Morning at Burney Falls

The third day of our motorcycle trip for my birthday took us to one of the main stops on our list – Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, our first stop of the day was a little bit off route. Instead of heading south on route 89 toward the national park, we headed north for a quick trip to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.

Our morning ride couldn’t have been more different from our previous day ride through the arid and barren lava fields. Now we were in lush forest filled with water – springs, rivers, and falls.

We read ahead of time that visitation to Burney Falls is out of control from April to October with people waiting over an hour out on route 89 for a chance to get in. There were signs already in place along the road as we drew near, but thankfully they were just being set up for later in the day and we had no trouble entering and finding a parking spot.

It was early enough that the park staff were not there yet, meaning parking payment was on the honor system. That wasn’t clear, and we didn’t see anyone else put their payment in the envelopes prior to visiting the falls. We followed the rules, but it was a little frustrating that others did not, and ultimately it seemed like a high price to pay for the short amount of time we ended up being there.

I had never heard of Burney Falls – this was a spot Brian picked out for our itinerary. The park was established in the 1920s when the descendants of the pioneer settlers for whom the park is named donated it to the state of California.

The park’s centerpiece is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, but possibly the most beautiful … The park’s landscape was created by volcanic activity as well as erosion from weather and streams. This volcanic region is surrounded by mountain peaks and is covered by black volcanic rock, or basalt. Created over a million years ago, the layered, porous basalt retains rainwater and snow melt, which forms a large underground reservoir.

There were more trails than I thought – five miles of trails, in fact, including part of the Pacific Crest Trail! – but we were just interested in checking out the falls before heading to Lassen.

While I thought that meant a short walk to an overlook, we ended up take a trail to several viewpoints. Along the way, we realized we should have taken off our gear. Instead, we had our suits and boots on and probably looked a little odd to other people hiking around!

Burney Falls is a lovely waterfall with larger, ‘normal’ falls as well as multiple cascades coming directly out of the rocks all around the main falls, creating webs of water.

Going in the morning was definitely the right decision as it was already starting to fill up by the time we were heading out. Being there when the park wasn’t busy also meant we didn’t have to wait in line to take pictures or admire the falls at one of the viewpoints.

The only downside to going in the morning – if you’re into photography – is that the falls are partially shaded. I’m not sure how late in the day the falls are fully lit, but I would say about the time there is an hour plus wait to get in!

Our stop at Burney Falls was a wonderful start to our first full day in Northern California on the bikes.

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