These breathtaking hikes to waterfalls in the Bay Area are absolute musts for anyone hoping to make the most of their weekend. Here we’ve rounded up a series of fantastic local waterfall hikes near San Francisco ranging from an easy 0.5 mile trail to a difficult all-day route. The list is in order from easiest to hardest.
When hiking to a waterfall, it’s advisable to go a few days after a heavy rain for your best chance at seeing a good water flow. Be prepared for slippery surfaces and mud along the trail and take a look at trail conditions before you head out. As is the case with any local hike, you want to make sure you choose a doable route for the group you’re with; pack water, sunscreen, and snacks; and follow a map.
1. Cascade Falls Trail, Mill Valley
0.5 miles, easy
This easy kid-friendly route near Mill Valley is perfect if you want to see a local waterfall without working up a sweat. It’s a half-mile trail loop that you can complete in about 15 minutes, making it the lightest option on our list. Enjoy it as a fun detour on your next trip to Mill Valley and consider visiting the charming Mill Valley Lumber Yard or Mill Valley Public Library in the redwoods while you’re at it.
2. Sugarloaf Ridge, Kenwood
0.5-2 miles, moderate
Here’s another great hike for families with a few different options. If you’re hoping to get in and out, the 0.5-mile Lower Canyon trail will take you straight to the waterfall with about 80 feet in elevation via stairs. Other slightly longer options are the Upper Canyon and Canyon-Pony Gate Loop trails, which cover 400-450 feet in elevation with a steep uphill climb and stairs.
3. Cascade Falls, Cascade Canyon Preserve, Fairfax
1.5 miles, moderate
Not to be confused with Mill Valley’s Cascade Falls, this waterfall in Fairfax is a fun and simple in-and-out hike that’s uphill on the way in and downhill on the way back. The 25-foot waterfall is especially impressive after a good rain but dries up during the summer. Be advised that parking is quite limited so you might have to park further away from the trailhead than you anticipate.
2.8 miles, moderate
You can get this moderate out-and-back hike done in less than 2 hours or so, but be prepared for some decent uphill climbing. Check out several rushing waterfalls scattered throughout the route and take a break at the junction of Helen Markt Trail and Cataract Trail where there’s a nice picturesque waterfall pool. If you want to extend the route, consider continuing on the Cataract Trail in the direction of the Rock Spring Trailhead for some nice views over the Bay.
4. Indian Valley Open Space Preserve, Novato
3.3 miles, easy
The Ken Harth Waterfall Trail will take you to a modest waterfall that might be more or less impressive depending on how much it’s rained recently. Most visitors like to connect the trail with several others to create a longer hike, and a popular route is this Schwindt, Indian Valley, and Waterfall Trail Loop. It’s a comfortable loop trail with decent shade and sections on the fire road.
5. Carson Falls Trail, Mt. Tamalpais Watershed
3.9 miles, moderate
If you go in the spring, this picturesque out-and-back trail near Fairfax will be blooming with hundreds of wildflowers. It’s pretty exposed at the beginning but you’ll enjoy some shade and tree cover as you get nearer to the falls. There are several overlooks where you can enjoy different views of the falls which cascade down in several tiers. Keep an eye out for the Foothill yellow-legged frog!
6. Uvas Canyon Waterfall Loop, Morgan Hill
5.2 miles, moderate
This loop trail in Uvas Canyon County Park takes you past 6 different waterfalls. There is a total of 7 miles of trails in the park, so you can make your hike longer or shorter depending on what you want to see (this alternative shorter option will take you to 3 waterfalls). Be prepared to pay fees for parking, all-day park use, and picnicking (call 408-355-2201 or visit the Santa Clara County Parks website for details).
7. Mt. Diablo Waterfall Loop, Mt. Diablo State Park
7.5 miles, difficult
This popular trail at Mt. Diablo is a fun and challenging loop that takes you past a series of waterfalls. Much of the trail is quite exposed so be prepared for some sun and bring plenty of water. It’s a good one to visit in the springtime for wildflowers and high water flow in the falls, but be prepared for mud. You can start either from the Mitchell Canyon Road trailhead or the trailhead at Regency Drive.
8. Murietta Falls, Ohlone Regional Wilderness
12.5 miles, difficult
This thin 100-foot-tall waterfall in the Ohlone Regional Wilderness is a lovely reward after a long strenuous hike, but make sure to go after a good rain for the best chance of seeing it. The massive park covers 9,737 acres and is only accessible for hikers and horseback riders, making for a fun and variable journey through absolutely breathtaking countryside.
9. Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore
13.2-15.6 miles, difficult
This long hiking route in Point Reyes is extremely popular for its breathtaking view of the falls at the end, but be prepared for a long day of trekking to reach the dramatic 40-foot cascade. Alamere Falls is one of just two tidefalls, or coastal waterfalls flowing directly onto the beach, in California. Bear in mind that you’ll need to time your hike with low tide in order to view the falls safely, and the NPS recommends printing a map from their website or picking one up at the visitor center.
There are three trailheads you can choose from to reach Alamere Falls, all of which take you to Wildcat Campground. Once there you’ll take a worn trail down to Wildcat Beach. If you arrive and see waves reaching the base of the bluffs, do not walk to the falls as you could get swept away — avoid this situation by checking the tide predictions and NWS advisories.