Image above: Vernal Falls__Hannes Flo__flickr
Get ready to embark on a thrilling journey as we dive into the world of family-friendly California waterfall hikes. With its diverse landscapes and stunning natural wonders, California is a treasure trove of stunning waterfalls that are perfect for a fun-filled hike. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or just starting out, these 10 family-friendly waterfall hikes under 3 miles offer a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. From the majestic beauty of Yosemite National Park to the hidden gems tucked away in the Coast of Big Sur, each hike promises breathtaking views and a chance to reconnect with nature. With cascading water, lush greenery, and the sound of rushing streams, these trails provide the perfect backdrop for creating lasting memories with your loved ones. So pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to embark on an adventure that will leave you and your family in awe of California's natural wonders.
Check out these family-friendly California Waterfalls!
Roaring River Falls, Kings Canyon NP
.5 mile easy paved walk round trip
Nestled within the scenic Kings Canyon National Park, Roaring River Falls is a hidden gem that is perfect for a family-friendly hike. As you make your way along the well-marked path, you'll be greeted by the sight and sound of the roaring waterfall cascading down the granite cliffs. The falls are particularly impressive during the spring months.
As you arrive at the falls be prepared to rock scramble. The best views of the falls are from the rocks. Do not get in the water at these falls, the flow of these falls is powerful making these falls dangerous.
If you want to get your feet wet head down the road to Grizzly Falls. Here you will be able to walk in the stream and get in the water at the base of the falls. The water here is shallow. There are also tables here so you can relax and have a picnic.
After enjoying this California waterfall, take some time to explore the surrounding area, which offers stunning views of the towering granite cliffs and meadows. Roaring River Falls is a must-visit destination for families looking to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Kings Canyon National Park.
Eagle Falls, Lake Tahoe
.5 mile round trip
Located on the western shore of Lake Tahoe, Eagle Falls is a popular California waterfall destination for families seeking a picturesque waterfall hike. The trail to the falls is well-maintained and offers stunning views of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe.
The hike to the lower falls is relatively easy. As you make your way along the trail, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and lush greenery. This hike has lots of stone steps along the way. which wind their way to the falls. The falls itself has a bridge going across it where you can take pictures. Just above the falls there is a swim hole that you can cool off or get your feet wet in.
For those looking for a longer hike, there is an option to continue on to the upper falls, which adds an additional mile to the hike. Just keep following the trail that crosses the bridge. Once you reach the falls, take a moment to soak in their beauty and feel the mist on your face.
For a really special treat take a short walk across the street from the parking lot. This area gives you incredible views of Emerald Bay. Use caution here, there is flowing water and you are close to the cliff edge.
Eagle Falls is a true gem and a must-visit destination for families looking to experience even more of the beauty of Lake Tahoe.
Click for more South Lake Tahoe Adventures.
Kings Creek Falls, Lassen NP
2.3 miles out and back
Tucked away in Lassen National Park, Kings Creek Falls is a family-friendly hike that offers stunning views of a cascading California waterfall. The trail to the falls is just under 3 miles round trip and is known for its lush greenery and wildflower displays in the spring and summer months. As you make your way along the trail, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding meadows, mountains and the sound of rushing water.
Once you reach the falls, take a moment to enjoy the cool mist and the beauty of the cascading water. There are two ways to view the falls, from the falls overlook shown in the image abobe or from the base of the falls. There is a short path that leads to the base, but most people just view it from the overlook.
When you are done viewing the falls walk up river to see what in my opinion is the true gem of Kings Creek Falls, the Cascades Waterfall section. Here you will walk up carved out rock steps along a rippling water slide looking area of the falls that is surrounded in greenery and mosses.
Kings Creek Falls is a true hidden gem in Lassen National Park and a must-visit destination for families looking to explore the beauty of Northern California waterfalls.
McCloud River Falls
3.5 mile hike, out and back trail
This hike can be done in portions, or not at all and you can still see all three waterfalls! That is why I included it this list of under 3 mile California waterfall hikes. There is a parking lot located at each section of waterfall so you can drive to each spot and take a short walk to see each of the falls.
So, if you're looking for a family-friendly hike that offers multiple waterfalls, look no further than the McCloud River Falls. Located in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, this hike offers stunning views of three beautiful and distinct waterfalls.
The lower falls will be your families favorite of the three falls. Go here during the hottest part of the day. The river above the falls has fun swim holes to play in, bring a swimsuit and take time to enjoy the river. There is a spot at the top of this waterfall where people like to jump off of into the pool at the base of the falls. Use caution, these falls are constantly changing as rocks break off into the pool. With that said only jump where you see someone else jump and no where else. (Jump at your own risk.)
Middle Falls is a short walk to the overlook from the parking lot. If you want to go to the base of the falls follow the trail to the right of the overlook to make your way down. These falls are a viewing area and not good for swimming.
The Upper falls only has a viewing area and no trail to the base. The river above the falls is a fun place to play and get your feet wet. This area is also good for picnics and wildlife viewing so stay alert!
If you do hike the 3.5 mile trail it is relatively easy, with well-marked paths and several viewpoints along the way. As you make your way along the trail, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the rushing water and the lush greenery that surrounds it.
The McCloud River Falls hike is a true gem and a must-visit destination for families looking to experience the beauty of multiple California waterfalls in one hike.
Topokah Falls, Sequoia NP
3.4 mile out and back
This trail does push the envelope at being over 3 miles, but with a stunning waterfall, the drastic change in scenery, and rocks along the way its a lot of fun with kids. Most of the hike is also in the shade, I just couldn't leave it off this list!
This hike starts at the bridge at Lodgepole Campground and follows the Kaweah River. This area is full of trees and other greenery. You may even spot snow flowers along this area. Warning: do not play in the Kaweah River, it is has swift currents and is dangerous.
About half way to the falls the scenery makes a drastic change, you will enter an area of granite; lots of granite walls and rocks. The trail will wind through the rocks making the hike a lot of fun for kids. This is also a good area to spot marmots and lizards.
When you arrive at the falls take a nice long break. There are large boulders and rocks to sit on. This is a great spot to have a snack, sketch, or journal. Take time to look around, the views here of the tall granite cliffs and green valley are also stunning.
Topokah Falls is a true hidden gem in Sequoia National Park. Many people visit Sequoia National Park to see the Giant Sequoias and don't even realize that this incredible California waterfall exists. This waterfall is a must for all families visiting Sequoia National Park.
If you looking for even more gems in Sequoia National Park check out our Sequoia Blog.
McWay Falls, Big Sur
.5 mile round trip
Situated along the stunning coastline of Big Sur, McWay Falls is a family-friendly hike that offers breathtaking views of a waterfall cascading onto a pristine beach and at high tide, the ocean.
The trail to the falls is a relatively short walk on a mostly paved trail to a tunnel that leads you to the falls. There is a small fee to park at the falls trail, but it is worth it considering that the trail takes you safely under the Pacific Coast Highway.
When you arrive at the falls you will be treated to stunning views of the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged cliffs that line the coast. The only way to see the falls is from this overlook. There is no beach access. From the overlook take a moment to soak in the beauty of the falls and coast.
The Falls Trail is a short yet stunning way to see this incredible California Waterfall. McWay Falls is also one of only two tidal falls in California. (The other is Alameda Falls in Point Reyes) Don't miss your opportunity to see it!
Vernal Falls, Yosemite NP
2.4 miles round trip, via Mist Trail
No list of family-friendly California waterfall hikes would be complete without mentioning Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park. This iconic waterfall is a favorite among visitors and offers stunning views of cascading water surrounded by granite cliffs.
About 1 mile into this hike you can stop at the foot bridge and take pictures. This is a turn around point for many visitors. I recommend you keep going!
This trail is known for its stone stairway where you can feel the mist of the falls as you walk up. This part of the trail is considered a steep and challenging section, but don't let it stop you. As you make your way up the stairway trail, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the falls and the sound of rushing water.
Once you reach the top of the falls, take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the cascading water and have a snack before you head back. The area above the falls is also drier and out of the mist.
If Yosemite National Park is part of your road trip plans, check out our Yosemite blog for more ideas of what to do and see.
Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile
2.6 miles round trip
Tucked away in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains inside Devils Postpile National Monument, Rainbow Falls is a family-friendly hike that offers stunning views of a cascading California waterfall, and a fun place to cool off and swim.
There are two ways to get to the falls. The first is a 2.6 mile round trip trail starts a shuttle stop #9 and takes you straight to the falls.
The second way starts at shuttle stop #6 for Devils Postpile. Hike the .4 mile trail to the postpile, take lots of pictures then continue on the trail past the postpile for 2 miles to the falls. After you've experienced the falls hike the 1.3 mile trail back to shuttle stop #9.
The entire area of Devils Postpile National Monument which includes Rainbow Falls is only accessible by riding a shuttle. For shuttle information click here.
Rainbow falls has two places to see it, the overlook above the falls this has a rocky shaded area where people like to sit and watch the falls. You can also hike down a short trail down to the base of the falls. Come prepared with a swimming suit. This is a fun spot to play in the river and even swim in the large pool at the base of the falls.
Word of caution: never swim directly under the falling water of the falls. This is not safe.
Rainbow Falls is my favorite California waterfall. Its beautiful, large, and offers the opportunity of experiencing the falls in a way that few other California waterfalls offer, swimming.
Rainbow Falls is a true natural wonder in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and a must-visit destination for families.
1 mile loop
Now this California waterfall is a sight to behold with its lush greenery and water flowing through the rock walls. These falls can be seen from the parking lot, but I do recommend walking down to the base of the falls where you can sit on the rocks, feel the mist and be surrounded by the sound and power of the falls.
The one mile loop trail takes you down to the falls then follows the river into the surrounding forest. Most people just walk down the paved trail down to the falls then walk back up again. the trail down to the falls follows paved switchbacks, and has some short steep sections of stairs. Kids can do this trail, but it is not okay for strollers or wheel chairs.
Most importantly, don't forget to bring your camera to capture the beauty of this picturesque spot.
1 mile loop to lower falls
Yosemite falls in one of the world's tallest falls at 2425 feet long. The trail to the lower falls is a short and relatively flat trail that leads you to the base of the falls. Here you will be able to take pictures and feel the mist of this incredible California waterfall.
While taking pictures here at the base of the falls is a must, I recommend you take a walk afterwards towards the nearby restrooms. When you have almost reached the restrooms turn around. This is the spot to see the entire three sections of Yosemite Falls. (the view shown in the image) Now this makes for a great family picture!
The trail to the falls is easy to get to, just take the valley shuttle and they will drop you off at the start of the trail. Make things really easy considering the amount of people that visit Yosemite every day.
If you're looking for a challenge and you kids are a little older, you can even hike the 7.2 mile round trip trail to the top of the falls. This trail starts at Camp 4 near shuttle stop #7.
Check out our Yosemite blog for more ideas of what to do and see.
California waterfalls final thoughts
California is a state blessed with natural beauty, and these 10 family-friendly California waterfall hikes under 3 miles are just a glimpse of what it has to offer. From the majestic beauty of Yosemite National Park to the hidden gems tucked away in the Coast of Big Sur, each hike promises breathtaking views, a chance to reconnect with nature, and an opportunity to create lasting memories with your loved ones. So pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and embark on an adventure that will leave you and your family in awe of California's natural wonders. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or just starting out, these family-friendly California waterfall hikes are waiting to be explored. So get out there and let the adventure begin!