Friday, December 13, 2013

Hike to 150-foot waterfall in Sierra Nevada

A rockfall closed one of the access routes to the Rancheria Falls National
Recreation Trail in spring 2014. Check the USFS's Sierra National Forest
website to see if the trail is currently open. Photo courtesy of USFS.

Trail climbs
to 7200-feet

A 150-foot high waterfall awaits day hikers at the end of the Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail in California’s Sierra National Forest.

The 1-mile out-and-back trail (2-miles round trip) sits high in the Sierra Nevada, south of Yosemite National Park. For those wishing to avoid Yosemite’s crowds, the Sierra National Forest offers a nice alternative from June to October; the trail typically is closed the rest of the year due to heavy snowfall at the 7200-foot elevation.

To reach the trailhead, from Fresno take Calif. Hwy. 168 northeast into the national forest. Upon reaching Shaver Lake, drive for another 20 miles toward Huntington Lake. About a mile past the China Peak Ski Resort, turn right on Forest Road 8S31, also known as Rancheria Falls Road. There’s a parking lot with restrooms in 1.2 miles.

Steadily up
The trailhead leaves from the lot’s northeast corner. Your hike to the falls is a gentle but steady grade up.

You’ll walk through an evergreen forest with thin undergrowth and plenty of open areas. The highest feature to the trail’s right is Bear Butte, which peaks out at 8592 feet. The Kaiser Ridge tops out at over 10,000 feet to the trail’s north.

In about 0.85 miles from the parking lot, the trail climbs steeply, gaining more than a hundred feet in 0.15 miles. You’re certain to hear the waterfall’s roar beckoning you as climbing. Once you reach 8,120 feet elevation, you’re at the falls’ base.

Rancheria Falls is about 150 feet high and 50 feet wide, and looks most spectacular in June as Rancheria Creek brings snowmelt off the mountains on its way to Huntington Lake.

With the great number of large boulders in the area, find one to sit on and enjoy the falls as you picnic. Remember to pack out what you pack in, as there are no trashcans at the falls.

Some advice
Resist the temptation to climb the rocks to the fall’s top or to swim in the waters below the drop, however. The rocks are too slick for scaling, and the waters swirl too fast, easily pulling you under. And despite the creek’s incredible clearness, don’t drink from it.

Also, remember that at this altitude sunlight is more intense, so given the open areas be sure to slather on the sunscreen. If coming from a much lower altitude, be sure to pace yourself to avoid altitude sickness.

After taking in the falls, return the way you came to the parking lot. If looking to make a day of it, continue driving north on Hwy. 168 to the north side of Huntington Lake for various attractions.

Don’t confuse this waterfall with one carrying the same name in Yosemite National Park near Hetch Hetchy. That’s a backpacking trail and is several dozen miles to the north.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.