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Burney Falls Halloween Hike

Article and photos Alex Colvin
11/02/15 -- I think the Falls Loop trail at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is one of the most enjoyable hiking trails there is. It's not a hard hike but it is good exercise. The trail is about 1.3 miles long. It is beautiful in all seasons.

On October 31, I decided to hike the trail to catch a glimpse of some of the fall foliage. I used the parking area on Clark's Creek Road to enter.

Trail entering the park from Black Ranch Road, photo by Alex Colvin
Trail entering the park from Black Ranch Road

Some people feel that entering the park without paying the $8 entry fee at the main entrance to the park on Hwy 299 is a bad thing. However, technically, admission to the park has been free since the land was sold to the State of California for one dollar by the McArthur family in the 1920's.

The McArthur family basically gave the park to the State of California to protect the falls and the surrounding area from the hydroelectric development that was being planned for the Pit River. One stipulation was that the park would remain free and open to the public in perpetuity.

When people drive into the park and stop at the gate to pay fees, they are paying parking and camping fees. The fees go to pay for upkeep and maintenance of the park, so that is a good thing and a lot of people are happy to pay to help contribute. If people hike into the park, however, there is no entry fee.

I entered the Park, crossed the Pacific Crest Trail, and headed down to the bridge that crosses Burney Creek above the falls.

 Bridge above the falls, photo by Alex Colvin
Bridge above the falls

After crossing the bridge I took a few photos of the fall foliage and headed across the falls overlook to the main parking area.

Fall foliage by the bridge , photo by Alex Colvin
Fall foliage by the bridge

The visitor's center was closed for the season. They closed after the park's Heritage Day celebration. I saw a park ranger and went over to talk with him. His name was Ranger Dan. He was a very likeable fellow who gave me a map and explained how to get to the Pioneer Cemetery Trail which leads to the Pioneer Cemetery and Cemetery Cove on Lake Britton.

I have been wanting to see the marker at the cemeteries that commemorate a number of the early settlers who lived along the Pit River near the falls in bygone days.

Before the white people came to the area in the mid 1800's, this was the territory of the Ilmawi, a branch of the Achomawi people. In the 1860's John and Catherine McArthur bought a lot of land. They opened a store. Eventually, a small community named Peck's Bridge developed along the Pit supported by local family farms.

The Cemetery trail is three miles down and back. It was already past 2 p.m. and the days are getting short so I decided to do it in the future and instead continue along the Loop Trail.

Burney Falls in autumn , photo by Alex Colvin
Burney Falls in autumn

From the beautiful vista point near the visitor's center the trail descends in a hatchback manner down to the base of the falls. As one hikes down a well maintained path one is treated to a wonderful series of breathtaking views of the falls.

Halfway down Burney Falls, Photo by Alex Colvin
Halfway down

One of the things that I love about hiking the loop is the wonderful people that I meet. As I hiked down I was amazed to see a group of hikers from Mt Shasta with young boy dressed in a Mickey Mouse costume.

Mickey Mouse and family at Burney Falls , photo by Alex Colvin
Mickey Mouse and family at Burney Falls

This was personal for me because I had recently painted a small picture of Mickey Mouse at Burney Falls for a friend.

"It's Mickey Mouse!" I exclaimed as I approached the hikers.

I introduced myself to the young boy's mother. Her name was Lilly Rivera. Her son's (Mickey Mouse) name is Adrian Rivera Jr. Hiking with them were Brianna and Julien Reyes. They had moved to Mt. Shasta in January. She said this was their first chance to come to Burney Falls and they loved it.

I traveled down to the bottom of the falls. Here one can experience the full power of the falls as the torrent descends and the mist sprays up into one's face. In the summer some hikers like to plunge into the pool for a very brief but exhilarating dip. The water which is flowing over the falls from subterranean sources is between 40 and 50 degrees.

At the base of Burney falls , photo by Alex Colvin
At the base of the falls

I did it once several years ago and got out almost as quickly as I could get in. The currents created by the falls are extremely powerful.

Another experience that fills one with awe is to sit on the rocks by the water and just take it in. In the past, sometimes I would sit on a rock where the water from the pool flows into the creek to continue its journey to Lake Britton. There the water is as clear as glass and flowing at an incredibly powerful rate equal to the force of the water flowing over the fall. Staring into it, I would imagine what it would like to merge into such a flow. You couldn't fight it.

"Just go with the flow." I thought. Try to avoid the rocks and keep your head above water until you reach a place of calm. I would imagine riding the current all the way down to Lake Britton and then resting in the calm waters thinking "Wow!"

Well, imagination is one thing and physical reality is another.

After enjoying the view of the falls, I proceeded down the trail that follows the stream. I met another young ranger taking one of his last hikes in the park for the season. I asked him if he would be working indefinitely at the park. He said, "Actually, I'm going to be laid off In two days."

Every year the park reduces its personnel in the winter.

I continued down the trail. Here in the heat of the late spring and summer one often sees brown squirrels, lizards, butterflies and dragonflies dancing about. But today was quiet and serene. At this point I was able to enjoy the beauty of the Burney Creek and the serenity of the woods.

Because this is a state park, it has not been logged as extensively as the surrounding area. As I walked by the stream I could experience the grandeur of old growth Ponderosas and the Douglass Firs, many of which are five hundred years old.

 Old growth of pines, at Burney Falls, photo by Alex Colvin
Old growth

The trail follows the scenic creek down to an old arched bridge. Here one can get beautiful views and pictures both up and down the creek.

Lower Bridge at Burney Falls, photo by Alex Colvin
Lower Bridge

At this point one is also confronted with choices. Do I hike back the way I came? Do I continue down Burney Creek trail to Lake Britton? Do I cross the bridge and hike down the other side of the Creek on the Pacific Service Employees Association (PSEA) trail? Or do I continue on the loop and go back up to the Pacific Crest Trail from whence I came?

That's one of the wonderful things about McArthur-Burney Falls Park. In addition to the falls, Lake Britton has boating, swimming and bass fishing. The creek is stocked with trout. There are campgrounds, cabins, activities, and amenities. There are also great trails to hike. Beyond the trails that I have mentioned, there is also the upper loop trail that goes to the headwaters of Burney Falls passing the springs where hundreds of millions of gallons of water emerge into Burney Creek. This trail leads to a third bridge that crosses to the Pacific Crest Trail and leads back down to the entrance point where I came into the park.

Furthermore, adjacent to the Park there is now a new trail, the Great Shasta Rail Trail that goes from the old Burney depot and leads to the "Stand By Me" railroad trestle crossing Lake Britton. Burney is a great area for hiking.

Bench by the bridge at Burney Falls, photo by Alex Colvin
Bench by the bridge

I crossed bridge and sat down on one of the benches to look at the creek and take pictures. Along the trail there are several of these benches. Each one has a cool philosophical thought or poetic statement.

I decided to continue on the loop. This side of the trail does not proceed at creek level. It gradually ascends the bank back to the top of the falls making for a nice walk through the woods with scenic glimpses of the creek below. As one nears the end of the ascent, one gets another view of the falls.

Burney Falls coming up the trail , photo by Alex Colvin
Burney Falls coming up the trail

As I said before, I enjoy meeting people on the trail. The world comes to Burney Falls. As I took pictures of the falls, I met some Asian American visitors from San Francisco and had a chance to practice my smattering of Chinese and Korean.

Further up the trail I met three very nice ladies from Bethel Church in Redding. One had a British accent. Another was Norway where my grandmother was born.

The reason that I mention this is to illustrate that a hike is not only a healthy, uplifting natural experience, but a social, cultural and spiritual event as well. Several times, I have had people contact me months after I met them because of a conversation that occurred.

After talking with the group from Redding I got some nice pictures of the light coming through the trees and Burney Creek above the falls.

 Burney Creek just above the falls, photo by Alex Colvin
Burney Creek just above the falls

Finally, I headed back up the hill to my car, happy that I had taken my Halloween hike.

For additional information about this area, visit our Intermountain-Hat Creek page.

Alex Colvin is co-owner of The Lace Gallery in Burney, California. He previously wrote for non-profit corporations in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Area. Since returning to Burney, where he has deep family roots, Alex and his wife Linda have dedicated themselves to exploring and photographing the natural beauty of Northern California.

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