Waterfall Road Trip: An Itinerary to Six Falls Near Klamath Falls
Waterfalls are an intrinsic part of the Northwest. They are iconic symbols of the region – right up there with volcanoes, salmon, and craft beer. The town of Klamath Falls is situated in the middle of what is known as the Upper Klamath Basin—a region that is a literal hotbed of some of the most dramatic volcanic landscapes to be found anywhere on the West Coast. It’s also a landscape that happens to be quite conducive to producing plunging water.
By setting up a home base in Klamath Falls and utilizing the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway (VLSB), you can visit six unique waterfalls over the course of two days. The four waterfalls to the south of town are headlining cascades worthy of their own day trip. The two plunges up north, meanwhile, might be less dramatic, but they are located within what is perhaps one of the most stunningly beautiful national parks in the Northwest. Here’s a quick-hit itinerary that also includes potential meal stops along the way.
Day 1: Southern Section of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
If staying in Klamath Falls, consider calling the Fairfield Inn & Suites home for the duration of your trip. It’s on the banks of Lake Ewauna, a block away from the charm and activities offered in the historic downtown.
From downtown, you’re about a two hour and fifteen-minute drive to the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. Although a bit of a journey, the section of the VLSB that delivers you to the falls is exceptional. Mount Shasta dominates the horizon as the highway encircles the massive stratovolcano, passing through an almost ever-changing landscape.
You’ll drive through the town of McCloud and its nearby namesake river and a triumvirate of waterfalls. Take a mental note but save these for the return trip. Continue another 45 minutes to the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
Sure, the park has cabins and camping. You can fish in Burney Creek or play around in Lake Britton. But the straw that stirs this drink is the 129-foot Burney Falls. As the creek drops over a basalt cliff, springwater joins in on the fun – seeping out from the rock wall on either side of the cascade, combining to produce a flow of over 100 million gallons a day. It’s truly one of the most dramatically beautiful and unique cascades around. The falls are part of a one-mile loop hike, but nobody will fault you for just hanging out near the base of the falls.
Once you’ve had your fun at Burney Falls, backtrack to the Lower Falls parking area in McCloud. Although all three waterfalls of the McCloud River have their own parking area and viewpoints, starting from the Lower Falls and enjoying a 3.5-mile out and back hike is the recommended route.
The trail through the McCloud River Canyon showcases the eruptive history of Mount Shasta, with the river etching through numerous alternating layers of lava rock and volcanic mudflows, and pouring over a series of distinct waterfalls. The first Lower Falls drops 15 feet into a large splash pool. From there, the path continues through an old-growth forest, paralleling the river a short ways to the Middle Falls. At roughly 50-feet tall and 80-feet wide, it’s considered by most to be the star of the three McCloud cascades. The trail rises above the Middle Falls to a railed viewpoint before continuing along the canyon rim to the 25-foot Upper Falls. The photogenic, eroded notch of basalt is a tangible display of the power of water over time. The trail continues to a lesser-visited meadow if you’re feeling ambitious. Either way, head back the way you came to arrive back at the trailhead parking lot.
The Siskiyou Brew Works is a family-owned nano-brewery and pizzeria specializing in German, Belgian, and English-style ales and lagers. The homemade pies (dessert, not pizza) are also the stuff of legend. The Historic McCloud Hotel in downtown happens to house two excellent drinking and dining options as well, the Axe & Rose Public House and the Sage Restaurant.
Day 2: The Northern Section of the VLSB
It takes a little under an hour and a half to get to Crater Lake from Klamath Falls. Tracing the upper reaches of the VLSB, take Highway 140 around the southwestern fringe of Upper Klamath Lake and the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Reserve to Highway 62. From there, it’s a forested ascent to the Annie Springs Entrance Station at Crater Lake National Park.
Heading counter-clockwise around the deepest, cleanest lake in North America, you’ll encounter Vidae Falls only a few miles from the park entrance. Vidae Creek tumbles for a total of 115-feet next to a viewpoint located just off of Rim Drive in Crater Lake National Park. The falls play host to a number of brightly colored wildflowers in summer and is a great place for a leg-stretch and a photo op.
A short 25-minute drive from Vidae, the mile-long trail to Plaikni Falls opened in the summer of 2011. It’s hard to imagine that there was something else hiding at Crater Lake National Park all these years, but there it is. It’s not a tall cascade—with the main drop only being an estimated 20 feet—but the water continues a steep and turbulent descent along a creek lined with brightly colored flora. While it might not be in the same league as the little lake over the ridge, it’s certainly worth dedicating an hour toward the fresh air and exercise, especially during the peak of late summer wildflowers. Continue around the crater rim, encountering epic viewpoint after epic viewpoint before calling it a day.
Within the park, the Rim Village provides a standard lineup of grab and go snacks and sandwiches. The Annie Creek Restaurant at the Mazama Village offers more traditional sit-down fare (think burgers, pizza, salads). However, just about 15 minutes west of the park, Beckie’s Cafe has been serving homestyle classics since 1926. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Beckie’s has been a favorite for almost a century. And don’t miss out on the pie!
Written by Adam Sawyer for Matcha in partnership with Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau.