silvery cascades, some more than 50 feet high, plunging purposefully down the Cataract Creek streambed. The surrounding forest, with its moss- and lichen-covered rocks, ferny ground cover, gnarly oaks and sentinel redwoods, can seem an enchanted place, especially just after a rain.
Though just 2.6 miles round trip, the Cataract Falls Trail has a 750-foot elevation gain over the span of a mile. The unrelenting grade will having you stopping more than once to catch your breath, give your dog a pat, admire the raging stream and deplete your cell-phone battery taking pictures. Wooden stairs ease the climb in several places, but you’ll still have to scramble over stray roots and boulders. The Laurel Dell picnic area at the top of the ravine is a great place to celebrate the climb.
One waterfall not enough? Check out the Uvas Canyon Waterfall Loop Trail near Morgan Hill in the Santa Cruz Mountains—but wait until a day or two after a heavy rain. If you go any other time, you’ll likely be under-whelmed. At any time, though, this trail rewards with easy footing and sights to put a smile on your face and a wag in Spot’s tail.
Think of the one-mile path, with its multiple footbridges and lush, rocky backdrop, as a scenic promenade with a rushing-water sound track. You’ll come first to Black Rock Falls, which impresses with a loud and zesty 30-foot drop. About a tenth of a mile past the far end of the loop are the smaller Upper Falls and Basin Falls, the latter of which is an idyllic spot for a picnic.
You and Spot can get some aerobics in by extending your hike to over five miles—and enjoying a fourth waterfall in the bargain. Cross over Swanson Creek at the far western end of the Waterfall Loop, switchback your way up the Contour Trail and take a break on the ridge to catch your breath before continuing on to Triple Falls, the most secluded cascade in Uvas Canyon County Park.