Why Winter Is a Perfect Time to Explore Marin’s Waterfalls

Alamere Falls at Point Reyes National Seashore (Published with permission from FalconGuides, copyright © 2023 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., NPS public domain)

As the holiday bustle subsides, the sounds of local waterfalls are gaining force, bringing an element of excitement to the end of a busy season. In fact, experiencing water around Marin’s trails might bolster recent New Year resolutions to keep wellness in focus. Studies are increasingly documenting the benefit of exposure to “blue spaces,” aquatic features such as rivers, oceans and waterfalls. So-called “blue therapy,” which involves interacting with such environments, may improve mental health and decrease stress, among other health benefits.

Fortunately, Marin has you covered when it comes to winter waterfalls. “From Novato down to Blithedale, out to Point Reyes, up on Mount Tam, and tucked back into Fairfax, there is a wealth of waterfalls,” says Tracy Salcedo, author of the recently published Falcon Guides’ Hiking Waterfalls Northern California: A Guide to the Region’s Best Waterfall Hikes and a 2020 National Outdoor Book Award winner.

For Salcedo, who grew up in Marin, researching and writing the guide to hiking Northern California water falls brought a new perspective on local landscapes. “Back when I lived in Fairfax, I was a mountain biker and basically we were blasting down Repack on our bicycles and blowing past the waterfall,” she says. But more deliberate observation can unveil new experiences, she found.

“Moving slowly in these places and using all your senses can really enliven the waterfall experience,” says Salcedo. Observations of sounds, sights, smells and textures together reveal the details that uniquely define each feature and amplify the effect it has on the visitor. For example, Alamere Falls at Point Reyes National Seashore is large and invigorating whereas Cataract Falls on Mount Tam can bring experiences of calm, she says. Even revisiting the same waterfall across the wet to dry season offers opportunity for new sensations as the ephemeral falls wax and wane in their flow and the vegetation changes.

Salcedo’s time chasing waterfalls also brought into focus some bigger environmental concerns. During her research for this particular guidebook the waterfalls were impacted by drought and some of the hikes to access her favorite spots are prime examples of landscapes burned by recent wildfires that are now undergoing ecological recovery.

Whether providing a pathway to wellness or new perspectives on local landscapes, the hikes Salcedo documents in her guidebook empower the reader to start off the new year at a healthy pace. “What I try to bring is the perspective of someone who moves slowly through a landscape,” she says.

cover of Hiking Waterfalls Northern California
Published with permission from FalconGuides, copyright © 2023 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., NPS public domain

Looking to start the new year exploring Northern California? Salcedo recommends letting waterfalls be your guide. She shares some favorites below, with many more details available in her 2023, second edition of Hiking Waterfalls Northern California: A Guide to the Region’s Best Waterfall Hikes.

  1. Feather Falls, Plumas National Forest, near Oroville, CA “One of my favorite waterfalls; the landscape burned, but the trail was amazing.”
  2. Hollow Falls, North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, near Oroville, CA “This is a basalt mesa top where water seeps through that feeds a variety of waterfalls as well as amazing wildflower blooms.”
  3. Mill Creek Falls, Lassen Volcanic National Park, near Mineral, CA “I’m a big fan of Lassen Volcanic, so I would send folks up there.”
  4. Fern Falls, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, near Crescent City, CA “Way north in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, there’s a trail called Boy Scout Tree Trail. It’s an amazing redwood hike that leads to a waterfall.”
  5. Waterfalls within Yosemite National Park “Yosemite is always a good option; you can’t beat those waterfalls.”